Not many people saw the pandemic coming. And nobody predicted what actually happened in 2020.
Don’t believe anyone who says they know what’s going to happen in the future. At best, it’ll be a lucky guess.
We can’t predict what happens to us, but we can decide what we do next.
We always get to decide how we react.
When you know how you’ll react before the Universe throws the shit — that’s what we call ‘having values.’
And having values is how you predict the future.
So, if kaizen is one of your values, it means you’ve decided to improve: To take a little step forward every day. To learn something new. To leave our beautiful home a little better than when we arrived.
And once you understand that turning ‘thoughts into things’ is what your human brain was born to do, you’ll be shocked we don’t shout about it from the rooftops.
And even more shocked that most people don’t use this tool at all.
All it takes is to take a goal you thinking about, and decide, “I am going to do this.”
And then keep on thinking that.
Think about doing it; think about it being done; and think about the kind of person who does that thing. And all those thoughts will tell you what you need to do to get there. Who you need to be to get those things.
You’ll start making decisions and choices that drive you towards that goal, and each one with show you what you need to do next.
You’re probably already done this in your life without realizing it.
Hear Earl Nightingale explain it in his deep, luxurious tones for yourself:
“Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.”
Often, we’re in such a hurry to get to the results that we’re disappointed when they don’t arrive immediately. We get frustrated when our social media posts go unnoticed, or we get overlooked for a raise.
We want the instant success that we see on social media.
But real success doesn’t come overnight. It can’t.
Because true success is overcoming challenges, solving problems, failing, and starting again.
Being successful means taking that little step forward towards your dream — whatever happens.
As you take on your challenges today, remember that the only failures in life are those that don’t keep taking those little steps forward every day. The ones that stay still.
You may have heard the word kaizen and wondered what it meant. The answer is stranger than you’d think.
The root of the word kaizen is in manufacturing and business processes. But the principles behind it are applicable in our lives too. That’s why it has crept into the world of self-help.
But what does kaizen actually mean?
What is kaizen, and what does it mean?
Kaizen is a concept and a Japanese word. This is the word:
The word simply means ‘change for the better.’
A more straightforward translation might be ‘improvement.’
There isn’t much philosophical about the words improvement or kaizen by themselves. But kaizen has grown in meaning in the last half-century to describe the philosophy of continuous improvement both in business and private life.
The Deeper Meaning of Kaizen
The English language is well-known to relentlessly and mercilessly acquire words and phrases from others — often shamelessly ignoring its deeper meanings.
“We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.” James Nicoll
Kaizen has avoided that treatment so far. But unpicking its meaning reveals a philosophical beauty.
This gent does a better job than I could ever do.
Kai (revolution) = Self & Whip (flagellate)
Zen (good) = Sheep (lamb/goat) & Alter (sacrifice)
Kaizen, translated very literally, means revolution through small sacrifices.
I love the philosophy behind this.
Change is the relentless beating of life upon us.
And ‘good’ essentially meaning sacrifice, or from sacrifice. Because nothing truly good ever happened without a little sacrifice.
Sacrifice is how you get there. Not huge sacrifices, just small, meaningful ones.
Keep both of those meanings in mind as we go a little deeper into the meaning of the word kaizen, and you’ll see the power these short lines represent.
Kaizen translates to improvement.
But ‘improving’ isn’t very helpful. How do you improve? And how do you know you’ve improved when you get there?
To incorporate the philosophy of kaizen into your life, you need a framework.
Here are some pillars that make kaizen practical for personal growth.
The 3 Pillars of Personal Kaizen
Kaizen has been turned into a framework for creating better businesses. And as with any such framework, it rests upon pillars or principles. You can find various versions of these, but they all seem to be rather wordy and boring business-speak.
After some research, I decided that these three were probably the most important — everything else stemmed from them. Someone will probably complain about me twisting meanings here, but I don’t care. Words are what you make of them.
1. Mokuteki 目的 (Purpose)
Mokuteki is at the core of kaizen. It roughly means ‘purpose’ or ‘goal.’
Mokuteki is the growth part, the addition, the result of the improvement.
