Look at all you’ve learnt

You won’t remember being a loud and smelly and unbearably cute baby.

It’s hard even to imagine that once, all those years ago, you were tiny and helpless and literally couldn’t even wipe your own ass.

But look at everything you’ve mastered since then!

Every single skill you have today was once unknown to you.

And now you’re so good at most things that you don’t even have to think about it.

That’s not a fluke or an accident.

Your brain is a learning machine, and you’re doing a damn good job of using it.

Just keep on feeding it something new every day.

You’re doing great

Sometimes you probably think you’re only doing ok, or maybe even ‘not great’ at all.

Well, I just had a quick check and it looks like you’re doing pretty damn well.

Check it out:

  1. You’re not worried about finding breakfast. And if you’re anything like me, you’re probably going to skip breakfast because I ate too much this weekend. So you’re doing better than about a billion people.
  2. You have an email address, which means you have the internet, and you paid your bill. Nice one! You’re already doing better than about 40% of the planet.
  3. Like all humans, you’ve been through some tough times but you’re still here. Which means you survived them, which means you’ve learnt and grown from them. Life didn’t get easier. You just got better at doing it.

See?

You’re doing great, and you’ve barely even got out of bed.

Keep it up!

How to Apply Kaizen in Your Life in 5 Easy Steps

Kaizen is a business philosophy and a powerful tool for achieving goals and personal growth. There are many books about kaizen for self-improvement but its often difficult to see how to apply it to your life

Here’s how you can apply kaizen to reach your goals in five simple steps:

1. Self-reflect to find your purpose

The first stage of using kaizen in your life must always be self-reflection. Self-awareness and mindfulness are the heart of kaizen philosophy.

Even if you already have a specific goal you want to achieve, it’s still important to reflect upon why and how you can get there.

Your goal can be as vague as wanting to ‘improve your life’ or as specific as wanting to run a marathon in under 3 hours, 3 minutes, and 21 seconds.

Ask yourself: What am I trying to achieve?

Then write it down.

This is your ‘purpose’ or (Mokuteki 目的).

2. Research to find your change agents

Once you have decided what you want, you need to understand who you have to be to get it. Find some examples of other people who have done what you want to do. There are always a few.

If your goal is so innovative that nobody has done it before, you already know your first goal: figure out how you could do it. There are many examples of people who have done something nobody else had done before, including things that nobody thought possible.

Once you’ve found someone who has what you want, write down some things they did to reach that goal. Ask yourself, “What kind of person does this?” “Who are they?” “What do they do?” as well as “What steps did they take?”

Now you know what you need to integrate into your life. These are your change agents — the habits of the future you.

If your purpose from step 1 was to ‘lose weight,’ you might research how other people have lost weight and find that they all changed their diet and exercised more.

If your goal is ‘being successful,’ your research may uncover that most successful people spend time learning how to do new things and, in particular, learn how to make the most of their time. These are also great change agents.

3. Break down your goal into small, achievable daily steps

Now you have your change agents, and you’re ready to break them down into milestones and small achievable daily steps. The trick here is making the steps so easy you can’t fail.

That could mean reading for five minutes a day or running five meters further each run or meditating for five minutes each morning.

If your goal is to lose weight and you’ve found the change agent ‘improve diet,’ find some ways to achieve that. There’s a lot of advice for doing this, but they all say to stop drinking sugar: Coca-Cola, Fanta, Sprite, Apple juice, milkshakes, lattes, etc.

These are tasty treats, and sugar is highly addictive, so it’s not going to be easy to cut them out. Start small. Very small. Leave a couple of sips at the bottom of the can. Then see if you can cut out one more sip every day or so until you’ve cut out that whole can.

The key to success is making a goal so small that you can’t fail to do it. If you think your goal is too small, it isn’t. Once you have it, write down exactly what you are going to do each day and at what time for maximum motivational effect. It will look something like this:

  • “I am going to walk for 5 minutes every evening after work.”
  • “I am going to do ten push-ups at 8 am every morning.”
  • “I am going to write a blog about cats in one hour every day.”
  • “I am going to take one less puff of every cigarette I smoke.”
  • “I am going to drink a glass of water as soon as I wake up every morning.”

For bonus effects, post a picture of your kaizen and tag someone you know well. And don’t say anything.

Don’t worry about all the other things you think you need to do, their time will come if you execute this properly. Focus on getting this one change nailed down.

4. Track and record your actions to actualize your progress

I’m not just banging on about writing things down because I’m a writer. It can have a potent neurological effect. Things become so much more real when you write them down.

When things are going on in your head, they’re going on behind your eyes, so obviously, it’s difficult to see them. Writing it down helps you to realize them. Sometimes, I’m scared of writing things down because then they’re more real.

Tracking your progress helps you achieve your goals. There’s a lot of reasons for this, not least because you’re writing things down and making them tangible. Whether that’s keeping a detailed personal journal, recording your food intake on an app, or simply marking off every day on a calendar that you complete a task, it all helps you towards your goals.

Tracking is how you become great at anything. But make sure it’s the right measure for your goals. That famous phrase goes, “What gets measured gets managed, even if it’s the wrong thing.”

5. Always look for ways to improve your actions

To do that, you need to practice self-reflection. The small steps are crucial for improvement, but they will take you in circles if you don’t spend time reflecting. Because if you’re not spending the time reflecting, you’re not being the kind of person who wants to reach that goal.

It seems ridiculous that something as small as trying to drink a sip less of each soda every day can change your life, but merely working towards this goal every day will have a knock-on effect.

Some days you will fail, but that’s still progress because it allows you to find out why. On those days you ‘fail,’ you get to ask, ‘why did I fail today?’ And answering that will take you a step forward too and may show you another area that’s holding you back.

For example, you may notice that you struggle to cut out sugar on mornings when you stayed up late the night before. If you want to achieve your goal, it turns out you must implement some changes to make sure you get a good nights sleep. You may find the key to giving up liquid sugar is not drinking caffeine in the afternoons.

After a little while of exercising your willpower muscle, you build confidence, and other ways to improve will open up and give you new avenues to pursue your purpose.

The point about kaizen is that it’s continual. Even if things seem to be going well, there’s always room to improve your method or system. It’s this ‘kaizen mindset‘ that’s so powerful because there is no way to fail. There is only pursuing improvement, or not.

