5S For Your Mind: How to Improve Your Thinking

If you woke up tomorrow really wanting to improve your life, how would you do it?

You’d probably do something like start working out, or call a friend to meet for lunch, or sign up for a training at work.  Getting some exercising would improve your health, spending time with friends and family would increase happiness, and working on your career would help you make more money.  It’s always good to try to optimize for these variables individually, but there’s only so many hours in the day!

Instead, what if you could do something that could improve all of them at once?  For example, what if you could spend less time feeling stressed or anxious so you could really maximize your time spent connecting with a friend or truly focus on learning a new skill for work?  It’s possible, through simply improving your thinking.  But what does that mean, and how can you do it?

If you’ve worked with or studied manufacturing processes, you’re probably familiar with 5S.  If you’ve never heard of it (or just need a refresher because you were dozing in class #guilty), 5S is an organization method that helps make manufacturing more efficient.  It’s famously used in Toyota’s factories to allow them to make a car in as little as 6 hours!

In the context of mental engineering, your thoughts and beliefs are like manufacturing processes.  For the sake of brevity, we’ll call them “internal processes”, though not to be confused with the business or geology uses of the phrase. While the processes in Toyota’s factory create cars, your internal processes create your perceptions about and interactions with the rest of the world.  By creating more efficiency within your mind, you can improve these perceptions and interactions, and allow yourself more freedom to focus, learn, connect, and generally enjoy life.

Ok, sounds great right? But how do you go about improving your internal processes?  Though applying 5S to internal processes isn’t as straightforward as applying them to manufacturing processes, it can still be done.  All that’s required is setting aside some time for metacognition (thinking about thinking), and applying the tactics as outlined below!

The 5S Process

1)Sort: Make work easier by eliminating obstacles

In manufacturing, this step generally entails getting rid of any unnecessary parts and evaluating necessary items with regard to cost and other factors.  For mental engineering, this means examining your Invisible Scripts (subconscious beliefs) and relationships and eliminating ones that are harmful or simply doesn’t serve you.

2)Straighten: Arrange all necessary items so they can be easily accessed

In a bike shop, this step would include creating a shadow board to hang tools on so you know exactly where everything is.  For our purposes, this means pulling your most beneficial thoughts and beliefs to the front of your mind, and making a point to repeat them frequently.  These thoughts and beliefs could be anything from self praise (“I’m so great at my job!”) to affirmations (“I can do anything I set my mind to”) or even simple pieces of gratitude (“I’m thankful to have such awesome friends!”).

3)Shine: Keep workplace clean and pleasing to work in

In a bio or chem lab, you generally have to follow strict procedures for cleanliness, both to improve work efficiency and to reduce risk of contamination (for both experimental and safety reasons).  When considering how to “shine” your internal processes, you want to try to reduce or eliminate unnecessary decisions and distractions so that you can focus on more important matters.

4)Standardize: Use best practices for all processes and keep things in their rightful place

When working with CNC machines, this step is most important for ensuring that the tools (different machine attachments) are being utilized properly, and are returned to their correct location for efficiency and safekeeping when done.  To improve internal processes, this step would focus on establishing best practices for how your receive and process information, as well as making sure to bring your positive thoughts to their “rightful place” at the top of your mind.  Best practices for receiving information could include a low information diet or avoiding idle gossip, while you can start processing information more quickly with speed reading and improved memory techniques.

5)Sustain: Perform regular audits

In a machine shop, this would mean doing in-house and OSHA inspections to ensure the shop is safe, clean, and efficient.  It also includes repeating the other 4S’s as necessary to ensure ideal functioning.  For mental engineering, this means checking in with yourself, and repeating the other processes as necessary.  Ultimately you’re looking for continuous improvement, which will aid you in all aspects of life.


I went a little long for my first post, but I hope you found it useful!  If you’re interested in learning more about 5S and mental engineering, sign up for the newsletter and I’ll send you the latest updates every Monday!



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