A few days before Thanksgiving, I pulled out a small book that I read a year or so ago. The dear friend who gifted me with the tome believed that I could benefit from the ideas it offers. Boy, was she right! The Kaizen Way: One Small Step Can Change Your Life by Robert Maurer has reminded me of concepts that I first encountered way back in my days in the brick-making industry.
You may remember the decades-old Japanese concept of kaizen that became popular in the United States in the 1980’s. It’s an elegant strategy that helps people achieve goals and maintain excellence in all areas of life. It’s one of those gentle techniques that can be slipped into even the busiest lives, and since we are fast approaching one of the most hectic times of year, I thought that dusting off this idea might help us to experience Advent in a more peaceful way.
While much of psychology is devoted to studying why people don’t function well in life, Dr. Maurer is a doctor who studies the opposite of failure. He looks at human decisions that are behind the success that many people enjoy. Through the course of several years, the author closely examined people who wanted to make changes in their lives…anything from weight loss to conquering shyness. While making radical changes was effective for a very small percentage, Dr. Maurer’s research has shown that the alternative path of kaizen “is one that winds so gently up the hill that you hardly notice the climb.”
So what exactly is it? Kaizen can be captured in the familiar quote by Lao Tzu, “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with the first step.” The idea is that small, comfortable steps taken for continual improvement…low-key change…helps the human mind circumnavigate the fear that can block our success and creativity when we try to take giant leaps. Practiced consistently over time, this type of change can actually build new neural connections in our brains.
How can we relate this graceful technique to our Advent practices? Keeping with the kaizen way, I’ll suggest a couple of small changes we can all make. First of all, take a few moments to think about the ways that you lived out Advent last year. Did you live fast and furiously through the time cruising exhaustedly into Christmas or were you pleased with how you and your family navigated the busyness? Next, if your practice could use some improvement…that would be most of us…write down one small thing that you would be willing to change about your experience this year. Be careful not to fall into the temptation of listing a big thing or many things thinking that you’re earning extra credit. We’re going for one small change this year. Lastly, write down one small change you will make that will move you closer to your goal. If your goal is a more reasonable schedule for example, could you remove one activity from your calendar for at least two of the weeks of Advent?
Advent can be a difficult season. We are not immune to wanting to jump ahead to Christmas. We often want to go ahead and sing our favorite Christmas songs or move forward in the gospels to the story of Christ’s birth. We want to be in the middle of everything that we have been told is part of living out a perfect Christmas. Because Advent is unique to the church, the world’s pull to have us rush through the real meaning of this season is especially pronounced. I invite you to give yourself a spiritual and emotional break this year. One small step can change the way you move through the season and open up a way for you to experience God in a new way. Now that’s a great Christmas present to yourself and to the world!
Blessings and Love, LuAnn