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Kaizen: The Psychology of Peak Performance
Small steps to big change
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When we think of peak performance, we often imagine feats of strength, intelligence, or creativity. We picture athletes breaking world records, entrepreneurs launching world-changing startups, or artists creating masterpieces. These outcomes are easy to spot, however in reality, peak performance is more about the process. Champions as they say, aren’t made in the arena (they’re made in the moments beforehand).
Close friends know my longstanding obsession with Japan. The food, culture, history and generally bizarre nature of things fascinates me. The country’s structure and perfectionism resonates with my soul. One of the contributing factors to this perfect system, is the concept of Kaizen which emphasizes making small, incremental changes over time to achieve big results. This philosophy of continuous improvement has become ingrained in the Japanese psyche, and has been adopted by organizations & individuals around the world as a way to achieve peak performance.
The Power of Small Steps
The core concept of Kaizen is that small, consistent improvements over time lead to big results. Whether you're an athlete looking to improve your performance, a founder trying to grow your business, or simply someone looking to improve your daily habits, we can all learn from this ideal and the best place to start is by breaking down larger goals into smaller, more manageable steps. Instead of trying to tackle an insurmountable goal all at once, focus on what you can do today to make progress. This could be as simple as taking a 10-minute walk, reading one chapter of a book, or sending one networking email. The key is to make the goal small enough that it feels achievable, but challenging enough to stretch you.
The Importance of Mindset
Achieving peak performance requires more than just setting goals and making small improvements. It also requires cultivating a mindset of growth and resilience. This means embracing challenges as opportunities for growth, believing in your ability to improve, and maintaining a positive outlook even in the face of setbacks. One way to cultivate this mindset is to focus on the process of improvement, rather than the outcome. Unfortunately, we live in a outcome-based society where everyone fixates on the end result, yet in reality processes are the driving force. Instead of fixating on whether you achieved your goal or not, focus on the progress you've made and the small wins along the way. This helps stay motivated and maintain a sense of momentum, even when progress feels slow.
Of course no achievement comes without setbacks and failures along the way… in fact failure is often a necessary part of the process. Kaizen encourages us to embrace failure as an opportunity for learning and growth, rather than a reflection of our ability. To embrace failure, we need to practice self-compassion and self-reflection - be kind when you experience setbacks, and take time to reflect on what you can learn from the experience. By reframing failure as an opportunity for growth, you cultivate a more resilient mindset.
As an engineer by background, I love structure and processes. 1+1=2 and a sequence of inputs should lead to a predictable outcome. I’m also an obsessive optimiser, always trying to drive efficiency gains in whatever I do, from sending outreach emails to bio-hacking and sleep optimisation, its all interlinked. I discovered Kaizen many years ago and embraced it to drive improvements in all aspects of my life. I record all my lifts at the gym and have the simple goal of pushing myself one rep further, or one weight increment higher, in each session. From starting in my garage lifting weights as a 16-year old, at my peak I was able to bench 150kg, squat 180kg and deadlift 220kg, all thanks to continuous and sustained improvement. In a work context I try to always look back on past decisions, understand the processes that led to outcomes, and improve those mental models. I write memos for personal investments which no-one reads other than myself, and every 6 months look back at investment decisions to derive learnings (positive or negative).
By embracing Kaizen you are able to compound improvements. Days, weeks, months and years lead to incremental gains and giant goals become daily objectives. It is a simple framework that anyone can adopt, and I hope some of you embrace it on their path to peak performance.
To quote Will Durant - “We are what we repeatedly do… excellence then is not an act, but a habit”
😎 About the Author
I’m an Investor at Felix Capital, a London based early-stage and growth fund specialising in the intersection between consumers and technology. I focus on SaaS, Fintech & Web3 investing across Europe and the US. For entrepreneurs looking for funding (or wanting to chat), you can reach me via email - Joseph@felixcap.com or Twitter @Jpizzolat0