With things like music or sports, you can always be better. And if you’re not practicing, you’re probably going backwards; just like you still need to brush your teeth, even if you brushed them the day before.

In a couple of years, when you rarely drink sugar and are pleased with how you look, you need to keep eating healthy and continue to optimize your diet and exercise habits to maintain it; to continue being the kind of person who isn’t overweight.

Applying kaizen in your life is so powerful because it changes who you are; you become someone who is always looking to improve. You are limitless because there is no ‘arrival,’ there is only ‘where next.’





Thanks to Darwin Vegher for putting this photo on Unsplash

Last night I thought I died

I don’t dream much, but every few years I have a dream that sticks with me; as vivid as if it were real.

The other night I had one, and in it, I died of COVID.

At first, it was all running around as one does in dreams, trying to figure out what was going on; why nobody would talk to me.

And then I realised — I was dead.

That was it—no more Ben.

All I could think to myself was, “THAT’S IT. You’re DONE. All you’ll ever have done is what you’ve done already.”

And it was sickening.

I was angry.

I’d done nothing, and now I couldn’t do anything about it.

It was all over, and I had just gotten started.

Boy, was I happy when that alarm clock woke me up.

Happy to be alive!

200 shitty words a day

Nobody knows who said this but I suspect Mark Manson made it up in his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck.

In the story, he asks a prolific author how he managed to write 70 novels.

The author’s answer is simple: 200 shitty words a day.

That’s it. That’s the secret to motivation. The ‘secret’ to creating prolific work — and to success.

Motivation isn’t outside ourselves, it’s something we give to ourselves through doing.

If you want to get motivated, just do something; anything. 

It could be as simple as making your bed.

Because when you take that one little step forwards and you’ll create momentum that makes the next step easier.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t even have to be good.

You just have to get it done. 

Get going!

And thanks for reading mine.

Who invited Eeyore?

You don’t need me to tell you that life can be pretty bleak sometimes.

All the great philosophers from Cicero and Buddha to Louis CK have nailed it: life is suffering.

Ironically, it seems that the reason that life is suffering is to keep us alive.

There’s a little old nut-shaped part of your brain called the ‘amygdala’ that controls how you feel about stuff.

The amygdala is that miserable, mean, pessimist we all have inside us.

It’s our own little Eeyore living in our heads, seeing the bad side of everything, scared at every turn; certain that taking it will turn out for the worst.

It’s the reason that we have a negativity bias, and tend to see things as threats.

But guess what?

It’s also the source of our compassion and empathy.

That’s why the best way to stop your anxiety and depression is to help someone else with their problem — no matter how large or small.

You distract your Eeyore by helping other people with theirs.

It works every time.

eeyore sitting down looking sad

How to win the stock market

The people that make the most money in the stock market aren’t day traders. Ever.

They’re the patient ones. The people who wait it out.

They’re not trying to make a million today, or even tomorrow, because they know that if they turn up and put in a little extra every day, they’ll be head and shoulders about the rest in a decade or two.

They don’t worry when the stock market goes down. Or too pumped when it leaps up.

They just turn up every day and look for little ways to improve.

Life is a bit like the stock market — it’s all over the place.

Some days are going to feel like you’re going backwards.

You’re not.

And guess what?

Just like the stock market, a little investment in yourself on those down days is worth a lot more when your stock goes back up.

That’s just how it works.

Kerching!

Some days are just crap

Some days are great.

Some days are not so great.

And some days are downright terrible.

But remember, that’s all they are; days.

If you’re having a bad day, that’s all it is, a bad day.

You’re still great.

And you’ll still be great tomorrow.

I’ll bet on it.

Perfection is a dirty lie

‘Perfect’ might just be the most useless, mean, and stupid word in the English language.

It trips us up and it holds us back and it turns our heads.

First, let’s get this one thing clear: perfection doesn’t exist.

It’s an illusion of the mind.

Everyone from Plato to Taylor Swift has said this.

If you’re waiting for the ‘perfect time’ or the ‘perfect job’ or the ‘perfect idea’ you’re going to be waiting an awfully long time.

The irony is that the word ‘perfect’ comes from the Latin word for ‘completed’ or ‘accomplished.’

Instead of aiming to create something ‘perfect,’ we should aim just to complete it.

Accomplishing something badly is far closer to perfection than never starting it at all.

Fuck perfection.

I’m happy with getting it done.

Today is day one

Some ‘life advice’ is just terrible.

“Live each day like it’s your last…” is one example.

It sounds good. It has that existential quality, and it nods to our great motivator: death.

But beyond that, it’s useless.

First, most people wouldn’t spend their final dozen hours doing anything productive at all. And even if they did, it’s doubtful that they’d be able to create anything worthwhile in a day.

Just as you won’t change your life in a day.

So, as attractive as it may be cast aside our responsibility for tomorrow and focus on what we want right now, this won’t get us very far.

The chances are, we’re not going to die today.

Why not live each day like it’s our first, instead?

Lay each day like a bricklayer places the first brick of the world’s tallest building: carefully, in the knowledge that he has many more bricks to place on top. Each brick must be laid well, or the building will fall.

Every day you have the opportunity to lay the foundation for something monumental.

And if you do that, when you look back, you’ll see that what you’ve built is great.

Not doing what you love is insane

Way back when Apple was still making great stuff, Steve Jobs would occasionally drop a bomb line that made a hell of a lot of sense.

He was that kind of guy.

One time, he explained that you have to love what you’re doing because it’s insanely hard to be successful if you don’t.

He said, “Doing something you don’t love is so hard that any rational person would give up.”

And that’s usually what happens.

If you’re doing something that you hate, you’d be insane to want to keep on doing it every day, to go through the worry, the stress, the failure, and not get some pleasure out of it.

The problem is that most of the time, the things we’re doing are just ‘ok.’ So we bear them.

Every business I’ve started that was based around the outcome — the money — has failed because I didn’t love what I had to do to get it.

It could have been interesting to learn. Or beneficial to people.

But I didn’t enjoy doing it, and that made getting out of bed to do it that much harder.

These days, I do pretty much what I want; mostly, write. I don’t always enjoy it, but I do love the struggle.

And every morning I get up because I’m looking forward to writing.

