Most people make the mistake of measuring how far they’ve come by how close they are to achieving their vision. We measure the gap between where we are and where we want to be, which is usually not as close as we’d like.
It’s far less depressing if we take the time to measure how far we’ve come from where we started; we measure our gains.
If we’re too busy fretting about the gap between where we could be and where we are, we’re missing out on enjoying all the gains that got us here now.
As Calvin Coolidge said, “Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.”
There’s an ancient story about talents that goes like this:
Once upon a mountain, an old lord went travelling, leaving his favourite servants with some silver coins (called Talents).
When he returns, the servants have all done something different with their Talents:
The first servant — who got five Talents — blew it all on drugs and women and fast donkeys.
The second servant — who got two Talents — was terrified he’d lose them, and so he buried them deep in the ground, where nobody could find them.
The last servant — who only got one Talent — put it to work every day, investing in other businesses and earning interest on loans. By the time his master returns, he has ten Talents.
If we don’t show anyone our talents, they’re just going to stay buried and useless.
There are thousands of talented ‘geniuses’ who put in minimal effort and end up with nothing. And there are thousands of idiots who’ve made millions because they knew they weren’t talented and decided to outwork everyone instead.
We don’t need talents to be successful. We just need to show up and do the work every damn day.
Once upon a beach, a girl with one eye said something about pain that still rings in my ears today.
She’d been flung off a speeding motorcycle and had faceplanted a tree stump. It was a miracle she’d survived. The impact took out half her skull, and I could still feel the steel plates in the back of her head.
Typically insensitive, I asked how she’d dealt with losing half her face at sixteen. She said,
“The worst thing that’s ever happened to me is the same as the worst thing that’s ever happened to you. You just get on with it.”
It wasn’t until many years later that I understood.
There isn’t a human alive that hasn’t suffered. And anyone’s hurt is just as valid as anyone else’s.
We might not be equal in wealth or status, but we’re equal in our experience of suffering. Our individual experiences of pain might be different, but we all share in our knowledge of it.
The current high-jump record is nearly two and a half meters (8.13ft) — a superhuman leap.
But when Javier Sotomayor took his first jump, he set the bar much lower.
Each round, he raised the bar a little, sometimes as little as a quarter of an inch. Jump by jump, he pushed his body slightly further from the ground, until eventually, he achieved something remarkable.
Set the bar too high and we’re bound to bump into it.
But if we focus on raising the bar just a tiny bit higher at every attempt, we can go higher than we ever thought possible.
And robots are happy to make 1,000 mistakes an hour because they don’t have egos (yet), so you can bet they’re learning fast. Really fast. Here they are, practicing a dance to celebrate their global takeover.
It would be deeply ironic if we wiped ourselves out by teaching robots to do the very thing we haven’t yet mastered: learning from our mistakes.
A few years ago, James Altucher taught me something that helps calm dark and anxious thoughts.
Life wasn’t easy at the time. A cruel twist of fate had me walking past my new ex-girlfriend’s road almost every day after work. Grim visions of mistakes and arguments would envelop me as I passed, blackening my mood for the rest of the evening.
To stop this, James told me that every time I caught myself thinking negative thoughts, stop and ask, “Is this helping you right now?”
Almost always, the answer is ‘No.’
It takes some effort to remember to do this when we’re swept up in a storm of thoughts, but it becomes easier with time. To create a bigger gap from the tempest, we can follow up with, “What is useful to think about right now?”
Every time we do this, we save ourselves from a little unnecessary suffering and we train our brain to be more positive in future.
Do it enough, and eventually you’ll barely need to do it at all.
Even if we’re looking, it isn’t easy to see how and where we can improve; we need other people to show us. A core element of a kaizen mindset is always seeking to expand our knowledge and experience, and challenging our beliefs every day.
2. Self-awareness and critique
The second crucial element of a kaizen mindset is self-awareness. If we are to reach our goals, we need to learn to look honestly at ourselves and our behaviour and ask if they align with our plans.
Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the pursuit of a goal — like making more money — and we end up making changes to our life that make us unhappy in the long-term.
Kaizen isn’t about seeing the worst in things, so don’t beat yourself up — it’s natural to have flaws. Understanding and accepting our weaknesses is just a step on the road to reaching our goals.
3. Starting with scarcity
There’s a crucial difference between this third element of a kaizen mindset and a ‘scarcity mindset.’
A scarcity mindset is a negative and unproductive view of the world that will make you unhappy.
Starting with scarcity means not looking for external fixes to your problems. New running shoes may help us run faster, but simply buying them isn’t going to turn us into a runner.
Equipment and gadgets are helpful, but they’re not enough to help us reach our goals. Plus, it’s hard to see the need for improvement when you have everything you need.
Instead, look at how you can improve your use of what you have already, or perhaps even eliminate, to help you towards your goal.
4. Breaking down goals into small steps
Kaizen is, of course, about focusing on the small steps we can take to reach our goals.
The steps must be clear and definite actions we can take every day, but they don’t have to be outcomes in themselves — they only have to contribute towards one.
For example, if you want to become a good guitar player, you have to set aside a certain amount of time each day to practice; 15 minutes is enough. But if you want to get better, you can’t just spend that time messing around.
You need to set definite, measurable outcomes to help you learn, such as a song or a scale. Then you spend those 15 minutes practicing that song or scale until you’re comfortable with it.
A year of doing that, and you’ll have a lot of songs under your belt. But more importantly, you’ll be a much better guitarist.
5. Committing to practice
Committing to daily practice is crucial.
It isn’t just a way to get what we want; it is what we want. Our daily practice and its results are one and the same thing; you cannot have one without the other. Winning the fight is impossible without putting in the training every day.
Small habits are incredibly powerful ways to change our lives. They take effort to form but become part of you over time. Daily practice is one way to tap into the power of small habits.
6. Embracing obstacles and mistakes
Mistakes and obstacles are life. If they didn’t exist, we’d go out looking for them.
A kaizen mindset is about seeking out those mistakes and obstacles — choosing our suffering — to improve our lives. Obstacles are just what happens when we go after something we want. They are how we get there.
Yes, we will often fail in our daily practice, but the important thing is continuing after we stumble. Keep at it long enough, and the number of days we did it will outnumber those we didn’t, and that’s enough for progress.
Failing and mistakes are often an opportunity to progress rapidly. If we don’t overcome an obstacle or we struggle to maintain our daily practice, there’s probably something holding us back — a previously hidden obstacle. Overcoming that will help us progress much faster in the long run.
Cultivating a Kaizen Mindset
A kaizen mindset is a growth mindset. It starts with the assumption that the way we are doing things now is the worst possible way to do it.
Hugh Laurie is an interesting chap with an expressive face and an impressive career.
If you’ve been struggling to get started on your goals this year, he said something that might help you out:
“It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that, actually, no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now, and you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”
If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll never be ready at all. It’s called “chasing a dream” because it’s a journey into the unknowable.
We don’t know how we’ll realize the dream or what will get in our way. No matter well we prepare our plans, life changes them the moment we step foot on a new path.
There’s no such thing as ready.
That’s why the only proper answer to “Are you ready?” is: “As ready as I’ll ever be.”
I don’t want anchovies on my pizza, but I don’t hate them. I don’t care enough about anchovies to hate them.
We have to love something or be scared of losing something we love to hate anything.
I often hate writing.
I hate the thought that I’m going to dedicate my life to doing it, and it doesn’t care about me. I hate it when the words don’t come. I hate that for them to be any good, I have to put myself in them. And I hate that no matter what I do, some people won’t like what they see in them — and they might hate me too.
But I love to hate it.
Just like a sports fan loves to hate their biggest rivals. It’s all part of the game.
It’s no fun hating a rival team that you never get to play, that you never get to score against, that you never get to holler and swear and shout at. It’s no fun when there’s nothing to challenge you.
Some days, we lose, and there are tears. But that just means there’s more war to wage tomorrow.
Find something that you love to hate, and you’ll battle with it forever.
Being the kind of person who makes their bed makes us feel like the kind of person who does other productive, organized things and looks after themselves.
71% of bed-makers say they’re happy, while most non-bed makers say they’re not. Bed makers are also more likely to own a home, enjoy their work, sleep better, eat better, and exercise regularly. They also have more sex.
Let me be the first to say: fuck you 2020. But also, thanks for your help.
It’s stupid to think that it’s taken about five years to get to the starting line. Five years of trying to make it make sense and failing and starting again and failing; and giving up, and starting again and failing, and giving up again.
But always starting again, because there isn’t a choice.
That’s what we do as humans. We dream a path, and we start out upon it. We try things out, we invent, we test, we fall, we fail, and we start again. And even when we succeed, we start again because that’s the point.
There’s no wrong or right way to go. It’s just one small problem after another. A challenge overcome here, a step forward there, never sure what will cross our path next but always knowing that we’ll have to go through it.
