I recently went to Japan to lead workouts on the US Military bases, give anti-bullying talks to elementary, middle school, and high school students, and also meet part of my birth family in Tokyo for the very first time. It was an epic trip I will never forget and learned some cultural lessons that will be with me forever. One of them being the concept of Kaizen…a force to be reckoned with.

Following the devastation of a nuclear attack that led to the end of World War II, Japan underwent a cultural shift. Where elitism and segregation existed in leadership before the war, it was replaced with inclusiveness and collaboration that brought leadership shoulder-to-shoulder with the workforce. The concept is known as kaizen and it could give you a new perspective on finding and growing fitness from within.

What is Kaizen?

Kaizen symbolizes success as a series of steady, consistent, and sustained steps toward a common goal. It’s about the smallest of contributions adding up to big change and focuses on the importance of the individual as an integral part of moving a country and business forward. When applied to your journey towards a healthier, more fit you, consider the little things you can do that, with time and consistency, add up to success in creating a life-long commitment. To claim the victory over bad eating habits, inactivity, and stress, you’ll have to take deliberate, yet small and steady steps toward the goal. Unleash the power of Kaizen to get past your obstacles. 

My Kaizen Journey

When I was an overweight teenager, the battle and journey to lose weight was one that I knew was going to be a very difficult and long process. I didn’t know how long it would take, but I was committed to do whatever it took to changing myself. It didn’t take a month or two…it literally took over a year. It started with me admitting to myself I had a “problem” and that living in denial was no longer an option. That mental and emotional change was the hardest and most important. Then a full year of football, wrestling, and lacrosse, coupled with improving my eating habits, enabled me to make fitness a lifestyle…for the rest of my life. If you want to be successful, commit from day one to reach your goal. Don’t put a time stamp on success. If you never quit, you will do what you set out to do.

Battle vs. War

Many people look at improving their health, gaining muscle, or losing weight, as a “battle of the bulge,” but you shouldn’t see it that way. It’s not a war, it’s a dedication to winning. Winning every day, the smallest of battles, from choosing the right thing to eat, choosing to be active, or pushing yourself a little further, your small wins will lead to bigger ones over time. Winning is addictive, so build up that drive to keep the streak going. The steps that I took to success can be the ones that changes your life for good. Here’s how:

Admit You Have a Problem

You’ve heard that hindsight is 20/20, but how can you really gain perspective if you don’t take time to reflect. I had to look at my behavior for what it was and the required me to look within and admit to the issues I had with binge eating and junk food.

Reaching Out For Help

You can’t do it alone, so don’t try to. People with help, even if it’s just an online community, do better than those who go it alone. There is strength in numbers. With support from people like me who have been where you are, you can get motivation to stay the course and also realize that people are feeling exactly how you feel.

Consistently Playing Sports

Staying physically active isn’t just about losing weight, it regulates your sleep, relieves stress, and helps you focus. When add to that the energy-infusion you get after a workout, and burning calories, it’s a win-win situation if you can keep moving.

Changing the Way I Ate

It takes time to overcome bad habits, and even more time to form new ones. Trying to improve at each meal is easier to prepare for and plan than trying to map out your eating life in a matter of weeks or months in advance. According to Cornell University researchers we make over 200 food-related decisions a day. Make it a point to choose the best options most of the time.

The Kaizen Action Plan

To incorporate Kaizen into your life, you’ll have to start with your mind first. Consider your goals: What rewards keep you motivated? What’s your true reason for wanting to lose weight, gain muscle, or get more fit? Consider how reaching those goals will feel, and how it might change your life. This will give you the motivation to truly seek improvement on a regular basis. You have to have the patience and the commitment together. Patience can only be measured by your continued commitment to it. If you’re one of those people who likes to do things fast and furious, you’re going to be disappointed. When you commit to something for life, you’re not in a rush to see big changes. On the other hand, when you’ve made a commitment with a kaizen spirit, your setbacks won’t hinder you or stop your motivation. Keep the vision in reach, but measure yourself from one day to the next. This is how you can get into the long standing commitment that creates lasting change.

You can use your mind to enhance the vision you have of a healthier you. Here are steps to take to unleash the force of Kaizen.

Step 1: Feed Your Motivation

The mind is strong, but the body is weak. Start by feeding your mind with good advice, positive people, and good information. Apply what you’ve learned to your life and tweak certain points to make it your own. Surround yourself with reminders of the goal and keep building on that vision. You can use numbers to keep you in the fight. Seeing how many consecutive days you’ve worked out, or using a countdown calendar to an important day is great motivation. You could also keep a bowl of motivational quotes to read after you workout. Create a routine around your goal and it’ll stay on the top of your priority list.

Step 2: Anticipate Obstacles

Old habits die hard, and new habits are even harder to make stick. That means you have anticipate obstacles that will trip you up. Consider a contingency plan for certain times when you may miss a workout, or not eat the healthiest. A long day at work, a cold, or anything that throws you off your game should have a little backup plan. Maybe if you’re sick, you take a walk, instead of doing a hard workout. If you stay late at work, you could make a list of restaurants and healthy options where you might eat without going overboard. Life happens and to keep your progress going, you have to be prepared for some things not to go as planned.

Step 3: Strengthen Weaknesses

The last step to living a life of Kaizen is turning your excuses into opportunities to get stronger. There are parts of your life that obviously set you up for failure. Busy schedules, transportation issues, financial commitments, and social interactions are all real reasons why people stop their weight loss journey before they reach their goal. Instead of fretting about how these things have hampered you, turn them into strengths. Come up with an alternative to giving in completely.

Step 4: Put YOUR Best Foot Forward Today

The goal of Kaizen is to have you be an active participant in improving your health one day at a time. That means you have to stop comparing yourself. When I started off in Capoeira in my late 20’s, I was surrounded by people who’d been doing it since their youth. They were decades ahead of me in terms of technique, speed, and form. At first, I was focused on trying to “catch” them or be better than they were, but the kaizen approach has given me a different outlook.  Now I know my only competition is myself. I’m going to be my best self. If I compare the rhythm of my ginga or the speed of my Martello a year ago, I see my improvement. It’s hard to see that when you compare yourself to others. Many professional track and field athletes will talk about running their “personal best,” that is beating their best time. That should be your goal. To run your race, at your time, the best you know how and to improve on that as time goes on. It’s not about the diet, the workout plan, or the trainer. It’s about fitness from within: that mental muscle to stick it out when you want to quit, to see the finish line before you turn the corner, and to cross that finish line giving nothing less than 100%.