“Kaizen” is a Japanese word that means “improvement.” The concept of kaizen is continuous, incremental improvement. That is, instead of making big changes all at once, you make continually make small changes that accumulate over time. This is most often used as a management concept. You find small ways to make a business a little better and make those improvements systematic. You can also use kaizen as an approach to recovery. Instead of making a lot of big changes all at once, you find small ways to improve today. The great thing about kaizen is that it gives you permission to be patient. You can set very small goals or make very small changes. In fact, the smaller, the better, because small changes feel more manageable. You know you can keep it up. For example, it’s a great idea to get regular exercise when recovering from addiction. Exercise creates all kinds of positive changes in your body and mind that make you feel better and give you more self-control. Unfortunately, people often start exercising with wildly unrealistic expectations, find it too hard, and quit before they see any benefits. If you take a kaizen approach to exercise, you might think of a very easy goal; say you’ll walk for five minutes. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s five minutes of exercise you didn’t get yesterday. You walk your five minutes, pat yourself on the back for your small improvement, then do it again tomorrow. Maybe next week you walk for six minutes. Again, it doesn’t seem like much, but it’s an improvement. If you stay consistent and add a little bit at a time, you will inevitably get into pretty good shape. There are any number of aspects of recovery you can apply kaizen to. If you want ideas, it helps to keep a journal of what’s going well and what’s difficult. If you’re feeling stressed and that causes cravings, maybe there are some ways to reduce your commitments for a while. If there is a particular person who makes you want to drink, maybe you can figure out how to encounter that person 10 percent less frequently. The key steps in kaizen are to identify something you want to start, or some problem you want to solve. Then break it down as much as possible into different parts. Figure out where improvement would do you the most good, then try to make that area just a little better. If that sounds too complicated, just experiment. What’s the smallest thing you can do today to improve your recovery? Try it and see how it goes.
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