I don’t even mind doing the other things related to writing that aren’t writing, because I know that by doing them, I get to write more.

And if just one person finds my writing interesting or useful, I’m happy.

That’s the bonus!

The Best Kaizen Books for Self-Improvement

This is my reading list for books about applying kaizen principles in your life, as recommended by teachers, friends, and the internet. 

I haven’t read them all, or in fact, very many of them at all. As I read and digest each of these books over the next few months, I’ll write a more personal review for each.

They’re not all strictly about kaizen, but I believe that the ideas they discuss are very similar, if not the same. They are not ranked, just listed.

Table of Contents

  1. Success Habits: Kaizen — Michael Ceaser
  2. Choose Yourself — James Altucher
  3. One Small Step Can Change Your Life — Robert Maurer
  4. How to Set Goals with Kaizen & Ikigai — Anthony Raymond
  5. The Practice — Seth Godin
  6. Kaizen and You — Igor Popovich
  7. Atomic Habits — James Clear
  8. Algorithms to Live By — Brian Christian
  9. The Tipping Point — Malcolm Gladwell
  10. Outliers — Malcolm Gladwell
  11. Kaizen — Sarah Harvey
  12. Understanding Variation — Donald Wheeler

Success Habits: Kaizen – Improve Your Life and Become Successful by Taking One Small Step at a Time — Michael Ceaser

Success Habits Kaizen_Michael_Ceaser

Kaizen Ben’s Book Review:

This is a very small but fairly comprehensive guide to implementing kaizen in your life.

If you’re wondering why it’s so cheap, it’s because this book on kaizen is only about 20 pages or so.

Perhaps this little book on the basics of implementing kaizen should be so small; it’s that first little step on your improvement journey. Plus, it won’t take you more than a couple of hours to read at most, so it’s an easy win. Hard to argue with the price, too, as it’s only a couple of bucks. 

A solid start for anybody who wants a quick introduction to kaizen ideas in an hour or two. Would recommend. 


Choose Yourself — James Altucher

Choose Yourself - James Altucher

Kaizen Ben  Book Review

This book isn’t strictly about kaizen, but it is about self-improvement and taking little steps towards achieving your goals — or choosing yourself, As James calls it.  

James Altucher’s show was the first podcast I ever heard. I came across his blog while procrastinating at work and probably figuring out what to do with my life.

One way or another, through James, I found about the ideas of 1% improvement, kaizen, and many other helpful and life-changing advice. 

As books about kaizen go, this one doesn’t talk about kaizen much. But it does talk a lot about self-improvement and creating the life you want, doing the things you enjoy.

Choose Yourself takes you through some practical examples and anecdotes of kaizen in action; people who choose to get something more from life and going after it methodically, step by step, day after day, and eventually getting what they want. 

In Choose Yourself, James argues that the world is changing, and the jobs market will likely never look the same again. If anything, this is even more true post-COVID. All the things we were taught were “safe” options are under threat. On top of that, robots are coming to take our jobs. James says that it’s up to us to choose ourselves and use modern tools and channels to build the life we want by serving other people.

Choose Yourself is a relatively short and cheap book, and I would advise anyone to read it, whether or not you are interested in kaizen or self-improvement. James is a funny and vulnerable writer who has lived an interesting life and is not afraid to share it with the reader. 


One Small Step Can Change Your Life — Robert Maurer

One Small Step Can Change Your Life The Kaizen Way Robert Maurer book cover

Amazon Description:

Improve your life fearlessly with this essential guide to kaizen—the art of making significant and lasting change through small, steady steps.

Written by psychologist and kaizen expert Dr. Robert Maurer, One Small Step Can Change Your Life is the simple but potent guide to easing into new habits—and turning your life around. Learn how to overcome fear and procrastination with his 7 Small Steps—including how to Think Small Thoughts, Take Small Actions, and Solve Small Problems—to steadily build your confidence and make insurmountable-seeming goals suddenly feel doable.

The science is irrefutable: Small steps circumvent our brains’ built-in resistance to new behaviours. Throughout this book, Dr. Maurer also shows how to visualize virtual change so that real change can come easier, why small rewards lead to significant returns. And how great discoveries are made by paying attention to the little details most of us overlook.

His simple regiment is your path to continuous improvement for anything from losing weight to quitting smoking, paying off debt, or conquering shyness and meeting new people.

Rooted in the two-thousand-year-old wisdom of the Tao Te Ching—“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”—here is the way to change your life without fear, without failure, and start on a new path of comfortable, continuous improvement.


How to Set Goals with Kaizen & Ikigai — Anthony Raymond

How to Set Goals with Kaizen & Ikigai Anthony Raymond

Amazon Description:

The truth is…80% of New Year’s Resolutions have failed by February. Why? Because people were never taught how to set goals properly. Most plans are never completed on time. And even highly skilled and dedicated professionals still struggle to accomplish goals and overcome procrastination.

The solution lies in understanding the innate psychological forces that conspire against us. We must become aware of these “mental traps,” which prevent us from getting things done.

What if I told you that the Japanese had solved this problem?

In this book, we’ll be introducing you to 3 concepts from Japan:

  • Hansei – The art of honest self-reflection.
  • Ikigai – How to find your “true calling.”
  • Kaizen – Goal achievement through incremental progress.

Each one of these techniques is a powerful goal-setting aid. But when combined, they can multiply your productivity by a factor of TEN and make your most ambitious dreams appear achievable!

When your personal life goals are in harmony with the challenges that lie before you, that’s when the magic happens. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote:

“Of all the virtues we can learn, no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge.”

When your goals are properly aligned, there is much joy to be had in any challenge you choose to conquer.


The Practice — Seth Godin

I was delighted to see one of my all-time favourite writers and inspirations, Seth Godin, release a book that looks at the creative side of kaizen in practice, or rather, the practice of creativity. the-practice-seth-goden-front-cover

Amazon Description:

From the bestselling author of LinchpinTribes, and The Dip comes to an elegant little book that will inspire artists, writers, and entrepreneurs to stretch and commit to putting their best work out into the world.

Creative work doesn’t come with a guarantee. But there is a pattern to who succeeds and who doesn’t. And engaging in the consistent practice of its pursuit is the best way forward.