If you want to execute kaizen in your life, mokuteki is both your goals and your intention to achieve them.
It’s the whole point.
You could also use seichō (成長), meaning growth or zō‘ (増) meaning increase. Or just kaizen, of course.
I find ‘purpose’ to be most fitting for self-improvement, partly because of its double meaning in English.
You must have purpose — intent — to change. And you must have a purpose for doing it—your objective. The roots of the word purpose are from the Latin for resolve. Something else you must have.
This also fits nicely with our use of the word ‘purpose’ because eliminating waste and distractions becomes easy once you have a purpose.
There are some elements of this in personal kaizen, and we’ll certainly need to eliminate things that don’t help us work towards our goals.
2. Gemba 現場 (Place)
Gemba is a Japanese word that translates approximately as the real place. Google (rather dully) tells me that it means on-site.
If you’re interested, the two kanji characters that make this word translate as current and field.
In the business consulting frameworks, Gemba typically refers to the workplace or factory floor. But we can use it in several other ways:
A police detective would call a crime scene the gemba, live TV journalists report from gemba. It’s where the action happens, where the rubber hits the road. It’s the field where you will sow your seeds of growth.
If you are trying to apply kaizen to your life, gemba is the area of your life that you want to improve.
To some people, their gemba is obvious and specific. It could be learning to play the guitar or running a marathon.
It could be more abstract for other people, like being happier, or more confident, or more successful in your career.
You need gemba to help you focus your efforts. It directs your energy and shows you what you need to sacrifice. It helps you cut away the chaff and focus on what’s essential to your mokuteki.
It keeps you on track. Identifying your gemba is essential if you want to benefit from the principles of kaizen.
You cannot climb any mountains unless you pick one mountain to climb first.
Gemba is also where you do that improvement: work, home, the gym. Understanding how your environment affects you is an essential part of self-development.
3. Renzoku 連続 (Persistence)
The final piece of a kaizen philosophy is this: continuity. That’s the more common translation of renzoku. But that doesn’t make a neat Three Ps for the pillars. 🙂
The business concepts refer to this as standardization — and that’s important to remember. Another way we could look at this could be iji (維持), which would mean sustainability or to maintain, but I prefer 連続 because it is more about using it continually. And also the whole ‘P’ thing I mentioned earlier.
Personal kaizen is more about continuity because you can’t standardize life in the same way you can standardize a production line or business process.
Kaizen isn’t about making fast changes to your lifestyle or habits. It’s about continuously making improvements to your lifestyle or habits. These slight improvements will all add up to significant change faster than you think.
It’s not about quick hacks and instant results. Because, as appealing as those may be, these things don’t work.
You might drop the ~10lb (for me, it was about ~25lb) that you thought was making you unhappy. You might get the raise you need to feel like a success. You might find the perfect productivity app, or personal trainer, or diet plan, or partner. But none of that will count for shit in the long run because they’re not what drives change.
Kaizen is about taking small definite actions every day — some of which you can standardize — no matter what happens. It’s about persistence.
Renzoku is the current that drives the change. It’s your motor, the wind in your sails. It’s the realization that there is no final ‘better’ — perfection is impossible, after all.
The power behind the kaizen philosophy lies in renzoku. The whole point is just to put one foot in front of the other and keep on moving. It’s the method that makes it all possible; it’s the regular deposits you make into your account.
But it’s also the realization that making the regular deposits is more important than how much they are or how much is in the account!
It’s the action that makes it all possible.
Kaizen is a Way of Approaching Life
Here’s another analogy that relates to this story about the man who wanted to climb the mountain.
Adopting a kaizen philosophy is deciding to climb the mountain for yourself. It is also your map and your method.
If you are that traveller walking up a mountain, gemba is the mountain, mokuteki is the view from the top, and renzoku is the action of putting one foot in front of the other; the steps you take to get there.
And those travellers who are fortunate enough to reach the top and look out on that view tend to realize one thing. Each of those little steps was the point. The steps were the goal in themselves. After all, how many people climb just one mountain?
Once you get to the top, you realize that the whole point is to climb — and to keep climbing.
Kaizen is the toolkit that will help you climb any mountain you choose.
