One day at a time

IMG_0024For 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.

7 thoughts on “One day at a time

  1. nice post! I agree. I used to weigh 200 lbs back in the mid-70s (which people now absolutely do not believe). I lost 1-2 lbs. a week, I lost over 60 lbs, and have kept it off. I also used to be a fitness instructor and when people would ask me how to lose weight I would tell them, don’t diet, just eat less and move more. simple.

    but in this society we want a quick fix. it needs to happen in 20 minutes or less, whatever “it” is, whether it’s losing weight or enlightenment. I tell people that yoga is slow medicine.

  2. Lovely,and timely post.I find myself occasionally falling victim to this “fast paced,society of immediate gratification”.I lived in Japan for over a decade and was married to a japanese who lost his fortune after the economic bubble burst.He employed this concept of kaizen in rebuilding himself.He used to say he was a snake,lying, waiting in the grass,moving towards his goal ever so slowly….
    I think Bob should change the spelling of his last name to Wisenberg, he is so full of knowledge, thanks for the wiki info!

    1. How very kind of you, Dhana!

      I lived in Japan for two years my freshman and sophmore years in high school. My father was stationed at Atsugi Naval Air Station near Tokyo.

      This was very influential in my life and the way I see the world! I was just old enough to really appreciate it.

      Bob Weisenberg

  3. Loved this post as it brought back memories of my years in Japan (93-96). The slow steady turtle teaches us the same concept, winning against the speedy, but easily distracted, hare. I think this concept is essential to our lasting happiness. Nothing worthwhile is achieved overnight. Those who continue to fight the fight will, eventually, succeed.

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