Based on the breakthrough Akimbo workshop pioneered by legendary author Seth Godin, The Practice will help you get unstuck and find the courage to make and share creative work. Godin insists that writer’s block is a myth, that consistency is far more important than authenticity, and that experiencing the imposter syndrome is a sign that you’re a well-adjusted human. Most of all, he shows you what it takes to turn your passion from a private distraction to a productive contribution, the one you’ve been seeking to share all along.

With this book as your guide, you’ll learn to dance with your fear. To take risks worth taking. And to embrace the empathy required to do work that contributes authenticity and joy.


Kaizen and You — Igor Popovich

Kaizen and You Personal Success through Self Knowledge and Continuous Improvement_Igor Popovich

Amazon Description:

If you want to improve your life while becoming happier and more productive, then take the first step right now by reading this book. Anyone who thinks they don’t need to improve should also read this book to know the people who will defeat them in the game of life.

Who is running your life? It may seem a strange question to ask, and you may be inclined to answer automatically: “I am, of course.” However, when challenged to think about this question, the answer may not be so clear. Who is running your life? Is it you or your employer, government, friends and relatives, children or parents, or spouse? Maybe it is your fears and phobias, your lack of self-esteem and assertiveness, your lack of knowledge and experience, your poor ethics or poor memory, your ill health or constant debt? Are you running your life?

This book guides individuals to employ Kaizen’s principles – the famous Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement – in achieving personal success. It provides a step-by-step approach enabling you to start right away.

This book is about achieving positive, ethical results through constant self-improvement. Kaizen is an Anglo-Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement. It is about success based on one’s inner strength, which then expands outwards.

That one doesn’t have to be an individual; it could be a corporation, an institution, or a whole society. Packed with fascinating quotations and insights, this book challenges readers to take control of their lives and take responsibility for constantly improving their personal and business achievements.


Atomic Habits — James Clear

Atomic Habits James Clear

Amazon Description:

Atomic Habits offers a proven framework for improving–every day. James Clear, one of the world’s leading experts on habit formation, reveals practical strategies that will teach you exactly how to form good habits, break bad ones, and master the tiny behaviours that lead to remarkable results.

If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you. The problem is your system. Bad habits repeat themselves repeatedly, not because you don’t want to change, but because you have the wrong system for change. You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the status of your plans. Here, you’ll get a proven method that can take you to new heights.

Clear is known for distilling complex topics into simple behaviours that can be easily applied to daily life and work. Here, he draws on the most proven ideas from biology, psychology, and neuroscience to create an easy-to-understand guide for making good habits inevitable and bad habits impossible. Readers will be inspired and entertained with true stories from Olympic gold medalists, award-winning artists, business leaders, and star comedians who have used the science of small habits to master their craft and top their field.

Learn how to:

  • make time for new habits (even when life gets crazy);
  • overcome a lack of motivation and willpower;
  • design your environment to make success easier;
  • get back on track when you fall off course;
  • …and much more.

Atomic Habits will reshape how you think about success and give you the tools and strategies you need to transform your habits. It contains powerful tools for anyone, whether you are a team looking to win a championship or an individual who wishes to quit smoking, lose weight, reduce stress or achieve any other goal.


The Power of Habit — Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business Charles Duhigg

Amazon Description:

In The Power of Habit, award-winning business reporter Charles Duhigg takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how we can change them. Distilling vast amounts of information into engrossing narratives that take us from the boardrooms of Procter & Gamble to the sidelines of the NFL to the front lines of the civil rights movement, Duhigg presents a full new understanding of human nature and its potential. At its core,

The Power of Habit contains an exhilarating argument: The key to exercising regularly, losing weight, being more productive, and achieving success is understanding how habits work. As Duhigg shows, we can transform our businesses, communities, and lives by harnessing this new science.


Algorithms to Live By — Brian Christian

Algorithms to Live By The Computer Science of Human Decisions _ Brian Christian

Amazon Description:

What should we do or leave undone in a day or a lifetime? How much messiness should we accept? What balance of the new and familiar is the most fulfilling? These may seem like uniquely human quandaries, but they are not. Computers, like us, confront limited space and time, so computer scientists have been grappling with similar problems for decades. And the solutions they’ve found have much to teach us.

Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths show how algorithms developed for computers also untangle very human questions in dazzlingly interdisciplinary work. They explain how to have better hunches and when to leave things to chance, how to deal with overwhelming choices and how best to connect with others. From finding a spouse to finding a parking spot, from organizing one’s inbox to peering into the future,

Algorithms to Live By transforms the wisdom of computer science into strategies for human living.


The Tipping Point — Malcolm Gladwell

The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell

Amazon Description:

The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. This widely acclaimed bestseller, in which Malcolm Gladwell explores and brilliantly illuminates the tipping point phenomenon, is already changing the way people worldwide think about selling products and disseminating ideas.


Outliers — Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers Malcolm Gladwell

Amazon Description:

In this stunning book, Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an intellectual journey through the world of “outliers”–the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful. He asks the question: what makes high-achievers different?

He answers that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the distinctive experiences of their upbringing. Along the way, he explains the secrets of software billionaires, what it takes to be a great soccer player, why Asians are good at math, and what made the Beatles the greatest rock band.

Brilliant and entertaining, Outliers is a landmark work that will simultaneously delight and illuminate.


Kaizen: The Japanese Method for Transforming Habits One Small Step at a Time — Sarah Harvey

This is a simple but fairly comprehensive book about the basics of kaizen with some extra history and anecdotes from Japan.

Goodreads Description:

Lifestyle changes can be overwhelming: It’s hard to take on major goals without falling prey to self-doubt. But with Kaizen, big goals become small, approachable steps.

This Japanese method first made waves in the business world by launching Toyota to success; it also adds magic to Marie Kondo’s life-changing method of tidying up. As Kondo puts it: “You can take the first small step toward your dream today, and keep taking small steps to grow your passions”.

Now, Sarah Harvey unlocks Kaizen’s amazing potential to enhance our everyday lives. Even the boldest intention (I should run a marathon someday) begins with the simplest step (Today, I’ll research local running groups). Kaizen is the key to improving our health, work, finances, relationships, habits, and homes!