What Kaizen Means to Me
This whole blog is about what kaizen is to me and how to use this practical philosophy to improve your life.
Kaizen helped me to turn my life around completely, and it can help you too.
It’s taken me from being a lost, sad, goal-less drug addict to a productive, healthy (mostly) happy human, doing what I enjoy for a living.
I’m a pretty flaky guy. And I’m not talking about a skin condition.
I flake out on my friends, the gym, my degree, relationships. You name it, I’ve given up on it. I’ve even gotten pretty close to flaking on my whole damn life a couple of times.
We’ve all got that one really flaky friend. Sometimes more than one. If you can’t think of a really flaky mate, it’s probably you. But that doesn’t mean you’re the only one — we all do it.
And not just to our mates, but to ourselves. You know what I mean.
When you are about to get fit, get a promotion or a job, or start eating healthy, going to the gym – whatever.
Life is going a little too well.
Then, something happens and the ‘fuck it’ button gets pressed. The pressure gets too much. The challenges mount ahead and your brain goes, ‘…fuck that.’
Or I feel a bit crap or lonely and think, ‘fuck it. I’ll just go back to doing what I want – it feels better.’ The pressure goes away and you get to go back to being normal.
Have you ever heard that song with the line, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going…”
They used to play it at my primary school morning assembly; some sort of indoctrination no doubt. Well, I can’t speak for everyone but I can say that it didn’t work for me.
When the going gets tough, I used to flake out and go back to bed. I still do sometimes. Then I can binge on beer and drugs and sugar and Netflix, and the whole world can just go and fuck itself.
Things ‘getting tough’ is a good enough excuse for me to not bother at all. Why go through all the hassle and stress? I’ll probably fail anyway…
When it comes to flakiness, I’m a pro. So much that I don’t even notice I’m doing it until it’s too late…
Past Ben is Out to Get Me
Ever get that feeling someone is out there to trip you up? Well, whenever I turn around to see who’s tripping me up, it turns out to be me. I call him, ‘Past Ben.’ Some people call this self-sabotage. I’ve sabotaged every single relationship I’ve had.
Usually, before it’s even started I’ve laid dynamite in the foundations, ready for me to implode the whole thing when it gets too tough, or too real, too painful. And when it ends and I didn’t want it to, I look back and realise that it was me who’d sewn the seeds of its failure, way back in the beginning.
Maybe so that then I can go back to filling my head with fun chemicals and trying to get into other lonely people’s pants. “Hey! I’ve just had a hard time, I’m allowed to have some fun.”
Even if that ‘fun’ involves drinking myself into the gutter in the closest, darkest bar with some other heartbroken people. All I need to flake is an excuse – and it doesn’t even need to be a good one.
The 5 ‘Es’ of Self-Sabotage
You could, technically, say that all these ‘Es’ are excuses, and you’d be right. But, then I wouldn’t get to make that hilarious title, would I? Or this blog for that matter.
I’ve talked about excuses before and there are lots of great excuses you can use to avoid success, if you’re looking. Blaming other people is always a great one. It’s super easy to blame someone else when things go wrong or get too hard.
Every single girlfriend I ever had was a great excuse. You know, wanting all that time and attention. How could I possibly become rich and famous if I’m spending all my time with her?
If you’re looking, the world has a tonne of excuses you can use too — just watch the ‘news.’
Remember when all the computers were going to die because of a date change or something around 2000? Or SARS…or bird flu… or swine flu…ebola…was going to kill us all…the recession…the Cold War…the invention of the steam-loom…the Rapture… How could you possibly commit to anything when the world ends tomorrow? But it never does.
I’ve actually been kind of disappointed by how little has changed since Donald Trump got elected President. That was supposed to be apocalyptic. The same goes for Brexit; I was half-expecting the UK to simply ‘pop’ out of existence. More disappointment there.
If there’s one thing the news is good at creating, apart from fear, it’s a disappointment. Stop listening. It’ll only give you more excuses. And we can already make enough of our own.
For a lot of people, this is a tricky one because the world is always trying to make us feel like we deserve to have more stuff. Even when we don’t. The proof is in our credit card bills. I recently started apartment hunting and found myself becoming very entitled.
