Kaizen, the Japanese wellness philosophy is set to take over the Danish concept of Hygge in 2020.
International wellness words have undoubtedly been the ruling trend de jour for the past few years.
We’ve had the warm embrace of the Danish concept of hygge aka “coziness”, the Swedish lagom of “not too little, not too much”, and even the Japanese joy of wabi-sabi which was all about finding beauty in the little things in life.
But what about a wellness philosophy that puts a little fire into our bellies?
Well, step forward Kaizen, the Japanese belief that great success is born from small subtle changes in our lives. The literal translation is “improvement”, with the theory being that all aspects of our life – working, social and home – deserve to be constantly improved.
And while it doesn’t quite fit with that fierce love yo’ self-no-matter-what mentality that’s all the rage right now, Kaizen does work with our instinctive desire to better ourselves and our situation, which is really how we’ve progressed from caveman to highly finessed humans of today.
The problem for us in the Western world, states Sarah Harvey in her newly-released book Kaizen, The Japanese Method for Transforming Habits, One Small Step at a Time, is that we generally love a quickie fix to reach our goals but almost always burn out before hitting them.
“The emphasis for Kaizen is always on doing things in small stages and treating the idea of change as ongoing process rather than a quick-fix “to-do list”, Harvey explained, stating that it’s the understanding that slow and steady – rather than go hard or go home – wins the race.
“The changes should be so small that at first you barely notice any difference to your daily life. It is adding one more fruit and vegetable item to your food shop or meditating for five minutes every Saturday morning,” she added.
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And once this has become a habit, you essentially add to it. Maybe upping that Saturday morning mediation by a few minutes before finally adding another day when you feel ready. Then before you know it, your brain has locked in a new habit.
“If I have formed a habit to go for a run each morning when I wake up, and one morning I wake up and feel demotivated, my habit is going to help me to ensure I go anyway, despite my lack of motivation,” explained Harvey, who started following the Kaizen way after moving to Tokyo following work burn-out in London.
But it all comes down to goals. Long-term goals and short-term goals, and these can only be truly focused when you’ve looked at every aspect of your life, Harvey said.
After interviewing leaders in Kaizen in Japan, she said that all those following the ethos start with a life inventory.
“The only thing you really need to start is a pen and paper,” she said, advising readers to divide the page into sections, with a space for health, work, money, home and relationships, and then take a deep dive into each area.
For example, for health you might ask what is your relationship with your body, mental health, diet and exercise. And then, what are you happy with and what are you not?
Once this is done, it’s easier to take an objective view on what areas to focus on and what current habits are derailing current goals. The aim is to “develop positive habits and let go of some of the bad ones” she added.
And while a large part of Kaizen is about hitting goals, after all it’s an ethos that car manufacturer Toyota has followed since the 1960s to increase production and innovation, the Japanese also believe it’s the key to increasing emotional intelligence.
“It is about accepting that you aren’t always perfect and acknowledging that there is always room for growth,” Harvey explained.
So there we have it, Kaizen, the latest trendy lifestyle concept that’s about to dominate 2020. It’s got a bit more meat to it than snuggling up with your favourite blanket in the name of hygge hasn’t it? (Even if that was kind of wonderful for a while).