Achieving big goals can be daunting. Whether it's self-improvement or learning a new skill, overly ambitious ideas can leave you feeling like it's not even worth starting.

But what if you could make a major change by taking minor steps? It turns out that striving to do just a little each day is an excellent way to get a lot done.

The method is called Kaizen, and it's the Japanese practice of continuous improvement. It was a theory originally created in the United States and implemented in the world of business — most famously at Toyota — but it's applicable across all areas of life.

With Kaizen, you make continuous improvements by setting small goals to achieve big ones. Instead of trying to make a change all at once, you incrementally make a number of small changes which help set the path to your desired goal.

Taking it one step at a time

small child walks on rural sandy road Small steps add up. (Photo: Milosz_G/Shutterstock)

What's great about incremental and continual improvement is that you don't have to set your goals too high. Overly ambitious goals can be intimidating, leading to procrastination or avoidance. When your goals are small, it makes failure less likely. That's why Kaizen is so successful: you just focus on tiny steps one day at a time.

Let's say you dream of mastering the guitar but you can't even pluck a note. You start by learning just a couple of notes a day. Maybe by the end of the week, you know enough notes to the point where you can play a chord. Once you can play a chord, you try teaching yourself a new chord every day for a certain number of weeks. Then, by the end of the month, you've learned how to play a song.

If losing weight is your goal, you probably know that dropping those pounds depends on increasing exercise and watching calories. Starting an exercise regimen is daunting, and the thought of it is scary enough to deter many from ever starting.

Instead of hitting the gym for an hour or running 5 miles right away, you're better off starting by going for a short walk in the morning — simply 10 minutes of putting one foot in front of the other. The next day, try walking for 12 minutes, maybe the next day work up to 15. By slowly adding minutes to your stroll, a 30-minute walk can become part of your routine relatively quickly.

Once you're in the routine of getting out there and moving your body, you can throw other elements into the mix — maybe 30 minutes of walking followed by 10 minutes of running or stretching or use of small weights. Before you know it, you've created a new exercise routine.

A detailed routine that works for you

chess piece sees its future Thinking creatively about the future is easier when you break it into smaller, achievable goals. (Photo: Billion Photos/Shutterstock)

Routine geared toward success is what Kaizen is all about. Even more so, it's about developing a detail-based routine with a focus on realistic and attainable goals — goals you set at your own pace that work best for you.

You don't need to start a strict routine from day one. What you're doing with Kaizen is building a routine step by step, and you're able to maintain the routine because the steps are so small. By moving towards your goal in increments, you're also able to adjust as you go, simultaneously creating a more detailed plan. When you have a detailed plan, it makes accomplishing goals much easier.

Also, Kaizen gives you a little breathing room with your plan, allowing for some improvisation. Often times when you set out to make a plan, if one step goes wrong, you end up beating yourself up about it and stopping. Kaizen relies on lots of small, internal adjustments as you go along because the best person to know how to change something is usually the person in the thick of it.

So, if you're looking for a little self-improvement in your life, give the Kaizen model a shot. Just trying this method is a small step in itself, so you get a taste of the possibilities. After all, small steps are what makes the Kaizen magic happen.

Why you should add some Kaizen to your life
Kaizen, which involves incremental steps for continual improvement, can be applied to any part of your life, not just business.