Last year was crazy, but now it’s over. You survived. We took a spin around the sun, and you took another step forward.
This next year will be crazy too, but whatever life throws at you, know you can handle it too.
But it’s not your fault the world is like this. It’s not really anybody’s fault.
Our world has such astounding diversity that it has no choice but to veer from change to change. That’s just what it does. We’re swept up by vast currents of change that ebb and flow and gust for reasons far beyond our understanding.
All we can do is keep paddling in the direction we want to go, knowing that the winds always change with time and hoping that one day, they change in our favour.
Pick your destination, haul your sail, and cling on tight.
A few years back, I surprised myself by getting into running and discovered something strange.
There’s a race for masochists down in Tennessee called ‘Big Dog’s Outdoor Ultra.’ It’s a four-mile loop that you run until everyone else drops out. This year , Courtney Dauwalter, ran 283 miles in just under 72 hours, non-stop.
Running an eternal loop seems crazy, but many competitors say it’s easier than running a ‘standard ultra.’ 2018’s winner said, “Because there’s no predetermined finish, you can’t think in terms of ‘how many miles do I have left? It’s always just the next loop, the next loop, the next loop. You’re never overwhelmed by what you have left to run because you simply don’t know.”
Strangely, setting a ‘finish line’ can be detrimental to growth, especially when you’re just getting started.
The best thing you can do is choose a direction and focus on putting one foot in front of the other; running today’s race as best you can.
Worry about tomorrow when you cross that starting line.
Trees have a sturdy grace that makes good company.
And they can probably teach us a thing or two about living on this planet, after 400 million years of it.
They don’t worry about how fast they’re growing or what their neighbours are up to. When the sun is shining, they lean into it; when it thunders, they cling on tight, dancing with nature’s punches. And they rarely cause a fuss.
Children hate the taste of some damn tasty treats like truffles, coffee, wine, beer, tea, dark chocolate, whiskey and that stanky blue cheese.
We say that’s because their taste buds ‘haven’t matured,’ and as a child, I often wondered what that meant. What does it mean to ‘mature?’
As an adult who can chomp through a wheel of stilton faster than you can say, ‘pour me another scotch,’ I’ve come to believe that you must suffer a little before you can enjoy blue cheese.
Children don’t appreciate these flavours because they haven’t learnt that Good needs Bad. They’re too young to know that enjoying delicacies takes effort, and time, and suffering.
Like Life, you often have to get through an initial bitter shock and salty tang before you get to the creamy goodness. It takes work to appreciate many delicacies!
Maybe blue cheese only tastes good when you’ve lived a little; when you’ve cried, when you’ve tried and failed, fought regret — and learnt to put up with a bit of suffering to get something you can enjoy forever.
The kaizen philosophy is the grandfather of many ideas and methods of improvement out there. This blog will look briefly at what kaizen is and how it compares to three other common improvement philosophies, Lean, Six-Sigma, and Poka-Yoke.
What is Kaizen?
The idea of Kaizen came from Japan. The word itself means ‘improvement,’ but it has become a philosophy for successful, continuous innovation and improvement.
It rests on breaking down goals into small, actionable daily goals and creating the processes that drive change.
Kaizen is one of the oldest philosophies of improvement. It inspired lean and six-sigma, and even contemporary development methodologies like Agile and KANBAN.
Think of kaizen as the overarching umbrella of improvement. Both lean and six sigma systematize different areas of improvement but share the same goal: improved outcomes. They vary in how they aim to achieve more value and what tools they use to get there.
What is the Lean Manufacturing Method?
Lean methodology is a way of optimizing your resources and energy towards creating the most value possible.
It’s the younger brother of kaizen and incorporates the kaizen mindset of continuous improvement with the equally important tenet of respecting people.
Businesses worldwide subscribe to the lean methodology to sustainably deliver better value for their customers and employees through sustainable and resilient organizations.
The Difference Between Lean and Kaizen
While both these philosophies can improve our results by optimizing our processes and resource usage, lean is primarily focused on reducing waste. Reducing waste or ‘Muda’ is a crucial part of the kaizen philosophy, but lean regards it as an end in itself.
What is Six Sigma?
Six sigma is another business process born due to kaizen’s industrial success in the 80s and 90s.
It aims to increase performance and decrease variation to reduce manufacturing defects and improve profits, employee morale, and product or service quality.
Where Lean focuses on reducing waste and optimizing resource usage, six sigma focuses on reducing variation.
