Can Kaizen Help You to Reach Your Fitness and Weight Loss Goals?

I first learned about Kaizen while living in Japan. The Japanese word “Kaizen” consists of two Kanjis (Chinese Characters). 改 (Kai) stands for “change, renew or reform” and 善 (Zen) stands for “Good.” The literal translation of it means “Improvement.”

In a nutshell, Kaizen describes a philosophy of continuous improvement focusing on small steps that – eventually – lead to significant changes.

Traditionally, Kaizen is mostly used in a business context to increase productivity and efficiency.

Very simplified, a company or team that applies Kaizen principals usually works as follows: various work processes will be defined, segregated into process steps, and analyzed. If room for improvement has been identified, the specific process steps will be redefined and reimplemented.

However, in Japan, you can find Kaizen everywhere. When you pick up a lifestyle magazine, you will often find suggestions for small changes to improve your health, beauty, etc. Many TV shows introduce you to simple adjustments that can increase your quality of life, your finances – you name it.

I love this approach for various reasons:

Firstly, because I’m not a big fan of the “one-fits-all” strategies: especially when it comes to diet and exercise, improvements can only be made after understanding your baseline and your body’s needs.

For example, the composition of your diet should be based on your activity level, the type of workouts you do, your health history, etc. The same holds true for exercise: while certain exercises can help people, they might hurt others. That’s why an analysis of the status quo is crucial when you want to improve your health or fitness.

Secondly, I believe that goals that are too ambitious will mostly lead to frustration of drop-outs. Small improvements, on the other hand, can be easily implemented, which helps you to stay motivated.

For example, instead of trying to lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks or planning to run 5 miles every morning for the next 6 months, you define one small goal for today, such as trading your pasta for a salad or going for a walk instead of watching Netflix. If you’re able to accomplish your daily improvement, you can congratulate yourself and set another goal for tomorrow.

Especially if you have a hard time motivating yourself to do change, start with goals that are so small that it would be ridiculous if you would not try to accomplish them. For example, aim to walk for 5 minutes today.

Often, we avoid change because we believe that we’re not able to change. We tell ourselves that we’re not disciplined enough to stick to a diet or that we’re not “an exercise person.” The fear of failure will then prevent us from starting altogether.

However, if you set goals that are easy and if you can achieve them, you can start building confidence and prove to yourself that you’re ARE self-disciplined and that you CAN exercise. Apart from that, small wins will motivate you to do more.

Eventually, you need to increase the level of your goals. Real progress only happens when you step out of your comfort zone. But because you’ve already proven that you have what it takes to improve your daily habits, you will have enough confidence to start stretching your comfort zone and eventually step out of it.

Kaizen encourages us to implement small improvements regularly – ideally every day. So, you might start walking 5 minutes a day (which is probably still in your comfort zone), then add 10 squats the next day (which might feel a little uncomfortable) and then add 5 push-ups on day 3 (uncomfortable but still doable). If you continue adding small chunks of exercise, you will end up doing a 30-minute workout before you know it. And all of a sudden, you are doing something that was entirely out of your comfort zone only some weeks ago.

In good health,

Interested in more hacks for weight loss, health, and happiness?

Check out my Medium publication Wellness Decoded or on my QUORA Space Weightloss Kaizen.


Rike Aprea

My name is Friederike Aprea. Most people call me Rike. I'm German-born and have lived and worked in Japan and Korea before I moved to the US. I coach individuals and companies using the principles of Kaizen. Whether you want to live a more purpose-driven life, improve your health, or change the business model of your company: Kaizen can get you there. Step by step. Day by day.

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