Japan has one of the most extraordinary running cultures on the planet, unlike anything I’ve ever come across. Thousands of professional runners compete for corporate teams in some of the most competitive races in the world. The 135-mile Ekiden Relay Race is the nation’s premier sporting event. The legendary ‘Marathon Monks’ run a thousand marathons in a thousand days in their quest for spiritual enlightenment.
“Persistence will do what cannot be achieved by force. Drops of water wear away a stone; a cloudburst will leave it unchanged.” – J. G. Bennett (1978)
February has come, mid-winter doldrums have set in, and you’re running resolutions are starting to slide. Sound about right?
Take heart! The days ARE getting longer. (Spring is just seven weeks away!) It’s time to bring out the motivational ‘power-ups’ like sharing your progress on social media, picking a cue (running shoes by the door) or choosing a reward that will incite you to action (a chocolate chip cookie maybe?). One strategy that helps me get off the couch originated in the Land of the Rising Sun.
The Way of Continuous Improvement
The Japanese principle of kaizen, also known as “continuous improvement,” can be a useful model for busting out of your mid-winter slump. It points to a gentle, gradual, long-term approach to personal goals that systematically seeks to achieve small, incremental changes in order to improve efficiency and quality.
Kaizen is based on the philosophical belief that everything can be improved. This means that nothing is ever seen as a status quo – there are continuous efforts to improve which result in small, often imperceptible, changes over time. I love the concept of gradual development but I realize that kaizen alone is not enough to pull someone out of a decline in performance unless they have a specific plan of action.
Points of focus, strengthening techniques, and realistic running speeds/distances set just above your current skill level provide a clear focus and direction to your running almost any time of year. Task-oriented goals like these are the building blocks of motivation. These incremental efforts can add up to substantial changes over the longer term, without having to go through any radical improvement regimes.
The kaizen approach humanizes self-improvement by eliminating overly hard work. It teaches people a much gentler way to make positive and lasting changes in their running form, running speed, core strength and mindfulness.