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Embracing the spirit of Kaizen

The most important aspect of the TI philosophy and methodology is its ‘Kaizen’ approach to swimming that is based on the philosophy of continuous, incremental improvement. The Kaizen concept originated in Japan; the word translates to mean change (kai) for the good (zen) and was developed to improve manufacturing processes. It is one of the elements which led to the success of Japanese manufacturing through its high quality and low costs.

Kaizen is based on the philosophical belief that everything can be improved so nothing is ever seen as a status quo – continuous efforts to improve result in small, often imperceptible changes over time which add up to substantial changes over the longer-term. Using problem-solving to make incremental improvements engages us fully in the change process resulting in better focus and greater satisfaction.

A Kaizen approach to swimming is no different – it is about focusing on your own continual incremental improvements, or as TI founder Terry Loughlin always advised: “Your goal in every pool session is to improve your swimming – my main thought every time I enter the pool is to be a better swimmer when I leave it.” However, as we head back to the pool after yet another enforced break in our swimming it’s easy to get frustrated about lost opportunities or missed training sessions and try to get straight back to where we were before the break. If, when you do get back in the pool, you feel you’ve performed better in the past, rather than dwell on what you may have lost, consider what you can do right now to make the next moment better. Choose a Kaizen mindset – slow down, review the situation and look for the fundamental mistakes. Pick one detail to work on (create a focal point for it), and let it be your goal to make it better, rather than compare to where you were.

More from Terry:

“The paradox of Kaizen is that the way it helps you think in terms of limitless possibility is by focusing your attention on the potential of this day and this moment. Kaizen Swimming is not built upon any great or impressive action, but upon a very small action only you will notice—a single beautiful stroke . . . repeated with loving attention a few thousand times in the course of an hour.

You begin practice with a plan to find some almost-hidden aspect of your stroke that, during the next hour, you’ll perform better than you ever have before. No one else will notice your improvement, but you will feel it because you give it such keen and unwavering attention. Before you know it, an hour is over, and it’s been the best hour of your day.

And that is the greater wonder of Kaizen. Before I embraced the Kaizen spirit, during each day’s practice I thought I was training for a happy moment three or six months in the future when my hard work brought a best time.  But Kaizen, while showing me a life of boundless possibility, has also taught me to make each day special, and not wait for happiness sometime in the future.”

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