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“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with the first step.”  Lao Tzu


When faced a task or challenge do you tend to charge full speed ahead or let the enormity of what you are facing paralyze you into inaction?  I always like to break down a large project into smaller pieces so that I do not become overwhelmed, especially when I am tackling something new. 


I recently read the book, On Small Step Can Change Your Life:  The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer.  Mauer describes how kaizen, or taking small, comfortable steps toward improvement, can help you to rewire your brain so you seek out – and actually enjoy – the changes that will allow you to reach your goals more quickly.


Kaizen was developed in Japan as a way for businesses to not only reach their goals, but preserve excellence once they have attained it.  American factory workers were introduced to kaizen during the 1940’s in order to supply the Allies with the equipment that was needed to compete during war time.


Reading this book, I realized that kaizen is not only something I can practice to continuously improve my own life, but can also be used to help my clients to reach their goals.    Whether they aspire to save for college, decrease spending, stop watching the market fluctuation on a daily basis or prepare for the transition to retirement, working with my clients to set small, easily achievable steps, can increase their likelihood of success.


It’s human nature to want to reach the finish line quickly and therefore create large, abrupt changes in order to get there.    But often, radical changes will lead to short-lived results.   If you are trying to reduce your monthly spending, instead of trying to cut $1,000 out of your budget all at once, ask yourself “what one, small step can I take toward reaching my goal?”  A starting point may be to see one less movie each month.  When this becomes a habit, a second step may be to eat out one less day a week.


Kaizen is also a way to look at negative events in a different light.  If you encounter something that seems like a huge hurdle, it can be helpful to focus on what you can control instead of stressing about things you cannot.  When the stock market is going down, instead of concentrating on the worst that can happen, think about a positive thing that is happening.   Are your bonds increasing in value?  Do you have a financial plan that assumes the market will be volatile at times so that you do not have to make any drastic changes?    There are many areas in our lives where we can benefit from this technique. 


You can use kaizen to think of small ways to improve a life in which you are happy, tackle goals which appear insurmountable, or transition to a new stage in your life.  The most important thing to remember is that you can be successful – by taking a small step every day.