Understanding Variation — Donald Wheeler

Understanding Variation The Key to Managing Chaos_Donald Wheeler

Amazon Description:

We live in the Information Age, and much of that information comes to us in the form of numbers. But before numerical data can be useful, it must be analyzed, interpreted, and assimilated.

Unfortunately, teaching the techniques for making sense of data has been neglected at all our educational system levels. As a result, there is little appreciation for effectively using the volumes of data generated by both business and government.

This book can remedy that situation. Readers report that this book has changed how they look a data. It has turned arguments about the numbers into a shared understanding of what we need to do about them. These techniques and benefits have been thoroughly proven in a wide variety of settings. 


Thank you, Tom Hermans, for sharing his photo with me via Unsplash.

Your best is the score

I didn’t try very hard at school.

Luckily for me, I didn’t have to. I was smart enough to come home with a pretty decent report card. 

But the results didn’t make me happy. I’d put nothing into them, and so I got nothing out of them.

I’ve since failed many times, at things I wanted to do and things I was sure would succeed at.

Every time I failed but tried my best, I was far happier than when I didn’t try and found success easily.

In the end, the success didn’t matter — the result wasn’t the important part.

It was trying my best — knowing that I put everything I had at the time into it — that determined if I was happy or not.

When you take your next step today, don’t worry about the outcome, or where it’s supposed to be taking you, or even if you’re doing the “right” thing.

Just give it your best shot.

Don’t let life happen

Don’t let life happen to you; to toss and throw you in its fickle fingers.

You’re the one in charge.

You’re the reason it’s all happening.

Life doesn’t happen to you: You happen to life.

So strike out.

And life won’t know what hit it.

Why life gives you lemons

That saying about making lemonade was written by a bloke called Elbert Hubbard in 1915, shortly before a German U-Boat sank him.

As his boat sank, he calmly remarked, “Well, Jack, they have got us. They are a damn sight worse than I ever thought they were.”

He then locked himself in his cabin with his wife and waited to drown.

I’m not sure if I would call that making lemonade.

Elbert had written that famous phrase in the obituary of his friend, a famous entertainer called Marshall P. Wilder:

“He picked up the lemons that Fate had sent him and started a lemonade stand.”

And he was right: Marshall was born with achondroplasia when many people regarded it as a severe disability.

And Marshall would have told you that life gives us lemons because life is usually pretty sweet. It just wouldn’t taste any good without some bitterness.

Just like good lemonade, we need that bitter tang. It might overwhelm the sweet at first, but it always balances out in the end.

Remember, when life throws you a lemon, it’s all part of the recipe.

And you’re definitely sweet enough to take it. 😉

You’re more important than you think

It might seem like you’re just one person with no power, but let me show you why you’re much more powerful and important than you realize.

The ‘grand scheme of things’ seems so grand that we forget how much influence we have on it.

How can we influence the world when we’re just one tiny ape amongst billions?

A lot.

We can change the world because your story isn’t just your story; your story connects to everyone you’re connected to — your network.

We might come into contact with 1,000 people in our lives, maybe even more now we’re all online. And if each of those people comes into contact with 1,000 people, that’s 1 million people.

That means you’re just TWO people away from touching 1 billion people with your story.

Terrifyingly awesome.

Go write today’s chapter.

Don’t break these promises

Everything in life is an agreement.

Whether that means we’re agreeing that it’s bad to kill people, agreeing on the price of a coffe or agreeing to drive on the same side of the road — it’s all an agreement.

And the stories we all agree on are what we collectively call ‘reality.’

The most powerful kind of agreement you can make is to yourself.

Unfortunately, it’s these promises that we break more than any other.

Every time we say we’re going to do something and we don’t, we lose trust in ourselves. 

Even if nobody else hears the promise, we feel it when we break it. It hurts our brains and we get weaker. It fractures our identity.

Just like every time we back up our word with action, we get a little stronger. We become a more consistent person.

Back yourself up today.

 

Wiggle it away

It’s impossible to be angry and dance.

That’s a fact.

You just can’t be angry when you’re dancing.

And it’s very hard to be sad too.

There are lots of biochemical reasons for this, mainly those lovely juicy endorphins and hormones like dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin.

And researching this, I just learnt that dancing can even MAKE YOU SMARTER! Whaaaaaat?

So, if you’re feeling a bit shitty today, or tired, or angry, or stressed — or just ‘meh’ — turn up the volume till the bass makes you tingle, and wiggle those hips.

This will even work if you’re in the middle of an argument with someone!

I dare you to try and be angry and dance.

It will probably explode your head.

Whatever today throws at you today; if you’ve got the Monday blues or you get blindsided by something nasty later or you’re just feeling a bit meh…

Shake and jiggle it out!

Where did kaizen come from?

Like most great things, Kaizen wasn’t ‘invented’ by one single person. It was developed over the last century from a simple word to a powerful practical philosophy that can be used to get whatever you want from life.

Here’s a brief history of where kaizen came from.

Kaizen is just a word that means ‘improvement.’

Kaizen is just a Japanese word (改善) that means ‘improvement’ or ‘change for the better.’ Over the years, it has come to mean striving for continuous improvement.

The earliest form of Kaizen came from the United States.

In the 1930s, an American statistician and engineer called Walter Shewhart created the ‘Shewhart Cycle’ while working for Bell Labs.

This system is now most commonly known as the PDCA Cycle; Plan, Do, Check, Act. It’s the direct ancestor of kaizen in business, and the process is pretty self-explanatory. You make a plan, carry it out, analyze the results to see what could have been better, and then act on those insights to improve. Simple.

Edward Deming (far right) and colleagues
Photo from The Deming Institute

Later, in the 1940s, Edward Deming adapted it and focused on creating better systems and better quality, rather than cost-cutting. More crucially, he determined that management caused 85% of all problems and insisted on putting the onus of development on those carrying out the work on the shop floor.

In the 1950s, Japanese business managers took on the idea and developed it further.

The PDCA cycle — along with many other processes — made its way to Japan after the second world war. Deming’s ideas were far more popular in Japan than they were in the USA, and his ideas were seized by Japanese managers and spun into the kaizen philosophy that we know today.

photo of an old factory The most notable of these was Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer working at Toyota. He developed the famous Toyota Production System up until the mid-1960s.

