Suzanne Harrington: Keep it kaizen for real new year’s change

Suzanne Harrington: Keep it kaizen for real new year’s change

So here we are. Already embedded in the purge part of the annual binge-purge cycle, we are surrounded by those muttering about five times a week down the gym, smashing their own PBs (you hope they are talking about personal bests and not something you’d submit to in a sex dungeon), and generally giving up everything that tastes nice or contains gluten.

Everyone is doing Dry January, Veganuary, Gymanuary — monitoring their every dead lift, bench press, kilometre jogged and kale smoothie blitzed, into some whizzy little app designed to beep digital encouragement.

And uploading every sweaty effort for the rest of us to praise and admire from under the duvet, which is where you will find most sensible mammals now.

This mad burst of activity will last a few weeks, possibly even to the end of the month, although Fuckit February has been known to arrive around the third weekend of January, as people lose the will to live, collapsing under the weight of their own wildly unrealistic targets.

Who are we kidding? Ourselves, obviously.

We all collude in it, until we don’t anymore, hitting the February fuckit button early with rebellious glee.

There is another way, January people.

The Japanese have a word for it — Kaizen. Literally change (Kai), and good (Zen), it means continuous small improvement, rather than going nuclear on yourself.

Kaizen can be applied to anything, anytime, anywhere — it’s about practising small incremental changes that are doable on a daily basis, rather than radically restructuring your entire life by teatime, thereby guaranteeing yourself a nervous breakdown before bed.

For decades, I was one of those people who resentfully hit Fuckit February within the first fortnight of January.

Suzanne Harrington: Keep it kaizen for real new year’s change

I hated kale, hated running, and most of all hated the gym — what I really liked was booze and pills and fags and cake.

But I’d line up with the rest of the January lemmings, in new lycra and trainers, the fridge sandblasted bare of everything except raw cleansy stuff, the new gym subscription paid for — and fail.

Fail, fail, fail. And then think, Fuckit, it’s almost February (it never was — it was always still mid January).

Luckily for me I turned out to be an alcoholic, which meant learning some basic common sense in recovery which until then had eluded me completely — like not tackling every single thing that is wrong in your life at the same time, because that might prove a bit overwhelming.

A bit daunting. Instead, small changes. Kaizen.

Keeping things in the day, rather than scripting myself Stalinist five year plans. What a relief.

Kaizen is not Japanese for ‘go back to bed with a family tub of Ben & Jerry’s Dairy Free Chocolate Fudge Brownie’ – we have perfectly good English for that.

No, it is continuous small actions that will not suffocate us or demoralise us.

And these small things incrementally build, until one day you stop and wonder, where did she go, that person who was forever hitting the fuckit button too soon?

She’s been kaizened.

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