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  • Kelly Marks

Tiny Steps

Looking at the calendar, I guess it’s time to ask, “How are your resolutions coming along?” I read an article a few days ago that said 50% of the population makes resolutions each January 1st, and within the first 8 weeks of the new year, 80% of those people have abandoned their resolutions. My only response was, “Eight weeks? People last eight whole weeks?”


That seems like a long time to me. I would have guessed 2-3 weeks, and maybe even that is generous. Personally, I know that every year I will most likely fail or give up, and yet I approach the whole process with such certainty that this time will be different. Delusional, right?


Part of the problem is that we are so extreme. If we want to lose weight, on New Year’s Day we eliminate all sugar, fat, caffeine, gluten, red meat, and fun from our diet. We adopt a plan of attack that is completely unsustainable, and then we wonder why we fail.


My mom has always preached moderation in all things, and I have always disagreed on the basis of “if I don’t give it everything I’ve got, I will fail for sure.” Now I’m not so certain about my theory. Don’t tell my mom, but she might be right. Again.


Recently I came across a concept called kaizen. It’s a process of using very small steps to improve a habit, process or product. Even if you have made the tiniest step toward your goal, if you find trouble sticking with it or following through in the slightest, then you’ve taken too big of a step. The idea of “I need to do less” is very appealing.


The Japanese name leads you to believe it is an ancient spiritual practice or concept closely related to Zen, yoga, or meditation. In actuality it’s an American concept born around 1940 when the US was needing to up its manufacturing of wartime supplies for our allies and us as we edged closer to joining the war ourselves. There was no time for radical change, revitalizing and creating new departments or facilities. Instead, as the manual said, they needed to begin to “look for hundreds of small things you can improve.” They called this program Training Within Industries.


After the war, General MacArthur brought the creator of this concept, W. Edwards Deming, over to Japan to help revitalize the Japanese economy, and they embraced it whole-heartedly and radically improved their productivity. The plan was so successful that the Japanese gave it a name of their own. Kaizen.


Sorry if that turned into a history lesson, but I found it so fascinating I had to share. All of that to say I think they are onto something. Small steps are doable; they are sustainable. They don’t overwhelm you with their all-or-nothing standards that leave you feeling like you’re either a failure or not good enough. We are surrounded with comparisons and standards we have no chance of obtaining. Could this be a solution?


I reshaped some of my resolutions after reading about this, and while it may not make my goals more completely obtainable, it has lifted the oppressive weight off my shoulders. It has led to improvements instead of perfection which was always the goal anyway.


I’ve always heard the mile you walked is better than the two miles you planned to run, and then I came across this more eloquent version, “the smallest deed is better than the grandest intention.” Small steps that lead to something better.


So maybe I’ll cut myself some slack, make some small changes and realize it’s good enough.





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