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Kaizen- The Learning Journey

These days I have been thinking a lot about the principle of Kaizen, translated as continuous improvement. If you are reading this, it is a fair assumption that you are interested in being the best therapist you can be. It’s important not to confuse the desire for a goal with the discipline and process it takes to get there. Every Olympic athlete wants to be the gold medalist, but what separates high achievers is often process, the focus on a methodical and disciplined approach to the desired goal.

Over the years, I have had the good fortune to work with high achievers in the world of athletics, the arts, and academics. From them, I have learned much about what it takes to achieve excellence in a chosen field. I must admit that sadly, these aren’t skills I learned early in life. I was filled with the desire for achievement but did not really have access to people around me who demonstrated the process of excellence. It is also highly likely that these people were around me and I just did not pay attention to them. In any case, as always, I am always a late bloomer.

In the past, I thought achievement comes in inspirational breakthrough moments, a romantic version of perfecting your craft, at best. In real life, it is the aggregate effect of nominal gains, as the author of “Atomic Habits” puts it. My own study of the cello is a profound example. I have often very little time to practice, but I keep plugging away, finding at least some time every day and always hoping that my teacher won’t give up on my slow progress. Thinking I am stuck on a plateau, I happened to listen to a recording of my playing from a year ago. I have actually improved!

That’s the thing, progress is nominal; often so small that gains are hardly noticeable. In your dedication, don’t look for rewards, just commit to the process itself. Spending too much time focusing on the end goal is like a golfer who keeps looking at the pin that is 500 yards away. She doesn’t have to hit the green with the first shot, just put the ball in the fairway, setting up a reasonable second shot. That second shot simply sets up the third. Success in golf is mastery of a series of steps. If the golfer over-focuses on how far the pin is, they are likely to try to do too much, putting themselves in a precarious position.

In art, it is often said not to focus on outcomes, just focus on process. Don’t wait for the inspiration to move you to practice, inspiration is for amateurs, discipline is for professionals.

For those of you who are studying PNMT, please use the same principles. Pick an area of focus and dive into it. Focus your energy on a single topic and explore it in depth. For those of you who are in the PNMT Portal, we are in the midst of a redesign to help you do just that.

When was the last time you read a research article? How much time is spent on the web with distractions that won’t advance your knowledge? As I write this, it occurs to me that we in this field have a major advantage. In many other endeavors, improvement benefits the person doing the work. While we will benefit both personally and professionally, our skill improvement ultimately benefits the life of someone else, the client receiving our skills. That’s a higher calling, indeed. Your deep dive into cervical biomechanics or that time on the portal with scapulocostal syndrome will benefit someone in the future, who will be needing your help.

In the end, keep track of your process. Spend time each day with skill improvement. If you own a clinic, do one marketing effort every day, perhaps calling that client you saw last week to see how they are doing. The sum of these little efforts equates to significant progress down the line.

We are all passengers on the Learning Journey. Welcome aboard!

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