Ohno’s Ten Commandments have a powerful influence on modern kaizen:

  1. Seek to eliminate waste, and recognize that you are a cost.
  2. Say “I can do it” and try hard. 
  3. The workplace is your teacher. You can only find your answers there.
  4. If you’re going to do anything, do it right away. The only way to win is to start now.
  5. Once you start something, never give up. Persevere until it’s finished.
  6. Explain complicated concepts simply. If an idea is simple to understand, repeat it.
  7. Bring your problems out into the open.
  8. Realize that actions without value are bad.
  9. Keep improving productivity and improving what has already been improved.
  10. Practice and share wisdom, don’t just hoard it. The power of kaizen has helped Toyota to become a world leader in innovation and manufacturing — as well as a hefty market cap.

NBC made a documentary and saved Ford

From the 1970s, Japan was an economic powerhouse with the world’s second-largest GDP. Everybody was looking at the Japanese as innovation leaders.

In 1980, NBC made a documentary called, If Japan Can, Why Can’t We? and introduced Deming’s ideas to millions of Americans. Here it is:

Executives at Ford must have seen the documentary because a year later, they hired Deming to turn the company around and prevent $1 billion in losses every year.

By 1987, he’d saved the company, and Ronald Reagan had awarded him the National Medal of Technology.

Kaizen came back to the West in the mid-80s

In 1986, a management consultant called Masaaki Imai penned the best-selling book: Kaizen – The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success and founded the Kaizen Institute. His concept revolved around incremental growth and process improvement.

He also notes how the results-orientated mindset of much of the West’s factories resulted in worse results than the process-orientated Japanese companies. His and Deming’s ideas were developed in the last 30 years into the concepts of Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma that are widely used in manufacturing today.

Robert Maurer brings these ideas into the personal development world in ‘The Kaizen Way.’

The earliest I can find kaizen ideas applied to the world of self-development is Dr. Robert Maurer’s The Kaizen Way.

In it, Robert explains that the reason that most people fail is that,

“All changes are scary, even positive ones. Attempts to reach goals through radical or revolutionary means often fail because they heighten fear. But the small steps of kaizen disarm the brain’s fear response, stimulating rational thought and creative play.”

He breaks it down into six ideas:

  1. Taking small actions.
  2. Asking small questions.
  3. Thinking small thoughts.
  4. Solving small problems.
  5. Bestowing small rewards (to yourself or others).
  6. Recognizing small but crucial moments others ignore.

These are simple ideas that I find beautiful. Perhaps surprisingly, I haven’t read this book yet. I came across this concept of incremental improvement through other ways, but it’s had a powerful impact on my life nonetheless.

Kaizen-Ben launches in 2018 and does nothing for two years.

I aim to popularize this thinking and add my own spin to it to help you make the life changes you’ve always wanted. 

I knew there was something powerful here to share with people. And I wanted to share my journey. 

However, I didn’t truly understand what it was going to take. And I wasn’t ready for what would happen next. But it taught me what I needed to know to take this step now, so buying the domain wasn’t a total waste.

Today, you read this blog.

What step will you take next? I hope you learned something useful in this blog, and it’s piqued your interest enough to explore the idea of what kaizen is and how you can use these ideas to improve your life.

For some more quick inspiration, check out these quotes about kaizen and continuous improvement.

Or you can sign up to receive my Mote Note every day free. 

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Better late than never

About 2,047 years ago, a Roman historian wrote the eternal words, “potius seo quam numquam.

Or in our words, “rather late than never.

But nobody told my high school teacher, Ms. Kattan, that.

She made it so awful to be late that I would rather skip school than face her wrath. I often chose ‘never.’

As children, life throws all sorts of deadlines at us: you’re an adult at 18, have kids by 35, retire at 65, die at 85…

But, time doesn’t really exist.

It’s just an agreement that we make with ourselves so that we can meet people for lunch or catch the train.

The danger is when we start to believe that it’s real.

We miss our goals or deadlines, and we start to believe those dreadful words: “It’s too late.”

It’s never too late.

If it was too late, you couldn’t switch from journalism to midwifery at 32.

And you couldn’t give up engineering and move to Florence to design shoes at 55.

And you definitely couldn’t be 74 years old and follow your dream of being a stand-up comedian — like Julie Kertesz did.

But you can do any of those things.

These stories prove that late is better than never.

So, screw you, Ms. Kattan.

I might be late, but at least I turned up.

If this isn’t nice…

Some of the most powerful lessons are learnt through fiction and literature, and great authors like Kurt Vonnegut.

Once, he said that it’s all too easy to notice when things are going badly, but often we don’t notice when things are going well.

And I’m not talking about the obvious times like getting a raise or getting laid or getting a compliment.

I’m talking about the little things — the tiny things that make us happy; like that warm glow of sunshine across your face on a crisp, bright, blue winter’s day.

Or that tingly chill of a fresh margarita on a summer afternoon.

Or that deep tang of your first coffee of the day.

Or the waft of freshly baked bread tickling your nostrils.

Kurt said that when that ‘nice’ thing happens, call it out.

Say out loud, “Well, if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

And pretty soon, you’ll notice that life is full of these beautiful, plain, every day, fantastically nice moments.

Nice.

Being unmotivated is good

Did you know that ‘motivation’ is a pretty new word?

It’s only been around for about 150 years, probably less.

Shakespeare had no idea what it meant, and he made up a bagful of silly words.

Before the English picked it up, nobody was motivated to do anything, and so nothing got done. Everyone just sat around in their top hats, feeling sorry for themselves…

Ha! Of course, they didn’t.

They just didn’t rely on motivation to take action. In the past, people did things because that was the thing that needed to be done, even if they didn’t want or agree to them. There was no choice. You just did.

We’re so lucky that we get to be ‘unmotivated’ because that means we’re doing something that we don’t have to do. We have a choice.

Choose to take a step forward today.

Choose to do the hard thing, and you’ll find that your motivation isn’t too far behind.

Something to say?

You are here and you have something to say.

We all do.

You might not think what you have to say is important, but it is.

We need to hear it!

What’s more, we want to hear it.

Stop holding out on us and let’s hear what you have to say to the world.

Seeing as you’re here…

Let’s hear it!

Mistakes are sexy

You’ve probably heard that scars are sexy.

