Kaizen, Muri, and Personal Growth

Kaizen, Muri, and Personal Growth

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was said to me during freshman orientation for the Division 1 lacrosse program I briefly attended. Our coach told us “The players who will be most successful in college aren’t necessarily the ones who were the best in high school, but the ones who improve the most once they get to college.” In a room where nearly every player was a high school team captain and All-State Selection, I remember being very impacted by this statement. While his advice was meant in the context of athletics, I have observed it to be true in nearly all realms of human endeavor. We can’t control our starting point, but we can always control what we do today. Can you be 0.1% better today than you were yesterday?

There is a Japanese word, “Kaizen,” which translates roughly into “change for better.” As a philosophy, it usually implies small, continuous improvement. That is, in order to soar, we should strive to continually make small improvements. I think the “continuous” aspect of Kaizen philosophy is fairly well understood—in a world of overwhelming information and rapid technological change, it is easy to grasp the importance of constant improvement. To stay stagnant is to miss the rich opportunities for growth that our world affords.

What may be harder to grasp however, is the importance of “small changes” when it comes to improving fitness, relationships, business skills, or nearly anything else. There is another Japanese word, “Muri,” which refers to a feeling of being overwhelmed by the enormity of a task. Too often, we avoid taking any action because we feel intimidated by large tasks. Small changes may feel inadequate in the context of the larger task, so we make no changes at all. The lesson is simple—the best way to make meaningful progress is to commit to steady improvement, no matter how small.

In the realm of strength training: A popular powerlifting program that we sometimes use involves adding 5-10lbs per month to one’s 1-rep-max (the maximum amount of weight you can lift once). Many times, I have suggested this program to intermediate lifter’s whose progress has stalled. Often they say something to the effect of “No, that program doesn’t progress fast enough. I can deadlift 300lbs, and I want to deadlift 400lbs at a competition in four months.” I’ll ask them how much progress they’ve made in the last year, and the answer is usually, “Zero.” Instead of making small progress, they’d rather make no progress at all, it seems.

So, in your day to day life, identify the areas you’d like to improve, and then find the tiniest improvements you can make. Stack tiny improvement upon tiny improvement, and soon the improvements aren’t so tiny anymore. There’s only one way to eat an elephant—one bite at a time. Be satisfied that you are making progress, and the goal will come soon enough. Here are some examples for you to ponder:

If you’re learning a language, can you spend 10 minutes each day speaking that language?

If you’re trying to keep your bedroom neater, can you start by simply making your bed each day?

If you’re trying to be more active, can you get off the subway one stop sooner and walk?

If you’d like to learn meditation, can you start with 3-5 minutes each morning?

If you’re healing an injury, can you spend 10 minutes each day doing your corrective drills? 

-Jason Kapnick, Co-Founder of Catalyst SPORT

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