Kaizen: habits

I learned my first Japanese word right after I graduated from college.

I landed a job in Corporate America and at an orientation meeting, the new batch of employees learned the Japanese word kaizen. I felt so grown-up that day with my new job and new vocabulary (in my late-1980's permed hair and polka-dot pumps that matched my polka-dot dress).

The word kaizen means small, continuous improvement. In my new Corporate Job in a Cubical (i.e. answering the telephone and filing papers), I was trained to take the responsibility to improve anything in my job that needed improvement. The indoctrination took, and the idea of kaizen has stuck with me over the years.

When I started my current job as Homeschooling Mom, Charlotte Mason's writings became my New Employee Handbook. What she wrote about habit training seems like kaizen to me.

The vocabulary is different, but the idea is the same. In kaizen, you look at what you're doing with a bit of detachment and figure out where you're wasting time and effort. Then you pick something small to change. When that change becomes a habit, you pick something else to improve. Gradually, slowly, diligently, constantly improve.

Charlotte Mason suggests working on one habit at a time and reminds us that good habits make for easier days. When you have a habit, you do the task automatically - like brushing your teeth before bed - and it frees your mind to think of other things.

It's a crazy thing, isn't it - you think about your actions so you can develop habits so you can forget about your actions. Kaizen, aka habit training, takes self-discipline, but whatever language you use, it works. 
A quote from Charlotte Mason's first volume:  ...the formation of a habit, the gradually lessening sense of effort in a given act, is pleasurable.
Some practical examples of kaizen:  Practice your personal kaizen

Photo: A mural in the neighborhood that reminds me to put one foot in front of the other when tackling a new habit and soon the new habit will be as easy as putting one foot in front of the other.


  1. Working on habits is such an important thing, and something that doesn't seem like it would be that hard -- but for me it is! I get stuck on looking at ALL the habits that need to change, rather than just picking the one most important to work on, and then choosing the next in line when the first is under control.

  2. I'm seeing this a lot with my kids. Some days I need to stop riding them to pick up this, do that, change this, etc.. and just got at it one by one.

  3. Yes, trying to make large leaps with regards to habits usually lands me in a ravine.

    I would also like to think I've made small, continuous improvement in my hairstyles since my regretful 80's perms. Funny thing is, I was recently looking through family photos and realize I now am wearing my hair just like I did when I was three years old. Not exactly 'kaizen.'

  4. Jamie: I get overly ambitious about habit training, too. I works really well....for about a day. ;)

    Bobbie: Whenever I do that, I feel like the voice of the teacher from the Charlie Brown cartoons - remember that? Blah, blah, blah. I know my kids tune me out when I talk too much, lol.

    Richele: Hilarious - I've made small improvements in my hair too....or, at least my hair is "smaller" than in the 80s!

  5. As a fellow Japanese/CM afficionado, I enjoyed your post immensely!! Shamefully, I too wore a polkadotted dress a la Julia Roberts in the 80s. I was looking at photos of myself in it only the other day, in fact!

    Small, continuous improvements...much easier than trying to fix everything all at once, that's for sure.

    Thanks for dropping by my blog recently. I've not been posting much, but I'll be back soon.

  6. Jeanne, I don't know about your polka-dot dress, but mine had big shoulder pads. :) Glad to find another fan of both Japanese/CM ideas.

  7. Ahhhh, habit training. Something that is so hard to do but pays such big dividends in the end. I , like Jamie, get so caught up in the everything that I forget to take it one habit at a time..Thanks for the reminder and the great post!

  8. I love this! Habit training is important in our kids ... and ourselves. I'm hoping having patience is a habit? Do you think?


  9. Chef Penny and Jessie: thanks so much for reading and commenting. Sure, patience is a habit. Everything is habit, probably.