Faced with the possibility I wouldn’t get exactly what I wanted, I started to become very frustrated: “This is ridiculous! I deserve to be renting a furnished one bedroom in the downtown core at age 28.” “I deserve to be making much more $$$.” “I’m being deprived.”
None of those things are true. Not in the slightest.
So, I remind myself I’m lucky to even be thinking about renting an apartment by myself, let alone renting a 15 min walk from work in the financial district. Who the hell do I think I am?
Entitlement is a sneaky one for sure. It will stop you creating the life’s work you were born to do. Gratitude is key to defeating it. I’m going to drop in Envy here too because it’s kind of the same thing, and it also begins with ‘E’.
Envy is a twisted and ugly beast. I once heard someone say that 100% of all haters in the world are because of unrealized potential: When you see something that you know you have in you, that you could have for yourself, something you haven’t realized, you envy the person who has it. And then they become the reason you don’t get it instead. The thing to blame.
After spending a lot of my life stoned, let me tell you that everything, literally everything, takes too much effort. Sometimes even breathing can be a struggle.
There are countless times when getting out of bed to go see someone or do something would have improved my life. Maybe changed it forever. Almost definitely would have made me money. And I just couldn’t be bothered. “Fuck it – it’s not worth the effort.”
I’d say to myself. And curl up into my little ball under the duvet, giving the world the finger. But, Roosevelt was right; there is nothing on this planet worth having that you can get easily. NOTHING.
Steven Hawking, who legendary scientist who passed recently, easily could have given up. He had the excuses. How much effort was it for him to type a sentence, let alone write a book? But he did. And when he finished, he started all over again.
This one is one of my personal favourites. These last two are. I love all of these and use them all to prevent my own success and self-sabotage, all the time. I’m an emotional guy. Sometimes I can actually feel what other people are feeling as if it was me. I get sad a lot. The world makes me sad. People make sad.
Being sad, or tired, or even happy are great excuses to stop doing whatever it is that I should be doing. I had a bad day. A girl rejected me. I cut my hand. I had a good day. I went to the gym for a few days in a row. A girl asked me out. It’s Thursday. All of these great excuses to give up and go out and get drunk or get high in bed.
This one is particularly hard for me because I’m pretty needy and get a lot of FOMO. Always have. It’s probably because I’m worried no one will like me or want to hang out with me. Sometimes I get so worried about this that I just don’t go out or have fun at all. But the rest of the time, going out and having ‘fun’ is a great excuse not to do whatever it is that I’m supposed to be doing.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have fun. I completely believe that blowing off steam should be part of your routine, as long as it doesn’t fuck up the rest of your life. And I always just want to go that little bit further… And it ends up going bad somehow; so I have an excuse to relax again and stop trying to succeed.
Flakiness = Fear
As I’ve been writing this, it’s become obvious that a lot, if not all, of self-sabotage, is fear. Fear of something better? I’m not sure. Maybe. Fear that I’ll fail, I guess so yeh. Fear that I’ll succeed? Maybe that too. Fear that I don’t think I deserve it?
Fear that people won’t like me?
Fear of death?
Probably all of them.
Becoming less flaky (no prescription cream needed) Although I have a long way to go (I’ve self-sabotaged myself pretty badly at least 3 times this year) I’ve come a long way too. One of the keys to breaching that gap for me was exercise.
If you groaned when you read that, then it’s going to be useful to you too. At best, PE/Gym class was an excuse to mess around with my mates. I’d walk half the 800m warm-up jog.
On forced cross-country runs we’d duck off to try and take shortcuts we’d found while smoking before school. Sometimes we’d stop for a smoke too. But exercising physically is also exercising mentally. They are exactly the same thing.
Forcing yourself to get up and go and get sweaty and do something you hate is also working out your willpower muscle. You’re training yourself to be ready to crush that excuse when it pops up. And it will. All the time. At the end of every lift, or set, or run, or whatever, when you’re pushing yourself to go that little bit further…
That’s your willpower training right there. Sparring with your ‘I give up’ almost daily is the only way to beat it. Like anything, you have to keep at it for a while. But, if you keep at it for a few weeks, you’ll feel great and you’ll look peng AF.
