Overcoming Laziness: The Japanese Principle of Kaizen

It can be quite beneficial to look to other cultures for remedies to common problems we just can’t take care of on our own.

Endemic laziness is certainly one of those problems for me.

I get all pumped up to get something taken care of when I get home only to get home and take a nap. Or two. I was discussing this with my roommate last week and she has the same issue. I was relieved to find I wasn’t alone, but we still didn’t have a solution.

Enter the Japanese principle of kaizen. Kaizen (kai = change, zen = wisdom) is the practice of committing yourself completely to doing a task for one full minute, on the same minute, every day. The time period involved is so short that dreading it is absurd: after all, it is just one minute. And after that minute is over, you can move on with your life and do whatever you want to do.

I’ve been practicing this for about a week now and here are some takeaways from my experience:

1. Don’t schedule your minute when you’re committed to other things. This seems obvious but it was also a sneaky way for me to get out of doing it for another day…at least, it was for me. My minute is now scheduled right before bed; no matter what else I am doing during the day, I will be at home for bed, so it’s easy to use my kaizen minute then.

2. If you find yourself dreading it or blowing it off, remember: it’s only a minute. I laugh at myself now when I am getting obstinate about my minute.

3. Choose a task that you CAN make small progress on day-to-day and isn’t something that has to be done all at once. My task is sorting, reorganizing, and cleaning my room. Obviously I cannot work on ALL of that for a minute. I can, however, make forward progress a minute at a time by starting to go through a box, throwing some stuff away and keeping other things, etc. When I get around to reorganizing i.e. moving furniture around, that will have to be a more-than-a-minute task.

4. Give yourself permission to continue. There have been times when I am nearly through a box and the timer goes off and I get frustrated. I derive a lot of satisfaction from completing things. So I give myself permission to finish that box, drawer or bag if that’s what I want to do.

I’ve really been enjoying the application of kaizen in my life.

It’s really easy to finish enough of a task to get me going the next day. I’m clearing my life out of a lot of clutter. I look forward to my minute instead of dreading the chore. I try to keep it to a minute, though I do give myself permission to continue, but not longer than 15 or 20 minutes. My kaizen is completed right before bed, as I mentioned, and I can’t cut into my sleeping time too much.

The idea behind kaizen is that it helps build your confidence as you begin to look forward to completing things for one minute.

Whether it’s bench presses or learning a foreign language, kaizen can help take the dread out of a task and instead fill it with joy.

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