For perhaps a year now, I’ve noticed an overweight fellow working out with a personal trainer at the gym. Actually, he was morbidly obese and stood out amid the university students, varsity athletes, and diehard gym rats. Perhaps in his early 30s, he worked out frequently, quietly following his trainer to this or that apparatus. Months passed and he looked exactly the same, with no apparent weight loss.
Today I saw him again for the first time in weeks, maybe all summer. I was taken aback. He was noticeably lighter.
Of course, he’s still heavy; but those months of effort finally paid off. Bravo, I silently congratulated him.
This man’s gradual transformation reminded me of an article, “The Open Secret of Success,” by James Surowiecki in his New Yorker column, The Financial Page. In comparing the success of Toyota to the failure of the American auto industry, he highlights the Japanese concept, kaizen, “slow and steady improvement.”
Toyota “defin[es] innovation as an incremental process, in which the goal is not to make huge, sudden leaps but, rather, to make things better on a daily basis … Instead of trying to throw long touchdown passes, as it were, Toyota moves down the field by means of short and steady gains.”
Surowiecki notes that Toyota’s innovations “have focussed on process rather than on product, on the factory floor rather than on the showroom.” Doesn’t this sound rather yoga-ish and Bhagavad Gita-ish?
In Japan, the concept is primarily a bottom-up business management model. In the US, land of self-help and pop psychology, UCLA psychologist Robert Maurer applies it to daily life in One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way.
Most books on finding happiness or achieving success are interesting only in theory. But Maurer’s points are simple and sensible. Take small steps. Baby steps. Break down big problems into almost-ludicrously doable ones. And keep going.
Immediate results are gratifying. But sometimes progress is silent and invisible. Whether the ultimate goal is to lose weight, learn a language, finish your dissertation, control your temper, meditate in padmasana (lotus pose) … even a little daily effort pays off.
Seeing that gym goer’s weight loss reminded me of kaizen. It took months for his workout regime to make a visible difference. But over time those steps are taking him far.