“How the fuck do I figure out what to do with my life?” my little sister asked the other day.
I laughed. Then I text her: lol.
“Or maybe that’s just me,” she replied at the same time.
I think she knew that wasn’t true before she finished typing it.
How many people do you know who have figured out “what to do” with their lives?
I know a few who seem like they might have a good idea. But a lot of people don’t have a clear picture of what they want to do with their lives. We have ideas about the things we want, sure.
We mostly sort of trundle along waiting for something great to happen to us. I did for years.
I remember in school, it never seemed there were very many career options. As kids, you only really think of the obvious professions; doctor, lawyer, teacher, dentist, vet, fireman, policeman, postman…
Some of us head down those paths.
Most of us end up ejected off the conveyor belt education system with a stack of debt and zero clue about what to do next.
My current job wasn’t on the careers list at school. Neither are most of my friends. But we’ve all got bills to pay.
How to Figure Out What the Fuck to Do with Your Life
It took me about thirty years to commit to what I wanted to do, and I’d known all along. Finding your “dream job” is probably something we’ll do several times in our lives. Here’s a step-by-step guide to figuring out what the fuck to do with your life.
1. Don’t look for your fucking passion
In the knowledge that we have to do something, we bounce around on a rough career trajectory, often in a field only generally related to the things we actually have a passion for.
I probably shouldn’t use ‘passion’. It’s a little misleading. It’s more just something you actually care about.
The point is, the pressures and demands of modern life lead most of us into jobs, rather than vocations.
And everyone knows what they want to do with their lives.
We usually just haven’t given it the thought. Or we’ve made so many excuses over the years why we can’t do it, that we’ve forgotten what it was in the first place.
Or, maybe you’re scared that doing something exciting or fun or beautiful, something that you actually give a fuck about, will never work for you.
So, we just give up and do something easy or comfortable that pays the bills and gets you the things you want to buy.
“Yh it’s quite a depressing thought tbh” my sister said.
“It could be,” I replied, ever argumentative 😉
“Gotta use it as motivation I suppose” she countered. She was right, of course.
2. Give yourself space to figure out what the fuck you want
Everyone knows what they want to do with their lives. If you’re not sure, you’ve got to give yourself the chance and the space to figure it out.
What did you want to be when you were a little kid?
What did you enjoy?
Who did you pretend to be when you were playing games?
This might seems like a childish exercise but the trauma of adolescence tends to squash many of the things we enjoyed as children, as we try to fit in or be cool at school.
If you’re like most people, there are maybe a few things you love doing. The things you can talk for hours about. Or things you always wanted to explore.
But even if you still don’t know, and you’re not sure, you can always figure it out. That’s kinda the point.
“But it’s hard, coz I actually don’t know,” said my sister.
“Look at that sentence,” I said.
3. Stop trying to choose something to do for the rest of your fucking life.
You don’t have to choose something to do with your life forever.
You just need to give yourself the chance to do something you enjoy for a few years, a hierarchy of skills that you can climb that will support the things you need in life.
Passions can be flakey. You might think you should be doing it and find you don’t actually like doing it. That’s fine. Try something else you like the look of. Life is long.
It doesn’t even have to be a career. Think of it as a side hustle. But you have to give yourself the chance to be happy. You have to give yourself the chance to work it out, in your head. Spend the time thinking about what’s important to you and what you enjoy doing, and you’ll be further along the path of figuring out what you want from life than many people.
Instead of saying, “I don’t know”, try, “I’m figuring it out.”
Or, “I don’t know, yet.”
Or, “I’m working on it.”
I promise you this is not some wishy-washy bullshit. Words are powerful things.
It’s an old saying that your thoughts become your words, become, become your actions, becomes you. Like many old sayings, it’s true.
As soon as you tell yourself something, you’re making it real.
Your brain starts looking for ways to make it a reality, and your body follows. It’s just what your body is supposed to do.
It’s the same mechanism as when someone tells you about something and you start to see it everywhere.
