The Japanese Philosophy That Changed My Life

The meaning of 改善
Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

A few years ago, I came across a concept called Kaizen (改善).

Kaizen comes from Japanese and is a combination of two words.

  • Kai = Change
  • Zen = For the better

The concept can best be translated as “Continuous Improvement”. Behind it is the goal of becoming one percent better every day.

Kaizen was originally developed as a business model after World War II.

But the philosophy soon found favor among the general population as well.

Kaizen was seen as a way to make positive changes in one’s life by focusing on small but consistent steps each day to achieve one’s goal.

Be not afraid of going slowly. Be afraid of standing still”

— Japanese proverb

How Kaizen influenced my life

Before I tell you how Kaizen has impacted my life, you need to know one thing about me.

I’ve always been a perfectionist. All my life I wanted everything I touched to be perfect.

I guess you can imagine how many projects I’ve successfully completed (or started) with this mindset. Exactly. Close to zero.

But when I first read about Kaizen, it was like an epiphany.

I finally had permission to let go of my underlying perfectionism. I was freed from the desire to know everything from the beginning.

Image by visualizevalue.


Sure, it can take longer to see progress and reach your goals, but honestly, who cares? I certainly don’t (anymore).

As long as you make small progress every day, sooner or later you will be successful. I am firmly convinced of that.

How you can implement Kaizen into your life

So how can you start shifting your mindset from an outcome-based system to a process-based system?

Let’s break this down into action steps:

  1. Write down your goal.
  2. Break it down into small and achievable steps.
  3. Do the smallest thing you can do today to get closer to your goal.
  4. Then do it. Today.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 every day.
  6. Watch how the momentum kicks in.
  7. If necessary, adjust your goal as you go.

By shifting your focus from your desired end goal to daily progress, you free your mind from the mental barrier that everything has to be perfect from the start.

Just focus on getting one percent better every day.

This is your new daily goal from now on.

Doing one thing is better than doing nothing

Even if you do just one little thing that moves you in the right direction, do it.

Because doing something is better than doing nothing.

Experiencing writer’s block? Just write one sentence. That’s it. That’s your one percent improvement for today.

Because writing one sentence is definitely better than writing nothing at all. Besides, once you start writing, you are unlikely to stop.

I started this post by writing the first sentence. And guess what? I kept on writing.

Do you see the power of this?

Focus on improving every day and you will be surprised how much you can accomplish in a year, let alone three, five or even ten years.

That’s the beauty of compound interest.

Or as James Clear, author of the best-selling book Atomic Habits, aptly puts it:

“It is easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis.”

— James Clear


  1. Focus on taking tiny, small steps toward your goal every day.
  2. Your daily goal should be to get one percent better every day.
  3. Do this every day and see how your life will change in the years to come.

Always remember:

Life is a marathon, not a sprint.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *