“Kaizen” is a Japanese word that literally translates to “continuous improvement” or “change for the better.” But Kaizen is more than just a word—it is a lifestyle. It represents striving for constant improvement in all areas of life. This philosophy pushes us to always raise the bar, and that is the very essence of Toastmasters.
We strive for improvement at every meeting and in every function we perform in Toastmasters. The knowledge we gain, and the skills we learn, enable us to improve and excel in other areas of our lives. Performance and improvement are key aspects of our program. We may perform a role in or outside Toastmasters, but that does not mean we are improving. Improvement means changing for the better, and it also implies that it can be measured. Evaluations help in that regard, but are not enough. One valuable technique is a self-evaluation brainstorm, in which you list and evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. It can be done alone, with a mentor or with a small support group. Conduct this kind of self-assessment after every important task, such as serving as Toastmaster of the Day, speaking, evaluating, training, chairing a meeting or event, or serving in a leadership role. After every important event, ask yourself, How could I have done better? Have I improved?
Scientific studies show that lifelong learning stimulates the brain and may be the key to a vibrant later life. Many years ago, I met a Toastmaster from District 31 named Charlie Keane, DTM, when he was 101 years old. I learned that he was district governor when he was 98! A member from 1953 until he died in 2008, he lived and breathed Toastmasters and wanted to share his experiences with others. Charlie personified lifelong learning.
We can’t always be perfect, but we can always improve.
One of Kaizen’s principles is: Think of how to do it, not why it cannot be done. I apply this concept to my leadership journey in Toastmasters and every part of my non-Toastmasters life as well. I identify the obstacles keeping me from reaching a goal and then I come up with ways to overcome them. I don’t tackle the entire problem at once but break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces. I may not reach my goal at this time—but I keep persevering.
Don’t seek perfection. That is another Kaizen principle. Halfway to a goal is better than no progress at all. If your goal is to lose 50 pounds and you lose only 25, are you a failure? Of course not. We can’t always be perfect, but we can always improve. Strive for improvement and excellence—these are attainable goals. In every project you undertake, ask yourself, Can this be improved?
Resolve today to work toward continual, incremental improvement in every aspect of your life, inside and outside Toastmasters, and excellence will be a word associated with all you do. You will always be raising the bar.
Never stop improving!
BALRAJ ARUNASALAM, DTM