Some psych students even ran an experiment and found it to be true enough.

But why?

Scars are sexy because they’re a sign that we’ve lived. That we’ve tried; we fought for something we care about.

They’re a visible reminder of a mistake.

Shakespeare wrote, “A scar nobly got, or a noble scar, is a good [badge] of honour.”

We don’t just have courage or wisdom. We develop it by taking on challenges, making mistakes, picking up scars, and surviving.

They might hurt at the time, but they usually make a pretty good story later.

And they make you sexier.

So, be proud of your mistakes, whether they left a visible scar or not.

They’re what makes you, you.

What if you had to live today forever?

We watched 50 First Dates last weekend.

It’s the one where Adam Sandler gives up chasing all the women to chase one (Drew Barrymore) who will never remember him for more than an afternoon — because she has anterograde amnesia.

Drew can’t remember a single day since her memory was damaged.

She does the same thing every day because to her, no time has passed since her accident (more than a year ago).

And she’s totally happy living that day again and again.

About halfway through, my friend asks: What if she’d gone to the gym instead of the waffle house that day?

She’d be absolutely ripped!

What if she’d played a game of chess or meditated? Imagine how good she’d be after 2, 5, 10 years of doing a crossword for 10 minutes a day.

And what about if she got drunk? Or actually ate the waffles instead of playing with them?

I’m not so sure Adam would’ve fallen for her.

It’s funny to think about, but this type of amnesia can happen to anyone.

You could bang your head on a cupboard one day and: bam—Groundhog day.

So — what would you want to do for eternity, even if you didn’t know it?

And what would that day do for you?

Mind your head!

Not great isn’t bad

It’s not easy being great every day.

So it’s ok that some days you don’t feel like it.

You’re already doing so much better than you give yourself credit for.

An hour spent stretching is just as valuable as an hour spent lifting weights, in the grand scheme of things.

So, give yourself a break from being great, and just be good for the day.

When you’re not feeling up to it — when you’re hungover, or tired, or grumpy — doing the smallest thing is worth so much more; especially if you wouldn’t normally do it on a ‘bad’ day.

On those ‘bad’ days, maybe being great just means reading something interesting or watching a documentary that teaches you something new.  Or drinking that extra glass of water. Or ordering a large fries instead of your usual extra-large. 

And that’s more than good enough.

What is a kaizen mindset?

A ‘kaizen mindset’ is one of the most powerful ways to get what you want from life. It’s simple, effective, and easy enough that anyone can execute it.

Anyone!

But be warned, a kaizen mindset won’t just change your life.

It will change you as a person.

A Kaizen Mindset is a Business Growth Strategy

Kaizen is most often found in workplaces, but it’s just as potent a self-improvement tool.

Businesses who want a ‘kaizen mindset’ train their employees to always look for ways to improve their job — and any other processes in their company they come into contact with.

The companies that are the best at doing this tell their employees to think “the current way of doing things is the worst way.”

As you can probably imagine, that has a massive impact on the business’s success in the short and long term.

It was one reason Japan made such a strong economic recovery post-WWII and is behind Toyota’s long-term success.

Many of the elements that make it a successful management tool make it an excellent tool for self-improvement.

A Kaizen Mindset is a Way of Life

The beauty of a kaizen mindset is that it’s all about the little steps. 

These make improving your life much more manageable for two reasons:

  1. They overcome our natural fear of big changes.
  2. You don’t get disheartened by failure because it’s part of the process.

There’s always a place for radical life changes, but too often, we overestimate our capacity to maintain those changes over the long term.

When you have a kaizen mindset, you are committed to improvement, whatever that looks like. It is the practice of self-criticism, a stoic approach but unleashed from values or virtues.

A kaizen mindset is a continuous pursuit of perfection. And because it’s impossible to achieve perfection, this process never ends. 

You can apply it to achieving a specific goal or learning a particular skill. But it’s most useful when you apply it to your life as a whole because all the little changes feed into each other. Achieving your bigger, hairier goals becomes a part of the process — an inevitability.

The 6 Elements of a Kaizen Mindset

The core elements of a kaizen mindset are simple but powerful ways to live your life.

I have chosen these because they are rules rather than values — they are flexible, so you can use them to build your own values, like courage or temperance, or confidence.

  1. Self-Awareness & Critique
  2. Always Be Learning
  3. Start with Scarcity
  4. Break Down Your Goals into Manageable Steps
  5. Commit to Daily Practice (habit-forming)
  6. Embrace Obstacles and Mistakes

How a Kaizen Mindset Works in Practice

The best example of how a kaizen mindset works in practice is the problem of ‘losing weight.’

When people say that, they don’t just want to lose weight; they want to keep it off too. We want to feel sexy and confident, and healthy. And we want it fast.

Most people go on a crash diet or a ‘super shred’ and go to the extreme for a couple of months. 

If we do it right, it works. We look and feel great.

Then, a long weekend comes along, and we decide to give ourselves a break because we ‘deserve it.’ And before you know it, a week has gone past, and you haven’t worked out. You abandon the diet; the tracking app notifications get turned off because they make you feel guilty.

We struggle on, not sure why it’s not working or where our ‘motivation went.’ But the weeks creep by, and slowly but surely our body settles back into its old cuddly shape.

The most significant obstacle for most people — and why they usually give up here — is realizing that they’re going to have to change a lot more than just their diet to reach their goals.

They realize that the kind of person with washboard abs or a great arse isn’t the kind of person who goes to the pub and orders takeaway four nights a week. 

If you want a significant change in your life, you need to be prepared to abandon who you are right now, and who you’ve been all your life. 

That’s terrifying.

Following a kaizen approach makes that fear smaller and more manageable because you don’t have to change who you are overnight.

You just have to change one little thing at a time.

Here’s how it applies to the example of ‘losing weight.’

Approaching Weight Loss with a Kaizen Mindset

If you approach losing weight with a kaizen mindset, you first appreciate that it will take some time to reach your ideal weight or look. Probably several years.

It doesn’t take long to lose a few pounds, but you have to stop being the kind of person who gains excess body fat. 

You must accept that to become the kind of person who is confident about their body, you have to ‘un-become’ the type of person who eats take-out four nights a week.

And making long-term lifestyle changes is the only way to do this.

But with kaizen, you only have to change one small thing at a time.