Lean uses kaizen to achieve its workplace organization goals, whereas six sigma is more concerned with using statistics and data analysis to enact change through experimentation.
Lean, six sigma, and kaizen are mutually dependent and not mutually exclusive.
The Difference Between Kaizen and Six Sigma
Kaizen is a philosophy that demands constant self-assessment and encourages continuous improvement — but doesn’t determine the speed or significance of those changes, or in fact, whether those changes are guaranteed to succeed.
Kaizen encourages mistakes as a way of finding success, while six sigma attempts to reduce the number of errors in a process. It’s concerned with improving the quality of outcomes by creating consistent and reliable results. In the case of six sigma, ‘better’ is defined as ‘more consistent.’
What is Poke-Yoke?
Poka-Yoke is another Japanese term that came about by applying kaizen philosophy in the Toyota production lines.
Initially, the term was ‘Baka-yoke,’ which means ‘fool-proofing. To avoid negative connotations, this was later changed to Poka-yoke, or ‘mistake-proofing.’
It came about as a way to empower employees to enact change while mitigating the risk that these innovations would turn out to be a mistake. Poka-yoke is any means, tool or process that helps avoid mistakes.
One example of this is how modern cars are designed so that you cannot start the ignition without pressing your foot on the brake. This simple process probably prevents thousands of fender-benders every day.
The Difference Between Kaizen & Poka Yoke
Kaizen is a philosophy of improvement that encourages us to think of everything as poorly planned and executed, and challenges us to make mistakes to drive innovation.
Poka-Yoke is a production mindset that we can hold in our minds to help reduce the likelihood that our innovations end up being a mistake or our products cause an accident.
If you are continually seeking improvement, make sure you put systems into place to protect yourself, to foolproof your actions. Our lives are not dependable systems, but we can ‘foolproof’ our improvement by combining habits, not taking on too much at once, and remembering to give ourselves time to recover.
Which method of improvement is best?
This question is redundant in the pursuit of perfection, or even just ‘improved outcomes.’
If you want to apply kaizen to your life, think about how you can use all of these methodologies to reach your goals.
Poka-yoke, six sigma, and lean manufacturing are all systems we use in our pursuit of kaizen. We should use them all together, at different times, to help us move closer to our goals.
The best improvement method is kaizen because it does not tie us to any particular system but encourages us to experiment and try them out until we find what fits best with our goals. Each of these ‘secondary’ methodologies is a tool or an avenue through which we create our kaizen.
When we were children, we learnt to play the tin whistle.
It’s a shrill little instrument that probably blew out the eardrums of anyone who heard us practicing.
Years later, whenever I left to go travelling or university or to move country, my mother would thrust this cold little tube into my hand and say, “Take it with you — you never know when it might come in handy.”
I never took the whistle, but I took the idea to heart. Knowing that whatever happened, I’d be able to earn myself a meal by practicing in public.
It took me a while to work up the courage, though!
You never know when something silly might become useful later, when it merges with something else and that opens up the world.
In 2011, a mother and her son walked 300ft along a wire no wider than your thumb, 121ft above the ground — with no safety net.
It was an emotional moment for them both.
The woman’s father, The Great Karl Wallenda, had plunged to his death from that same spot 33 years earlier. He was 73.
If you haven’t heard of him, Karl Wallenda was the acrobat.
He and his family formed The Flying Wallendas, who created many of the acrobatic feats performed today. They were renowned for pulling off the most daring stunts while dangling hundreds of feet in the air — without a safety net.
Earlier that day, he was asked his terminal question: “Why?”
Karl is quoted as replying, “Life is on the tightrope, and the tightrope is the only place to be. The only place I feel alive is on the wire. Everything else is just waiting.”
Life is a balancing act. Our job as humans is to shuffle out along that wire every day and perform our best, knowing that one day we will fall. And walking out there anyway.
Because that thrilling fear that comes from doing something uncommon — that’s being alive.
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:
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.
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.
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.
You’re doing great, and you’ve barely even got out of bed.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From the bestselling author of Linchpin, Tribes, 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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
This is a simple but fairly comprehensive book about the basics of kaizen with some extra history and anecdotes from Japan.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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:
Taking small actions.
Asking small questions.
Thinking small thoughts.
Solving small problems.
Bestowing small rewards (to yourself or others).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
They overcome our natural fear of big changes.
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.
Self-Awareness & Critique
Always Be Learning
Start with Scarcity
Break Down Your Goals into Manageable Steps
Commit to Daily Practice (habit-forming)
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.
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:
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.