The Kaizen Way for Resolutions

By Jon Miller Published on January 1st, 2013

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The New Year is a time for reflecting on the past annual cycle, the one to come, and for making resolutions. The question on my mind is “Why do plans go awry?” In truth my goals and resolutions from year to year do not differ so much. Basically I resolve to “do what I am supposed to do” more consistently and better. These are things like fitness, spending quality time with family, adding more value for customers, colleagues and community, learning and personal development. To varying degrees, I fail at these each year. Yet somehow I persist. So this year the resolution is to be better at this than the last cycle.
Looking at the word “resolution” it is interesting to note that in addition to the meaning deciding, committing or finding the determination to do something, there are several others which may be more useful in working through failure. First is that resolution is also the act of analyzing a complex situation into simpler components, such as the example from optics of prismatic resolution, breaking sunlight into its spectral colors. Resolution is also used to describe the fineness of detail that we can see in an image or video. Perhaps my resolutions (targets and commitments) need to be broken down into their components and seen in greater clarity and detail before they can be achieved.
It’s early in the year, and there is no doubt I will learn much more from my failures in keeping my resolutions in the coming months. Here are some reflections and lessons from the past years.
Attitude. Attitude is important. Setting high goals, missing and being discouraged is the typical process for New Year’s resolutions. But would you give up if the goal was something you were truly excited about? If the payoff is worth the work, there is a greater chance of success. The resolution or goal should generate a can-do attitude and a sense of positive expectation. One should prepare an attitude that allows small wins to motivate, and setbacks to not derail the effort.
Breakdown. The target should be broken down into several achievable steps, made up of actions that you can visualize yourself actually doing. Stopping a bad habit or starting a new good habit is quite a complex thing, and it is important to take time to think through the resolution and its component habits, environments or situations. Considering the level of logical thinking this requires, the New Year’s Eve celebration or immediately after, with its excesses, is probably not the best time for this exercise.
Circuits. An important step within kaizen is to grasp the current situation. Some may call this current state analysis or baselining the as-is. Achieving one’s goals comes down to following successful habits, taking successful action towards the goal. Observing and understanding why we fail at this is difficult but essential. This is the kaizen way. A recent book titled The Power of Habits by Charles Duhigg provides a useful framework underpinned by understanding of our neural circuitry. It illustrates with encouraging examples of how people changed their habits and achieved their goals. Perhaps this habit of being able to replace poor habits with better ones – call it a metahabit – ought to be on the top of your resolution list for the next cycle.
DCAP. This is Do, Check, Act, Plan – the PDCA cycle picking up with Do once the plan of action for the resolution has been made. As the resolutions should be continual year-to-year or at least linked in some way, it doesn’t matter what step of the PDCA cycle is the starting point this year. For a particular goal it may be Check and then APD. The key point is to build in the PDCA habit to the New Year’s resolution process. That is the kaizen way, and not the usual failures which go PD PD PD PD…
End in mind. In order to work through adversity, anchor the resolutions within your long-term targets, dreams or ambitions. As Stephen Covey wrote, “begin with the end in mind”. But instead of beginning with the end, continue with the end in mind. When the New Year’s resolutions become simply “fitness 2013” instead of *sigh* “I failed last year so why try this year” we can celebrate progress, failure and lessons learned rather than abandon failed goals and their valuable lessons. Following a process, learning from results both successful and not, and improving the process, that is the kaizen way for resolutions.
Good process to you in 2013.

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