Think of one thing that you can do — one habit you can bring into your life — that will help you towards that goal.

For example, the kind of person who has washboard abs is the kind of person who drinks a glass of water in the morning — every morning.

Start doing that every day. This one is so easy that you’ll be ready to move to the next step pretty quickly. Usually after a couple of months.

The next one could be, stop snacking.

The kind of person who has washboard abs is the kind of person that says ‘no’ when you offer them a snack.

EVEN if it’s french fries. 🤤

This one is pretty simple to execute, so you start practicing that with minimal equipment: Anytime your brain or your friends suggest you have a snack, say ‘no.’

That’s all pretty normal.

But the key that makes a kaizen mindset is that when you fail to say no to that delicious bite of pizza, or you somehow fail to drink a glass of water in the morning, you need to ask yourself why you failed and how you could prevent that failure in future. 

And then, when you SUCCEED in refusing food (and you’ll notice it!) you ask yourself why you succeeded and how you could do that again, and maybe even do it better, in the future too. 

I know from experience that refusing free food is takes time to build into a habit. But the best part about kaizen is that every little step you do strengthens the other actions you take.

You’re more likely to say ‘no’ to a snack if you’re the kind of person who drinks water every morning.

And if you decide that you’re going to add in 10 push-ups every morning…

Well, you get the idea.

The Best Way to Start Building A Kaizen Mindset

The easiest way to change your life is to start drinking a large glass of water every morning.

If you’ve got that sorted, the next thing you should try is meditation.

Meditation is the single best way to execute kaizen in your life because it’s so simple. And it’s pretty much the embodiment of a kaizen mindset.

Anyone can do it. And you can meditate anywhere. There are no excuses for not being able to meditate because you were travelling, or hungover, or didn’t have the equipment.

If you want to start to bring a kaizen mentality into your life, start meditating for 5-10 minutes—every day. 

You don’t have to do it well. There’s no way to meditate that’s better than another, or any way to measure if getting better; you just do it every day. Don’t worry if you miss a day here or there, the main thing is that you do it as many days as you can.

It’s probably better to accept that you will never be good at meditation from the start — like I’m never going to enjoy cleaning my room — and buckle down and do it. I know I’m going to enjoy the result, at least.

Meditation is also similar to drinking a glass of water. There’s no ‘better’ way to drink it. No matter how many times you drink a glass of water, you’re never going to ‘drink it better.’ But it’s still just as beneficial to your life whether you sip it through a straw or glug it down at once.

The benefits are in the doing; the practice. You are adding that little 1% interest to your savings account.

And if you did that every day, what would life look like in five years, or ten years? Who would you be?

I encourage you to give meditation a whirl for free on Insight Timer. Here are three of my favourite morning meditations for you to try:

  1. Morning Meditation
  2. Cultivating Focus
  3. Morning Meditation for Energy & Clarity

You can’t lose!

 

 

Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash

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Did you try restarting?

Beep

Every morning, we’re born again.

What we do today is what matters most.

Your cache is cleared. The slate is wiped clean.

There’s no sense in tripping yourself up with guilt or fantasizing about how things could have been different.

You can’t change the past.

It is done.

Now, forget what did or didn’t happen and decide what one step you’re going to take today.

After all, your future’s in front of you.

Don’t look back.

How to predict the future

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 to me, that’s greatness.

It doesn’t matter what you do

If you woke up this morning with a big old task list weighing you to the bed, this might help shift that nasty beast.

Just do one thing.

It doesn’t matter what it is.

It doesn’t even matter how well you do it!

All that matters is that you take that one little small step.

That one little task looks a lot sweeter and cuddlier than an ugly old list. And motivation almost always comes after we take action, not the other way around. 

Taking that one little step will motivate you to take the next one.

Mark Manson calls this the ‘Do Something Principle.’

If you’re struggling to start a project or tackle a big task, just do a little something towards it.

It doesn’t matter what it is. Seriously — anything will do.

And you’re gonna feel great when you’ve done it.

Take it from me. 🙂

The strangest secret

One of the great truths about life on this pretty little planet is so strange that it’s often spoken about in hushed tones and giggled whispers, behind cupped palms and heavy curtains.

But as Earl Nightingale said, it really isn’t really a secret at all.

Rhonda Byrne has recently popularized it as ‘The Secret.’ Dr. Joe Dispenza is attempting to prove the power of it scientifically.

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. 

Simple.

You’re probably already done this in your life without realizing it.

Hear Earl Nightingale explain it in his deep, luxurious tones for yourself:

 

 

You got this

Whatever you do today, whatever challenges life throws at you, please remember:

You. Got. This.

It’s what you were born to do. 

And even if it doesn’t always seem like it, you’re doing it great.

Keep slaying those days!

Don’t worry about what’s ahead

Most of us wake up every morning with a to-do list packed full of tasks.

And when you’re trying to make changes in your life, that list can be very intimidating. 

With every goal, the list of things we need to do balloons, sucking all our motivation with it.

We can get so overwhelmed thinking about what it will take to reach our goal that we don’t take any steps towards it at all!

Instead, we should focus on the process itself. On taking that one small step or performing that one small daily action that will get us a little bit closer to our vision. That’s your practice. 

When you do that, no matter what else happens that day, you know you’re on the right track.

What’s your daily practice?

Mine is this blog 🙂

Only fear standing still

There’s an old Chinese proverb that says:

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.

Keep on stepping!

What is kaizen and what does it mean?

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:

kaizen kanji horizontal

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.

One of my favourite quotes on this:

“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 ‘ (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.

One of the pillars of the original business philosophy was eliminating mura or ‘useless – waste.’

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.  

And hopefully, it can help you too. 

I’d also recommend reading one of the top books about kaizen for self-improvement.

And for some more quick inspiration, check out these continuous improvement and kaizen quotes.

 

How to flake on your friends and fuck up your life

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

1. Excuses

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.

2. Entitlement

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.

3. Effort

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.

4. Emotion

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.

5. Entertainment

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.

Drinking. Party. Sex. Food. Films. Drugs. Dancing. Netflix. Ice cream.

Whatever you like.

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.

Promise.

— KB

What the fuck do I do with my life?

“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.


Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

Why your excuses are making you unhappy

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.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash