How to Improve Your Style: The Kaizen Way
One of my favorite books that I recommend to my clients is One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way, by Robert Maurer. It’s a tiny book that explores one of the simplest, most effective approaches towards lasting change, and it changed my life forever. The Japanese call this “incremental improvements” approach “Kaizen,” and I like using that term because it just sounds cooler.
Ever since I realized the power of Kaizen, I started sharing it with all my friends and clients. For example, a month ago I received a call from one of my clients who kind of plateaued with his style improvements. He’s a young guy who loves and enjoys fashion, but he felt like he couldn’t come up with any fresh ideas for outfit combinations and lost enjoyment with looking and feeling his best.
He’s also a really busy guy, juggling lots of hours at both school and work, so I told him to commit to looking at some inspirational fashion photos each day for just 1 minute for 30 days. He agreed, and after a month passed by I checked in with him. He told me that he actually kept up the habit of looking at fashion photos in between classes or when he was on the train for just 1 minute each day on his smart phone. With tons of new ideas for his own wardrobe, he bought a bunch of key pieces that enabled him to create more than 30 new outfit combinations – all because of this daily 1 minute habit.
Another example of Kaizen at work is when I recently saw a friend’s closet, and he had so many amazing pieces in his closet – more than me! I was blown away and I asked him, “How the heck do you build this amazing wardrobe?” He told me, “It didn’t take me that much effort actually. At least once a week, during my lunch break at work I stop by a clothing store and look around for a minute. Usually I end up buying something cheap like an accessory, a shirt, or a pair of pants. That’s how my closet keeps growing.”
If you do that math, my friend buys 1 new piece a week, which equals 4 new pieces a month, or 52 pieces a year! You can do one big shopping spree a year and you probably would not buy that many pieces. He doesn’t even buy expensive pieces, but reasonably priced clothes that he can afford on a week-to-week basis. If he needs a jacket or something more pricey, he’ll drop, but he maintains a baseline of improving his style because he enjoys it – and he’s one of the most stylish bastards I know.
Most people that you would call “stylish,” get there through small incremental improvements. It doesn’t take them a lot of effort. The just have regular routines that are effortless to them, like brushing their teeth, that lock in progress. You may see a friend buy a new outfit and they look great for a day, but most of the time their style is whatever because they just don’t have enough pieces or the fashion sense to maintain their best style. Then there is the other guy, who focuses on gradually improving their image, and they always look better than the last time you saw them.
Most of us know that if we have a big goal, it helps to measure our progress by breaking down our actions steps to small, easy-to-achieve steps. However, we naturally want to achieve our goals as fast as possible, and what results is that our “small steps” become too big to maintain consistent progress for the long-haul.
It’s like the New Year’s Resolution phenomenon, where tons of people join the gyms in January, but 50% don’t make it past the second month. It’s easy to get excited and make a burst of effort towards your goal, but to maintain the high level of intensity that you started with, is almost impossible.
I’ve learned that most of the time people underestimate the time and space they need to make the great lifestyle changes that they want.
Not only do we underestimate the time and space that we need to make great lifestyle changes, but we overestimate the effort that it takes to make great headway. This causes us to stir up a lot of activity, but waste a lot of energy and time in the process.
With some goals in your life, you’ll be required to sprint, but most of the time, you’re in a marathon, and you have to remember to shift yourself into “marathon mode.” When you’re running a marathon, you aren’t focusing on efficiency, you are focusing on effectiveness.
You start by running slow, and then you enter into a steady rhythm. You listen to your body, you think about how to best save your energy for the long-haul. You stop for water when you need to, and keep moving forward towards the finish line.
The problem is that in this day and age, most of us are constantly in “sprint mode,” and we get stuck in it. We bring this approach to everything we do, and we burn ourselves out. Focusing on small incremental steps forward naturally helps you shift into marathon mode, because you’re not thinking “instant gratification,” but “long-term effectiveness.”
Here are 4 great reasons why you should use “Kaizen”:
1) It gives you space and time to test the effectiveness of your action steps
2) It allows you to maintain balance in your life for long-term growth
3) It bypasses negative stress, fear, and loss of energy, keeping you motivated to keep going
4) As you get more experience with what’s most effective for you, you’ll use your time and energy much smarter, and enjoy continual growth
How to Cultivate Your Style With “Kaizen”
A lot of people ask me something like, “I want to get my style in order once and for all, and become a super fashionable, but I don’t really know where to start or where I’m going with it, what should I do?”
My answer to them is to first create a firm foundation by taking small incremental steps towards improvement – things they can commit to doing regularly, rather than trying to take one huge leap.
The best way to start applying this approach to your style development is to commit to a tiny step that you can take towards improving your image consistently. The key word here is commit. In order to get past fear, procrastination, excuses, and mental blocks of any kind, you have to commit to tasks that you can guarantee you’ll take every single day. It should be something that even if you don’t have the energy, you can commit to doing, because it’s so easy. Try testing your commitment for a month, and after that you can make a better decision whether or not you want to keep the habit and increase your efforts.
Here are some ideas for style-related habits you may want to commit to:
- Look at or read fashion inspiration daily for 1-5 minutes
- Try on a new outfit combination every day
- Shop for one clothing piece each week
- Spray cologne every day before you leave the house
- Experiment with a new hair product every month
- Do 1-20 pushups every morning
- Run every day
- Get your eyebrows threaded bi-weekly
- Stop into just one clothing store per week for 1-3 minutes
These are small steps that if you commit to for life, you will enter into the upper echelon of stylish people. These are just suggestions, and you can come up with your own, but these are things I believe are not hard for most people to commit to. But depending on your schedule or situation, it may be hard for you, and that’s okay. Start tiny, and if at any point you cannot keep up the habit, you have to scale back. For example, if you start by reading fashion inspiration for 5 minutes a day, and you find yourself not doing it for a few days, scale back and just commit to 30 seconds or one minute.
If it’s too hard for you to try on a new combination every single day, just commit to wearing a different shirt or pair of pants you haven’t worn in awhile. You might rediscover a pair of pants that goes well with your that new shirt you recently bought, or find that you need to buy better fitting clothes. Your tiny commitment will result in a lot of progress.
Testing it For Yourself
For most of you reading this, this concept will seem like an approach for wussies. Everyone is wired differently, and some of us thrive on big challenges. I’m one of these people, (or at least I’d like to think I am), and I can wholeheartedly say that if you have not tried this, it will change your life.
Don’t misunderstand, it’s not about doing less than your best or slowing down your progress so that you’re demotivated to keep going. The goal here is continual improvement that truly lasts, and the most effective way towards that is to commit to taking small steps towards your goals that will become automatic, effortless, and even pleasurable. As you make progress, you can set your pace at a higher rate, as long as you can make sure that you can guarantee continual results.
So in other words, keep moving forward, and get a lot more done in less time by improving your speed and efficiency, but remember that life is a marathon and most of your goals will require you to focus on maintaining a pace that is sustainable over many years in other to get to an amazing and worthwhile place.
“When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. When you improve conditioning a little each day, eventually you have a big improvement in conditioning. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts.” – John Woolen, (one of the most successful coaches in the history of college basketball)
Eliminating Excuses with Kaizen
So you want to keep making progress with your style, but feel like progress has stagnated? Here are some of the top excuses many of us have and Kaizen steps you can commit to in order to keep growing:
1)” I just don’t have enough money to buy clothes right now.”
Examine your spending, and you’ll realize you spent more money out with your friends last weekend than you needed to, just because you could. If you don’t have one already, make a budget for your clothing needs and realize that you can make a significant change to your wardrobe with a small $10 accessory or a $20-30 shirt. Try committing to saving a dollar a day into a “style” jar, and buy a new piece at the end of each month to improve your style. Just imagine how your wardrobe will grow over the course of a year! You’ll be surprised when your friends compliment you on your new clothes and smile with what little effort you’re putting into it. If you can’t commit to dollar a day, start with 50 cents. Or if you can definitely commit to more than a dollar a day, feel free to do that too.
2) “It takes too much time to shop, and I just don’t have the time to go.”
