Kaizen: A One-Minute Practice That Could Shift the Course of Your Life

Are you frustrated by your failed attempts to commit to a goal or form a habit? Do you feel super motivated to get things done on some days and on others you struggle to find the energy to simply get moving? If so, why is this?

Habits are paths in the forest of our minds.

Think of habits as paths in a forest. The more we walk down these paths, the easier they are to travel because they are familiar and established. However, when we choose to create a new habit, we must also carve a new trail which isn’t always easy. We may trip over rocks, run into branches, get lost, or give up and choose to take an old path that's less foreign. So how exactly can we get moving and stay moving to develop new habits and therefore the life we desire? This Japanese principle can give us some insight. 

What is Kaizen?

The Kaizen philosophy assumes that our way of life — be it our working life, our social life, or our home life—should focus on constant-improvement efforts..... In my opinion, Kaizen has contributed greatly to Japan’s competitive success.

-Maasaki Imai

Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning “continuous improvement” that was introduced by organizational theorist and management consultant Maasaaki Imai in his book, Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success. Imai used the many techniques and principles of Kaizen to improve the quality of the companies that he managed. He recognized that Kaizen was not only a management technique, but also a philosophy that could guide many of us towards success in our own lives.

The One-Minute Principle

You can’t do Kaizen just once or twice and expect immediate results. You have to be in it for the long haul.

–Masaaki Imai

“The one-minute principle” is a Kaizen technique that can help you develop the habits that’ll lead you to your ideal life. The principle is based on Imai’s belief that consistency leads to results. In this technique, you commit to a task for one minute every day. Yes, one minute. How easy is that?  

Let’s say that your goal is to meditate more often. Using this principle, you would commit to meditating for one minute each day. It doesn't matter when or where you complete the meditation, as long as you commit to that 60 seconds at some point throughout your day.

The underlying idea is that the more you engage in your task and experience the rewards of doing so, the more naturally you will pursue it day to day. In other words, your task will become less of a chore and more of an enjoyment. You may even find yourself increasing the length of time you spend completing your task. One minute may turn to five, five to ten and so on. Eventually, you will find yourself engaging in your task with more ease and for periods of time that greatly benefit your quality of life.

Showing up is key

I often implement this Kaizen principle while personal training. When a client finds it difficult to adhere to an exercise program, I encourage them to simply "show up." This means that they must show up to the gym and commit to at least one minute of exercise. It can be one minute of walking, running, lifting. All that matters is that they intentionally move for one whole minute. The act of showing up when they are unmotivated, even for such a small amount of time, still helps develop the habit of exercising. Plus, if they're already in the gym, they are more likely to complete a longer duration of exercise. This principle is a reminder that even small accomplishments can lead to big improvements.

Don't believe it will work? Test it out. 

Make a promise to commit to one task for one minute every day. If this principle doesn't work for you, you can always try another technique. But you owe it to yourself to try something. You owe it to yourself to begin building a life that you desire and this is a perfect opportunity to start. If you're not exactly sure what parts of your life you would like to improve or what habits you'd like to develop, you could choose one of the ten tasks listed below. These are all activities that have significantly improved my quality of life: 

  1. One minute of exercise 
  2. One minute of meditation
  3. One minute of that “thing you’ve always wanted to make time for”
  4. One minute of studying/work/homework
  5. One minute of reading/drawing
  6. One minute of gratitude
  7. One minute of active listening 
  8. One minute of mindful eating
  9. One minute of journaling
  10. One minute of planning/organizing

Sources: 1, 2