Figuring Out What the Fuck You Want to Do in Life
So, step 1 is to stop telling yourself you don’t know. Instead, start telling yourself that you’re going to figure it out.
Step 2 is to stop asking ‘how’ and actually start figuring out.
Start asking yourself the key questions;
‘What do/did I like doing?’
‘What am/was I good at?’
‘What do/did I want to know more about?’
Think about the things you loved doing as a child. If you’re not sure, ask your friends and family what they think you’re good at. What questions do they ask you?
Whatever you do DON’T LISTEN to the voice in your head telling you that you’re being silly even thinking about it, that it’s impossible, that it’ll never work.
They’re wrong. They don’t know. They’re not even you.
Keep asking yourself every day. You’ll get an answer.
And if you’re still not sure, let me know and we’ll figure it out together.
You probably already have an idea, you just don’t believe you can do it. But I do.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably made a lot of excuses over the years. This blog right here came through about 5 years of excuses. At least.
Ever since I was a kid. When I think about it, most of them were actually lies.
“Sorry Mum, but she hit me first!” (I doubt my little sister would have)
“Sorry Sir, the train was late.” (I was smoking weed before school)
“Sorry Babe, but I left my phone in the other room” (I was with another girl)
Yep, that last one is pretty bad. And they’re all definitely lies.
Someone once told me, ‘Excuses are lies that only you believe.’
That one really stung. Probably because it was true.
Do you want to know the worst bit?
The person you spend the most time making excuses to is yourself.
If you’re anything like me, you make a tonne of excuses to yourself, all day, every day. They’re probably so part of your internal monologue you barely notice. I barely do.
But you should notice them because they’re stopping you from living the life you want to live. They’re what’s stopping you from losing weight, finding love, stopping smoking, writing that book, making that film, singing that song…
Whatever it is, your excuses are crippling your life.
Don’t believe me? Do any of these sound familiar…?
‘I’m too tired to…’
‘I don’t have enough time to…’
‘I don’t have the money to…’
‘I’m not attractive enough…’
Most of have a neat little personal arsenal of excuses up our sleeves too. And we’re in the habit of using them, all too often.
Usually, it goes something like this…
You get inspired by something and this little voice pipes up with an idea. You get pumped about the idea. You might even start doing it.
But, sooner or later, your excuses wade in and it’s game over…
‘I don’t live in the right place…’
‘I don’t have the right tools or knowledge…’
Your idea fizzles out.
I swear I used to just make ideas happen all the time when I was a kid.
But, maybe all those years wasted ‘learning’ useless crap at school filled up my brain so much the little ideas couldn’t come out.
But, maybe I was so scared of the darkness in the world that the little idea was too scared to leap out of my head into the real, to become something beautiful, or funny, or useful.
But, maybe I just fucked my brain up so much on drugs and pissed my time away partying and it’s just too late.
Those were a couple of Ben’s homemade excuses right there for you.
The truth is, most of the time we’re just scared. We’re scared of failure, or of being disliked, or losing something, or someone.
That ancient, lizard part of your brain sniffs a change in the breeze and freezes. New = danger. Danger = bad. Ergo, New = bad. Stay where you are. Here = safe.
Excuses are just a highly-evolved version of this part of our brain, which is solely designed to keep us alive, away from danger. Not exploring the world and being creative.
But today, they’re the easiest way to fool yourself that you’re not the one solely in charge of your life. The easiest way to avoid the discomfort of changing anything.
And the most certain way never to do those things you wanted to.
In the words of Jordan Belfort, “The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.”
Well, F.U. Excuses. This little idea made it out.
It actually made it out a little while back, but it didn’t quite look like this. I kept it, and it grew!
It’s still growing, so I thought you might like to see it grow, and maybe it can help you too.
But the only reason it made it out is this – I stopped making excuses.
I started listening to what I was actually saying to myself, and what I was saying to the people around me about my life. It was not pretty. Or encouraging. It was a bunch of excuses.
Once I listened to myself, it was obvious why I was failing. I was telling myself I had failed before I even started!
So, what excuses are you telling yourself every day?
Who are they turning you into?
Listen to yourself for a little. And then let me know what you heard.