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.
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.
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.
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.
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.