You don’t have to set aside an entire day to shop for clothes. Haven’t shopped in awhile? After reading this article, Google your favorite clothing store and see what’s new in stock for this season. Maybe you’ll end up buying something. Or the next time you’re near a clothing store, just commit to popping in for 30 seconds. Try on one piece. Something might catch your eye, you might make a nice purchase, and realize “Wow, that was easy.”
3) “It’s overwhelming to have to put so much effort into my style, and burdening to maintain.”
First of all, you don’t have to do anything. You get to improve your style, at whatever pace you wish.
The truth is that many times our schedules get busy and at points we stop caring about our hair, what we wear, and doing what we need in order to look our best. If you never leave the house for whatever reason, okay, feel free to be all natural. But for the rest of us who interact with society, it’s just a cold hard fact that when we look our best, it helps us feel our best, and when we feel our best, we do excellent work. As a bonus, looking your best also sets you up to make your best impression when you bump into a cute girl or a network connection, exponentially increasing chances of success.
Too lazy to groom yourself each morning? Commit to spending 1 min every morning doing your hair each morning. Do this for 30 days. After 30 days, increase the time you spend to whatever you can keep up, guaranteeing you never leave the house without your best hairstyle.
Want to improve your fashion sense but feel overwhelmed? Commit to spending just 30 seconds looking through a fashion magazine or online clothing store for 30 days. If you find that 30 seconds a day is too much to commit to for 30 days, try 10 seconds. I’m serious. That’s more than enough time to look at one photo. These few seconds per day will add up and build your eye for fashion and a sense for what you like and don’t like. Try it and tell me I’m wrong.
This will be much more effective in the long-term, compared to to telling yourself you’ll spend hours reading style magazines, not really retaining much, and putting it off when you don’t have time for it.
A couple weeks ago there was a day I wanted to go shopping, but after a long day of work I was tired and just wanted to go home. However, I reminded myself that any progress is better than none and committed to stopping by one of my favorite stores for 30 seconds. I told myself that if I didn’t see anything I liked, I would leave after 30 seconds. However, I saw the perfect jacket that I was looking for, tried it on in my size, and bought it. It took longer than 30 seconds, but I already got one of my biggest pieces for the season that I wear often and get so much use out of. Sometimes it only takes a 30 second commit to make a huge leap towards your goals.
Locking “Kaizen” Into Your Personal Development Arsenal
If you’re the type of guy who loves shopping sprees, or going “all out,” awesome. Go for it. I believe it’s important to do that at times to make massive progress towards your goals, when you’re really busy or at transitional periods of your life. But the truth is that some point you will lose energy or momentum, or you’ll get busy with some other goal or project. As a personal stylist, I take guys on shopping sprees and sometimes they buy a whole new wardrobe. They take home tons of value because they learn what works for them and how to shop for themselves. Still, I can’t deny that a lot of guys come to get a “quick-fix,” and after they wear all their new clothes for awhile, they kind of plateau out.
Yes, sometimes you’ll have to commit more time, energy, and money to buy yourself an outfit for an interview or important event, but most of the time, you want to balance your life and keep improving this area along with other important ones.
So while I do believe in shopping sprees, it’s important to commit to a long-term focused level of maintenance and growth. Despite what most advertisements have us believe, you’ll never get an area “settled once and for all.” Nothing is final, because everything is always evolving.
Keep in mind that trends, along with your tastes, will change more quickly than you have time to notice. So remember “Kaizen” in order to maximize your time and money – focusing on incremental changes that will help you continue evolving.
If you ever catch yourself making excuses, or procrastinating on improving your style, take consistently small and incremental steps forward. Most of the time, you’ll be surprised to find that, making good progress wasn’t as difficult as you made it out to be in your head, taking much less time and energy. By taking this approach, you’ll lock in long-term habits, you’ll enjoy the journey much more, continue growing, and have more flexibility to adapt to the ups and downs of life.
So give the Kaizen approach a try, and you’ll find that it helps in keeping you enjoy making progress, adapting to our current situation and energy levels. It helps us build long-term habits that lock in positive growth.
Thanks for reading! For more on “Kaizen,” I recommend reading One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way, by Robert Maurer.
If you have any questions or comments, write one below, I’d love to hear from you!
Live life to the fullest with passion and style,