Blue cheese and suffering

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.

Yum!

You are enough

It’s easy — and very common — to think that you’re not enough. Lots of people worry about it.

We think we’re not smart enough to be funny, or rich enough to be happy, or attractive enough to be loved. But that’s all rubbish that someone else made up.

The world is full of other people telling us we need to buy such and such a thing to feel like we’re enough. And it never does the trick.

Because they don’t know shit.

You ARE enough.

You already HAVE enough to be happy.

Trying your best every day is just being more you.

That little step forward every day just takes you closer to yourself.

And you are enough to change the world.

 

Take it with you

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.

Walking through walls

Walking through a wall is very very very very unlikely, but science tells us it’s not impossible.

It’s called ‘quantum tunnelling’ and it’s why the sun explodes, and how your DNA replicates, and how light passes through a solid object.

A very clever teenager explained this to me this morning in under three minutes and closed with these (almost) impossibly wise words:

“Maybe the quantum world is telling us that when faced with an obstacle, there’s a small chance we can defy expectations and breach barriers.”

She absolutely nailed it.

I’m not saying take a running jump at the closest wall. But the next time you’re faced with something that seems ‘impossible,’ remember you always have a chance.

That’s just how the universe works.

Life is a tightrope

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.

That’s what it’s all about.

The rest is just waiting.

Look at all you’ve learnt

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

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

But look at everything you’ve mastered since then!

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

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

That’s not a fluke or an accident.

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

Just keep on feeding it something new every day.

You’re doing great

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

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

Check it out:

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

See?

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

Keep it up!

Last night I thought I died

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

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

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

And then I realised — I was dead.

That was it—no more Ben.

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

And it was sickening.

I was angry.

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

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

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

Happy to be alive!

200 shitty words a day

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

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

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

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

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

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

It could be as simple as making your bed.

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

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

You just have to get it done. 

Get going!

And thanks for reading mine.

Who invited Eeyore?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But guess what?

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

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

You distract your Eeyore by helping other people with theirs.

It works every time.

eeyore sitting down looking sad

How to win the stock market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re not.

And guess what?

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

That’s just how it works.

Kerching!

Some days are just crap

Some days are great.

Some days are not so great.

And some days are downright terrible.

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

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

You’re still great.

And you’ll still be great tomorrow.

I’ll bet on it.

Perfection is a dirty lie

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

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

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

It’s an illusion of the mind.

Everyone from Plato to Taylor Swift has said this.

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

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

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

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

Fuck perfection.

I’m happy with getting it done.

Today is day one

Some ‘life advice’ is just terrible.

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

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

But beyond that, it’s useless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not doing what you love is insane

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

He was that kind of guy.

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

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

And that’s usually what happens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the bonus!

Your best is the score

I didn’t try very hard at school.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just give it your best shot.

Don’t let life happen

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

You’re the one in charge.

You’re the reason it’s all happening.

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

So strike out.

And life won’t know what hit it.

Why life gives you lemons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re more important than you think

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

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

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

A lot.

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

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

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

Terrifyingly awesome.

Go write today’s chapter.

Don’t break these promises

Everything in life is an agreement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back yourself up today.

 

Wiggle it away

It’s impossible to be angry and dance.

That’s a fact.

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

And it’s very hard to be sad too.

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

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

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

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

I dare you to try and be angry and dance.

It will probably explode your head.

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

Shake and jiggle it out!

Better late than never

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

Or in our words, “rather late than never.

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

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

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

But, time doesn’t really exist.

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

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

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

It’s never too late.

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

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

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

But you can do any of those things.

These stories prove that late is better than never.

So, screw you, Ms. Kattan.

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

If this isn’t nice…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or the waft of freshly baked bread tickling your nostrils.

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

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

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

Nice.

Being unmotivated is good

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

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

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

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

Ha! Of course, they didn’t.

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

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

Choose to take a step forward today.

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

Something to say?

You are here and you have something to say.

We all do.

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

We need to hear it!

What’s more, we want to hear it.

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

Seeing as you’re here…

Let’s hear it!

Mistakes are sexy

You’ve probably heard that scars are sexy.

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

But why?

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

They’re a visible reminder of a mistake.

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

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

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

And they make you sexier.

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

They’re what makes you, you.

What if you had to live today forever?

We watched 50 First Dates last weekend.

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

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

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

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

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

She’d be absolutely ripped!

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what would that day do for you?

Mind your head!

Not great isn’t bad

It’s not easy being great every day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s more than good enough.

Did you try restarting?

Beep

Every morning, we’re born again.

What we do today is what matters most.

Your cache is cleared. The slate is wiped clean.

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

You can’t change the past.

It is done.

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

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

Don’t look back.

How to predict the future

Not many people saw the pandemic coming. And nobody predicted what actually happened in 2020.

Don’t believe anyone who says they know what’s going to happen in the future. At best, it’ll be a lucky guess.

We can’t predict what happens to us, but we can decide what we do next.

We always get to decide how we react.

When you know how you’ll react before the Universe throws the shit — that’s what we call ‘having values.’

And having values is how you predict the future.

So, if kaizen is one of your values, it means you’ve decided to improve: To take a little step forward every day.  To learn something new. To leave our beautiful home a little better than when we arrived.

And to me, that’s greatness.

It doesn’t matter what you do

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

Just do one thing.

It doesn’t matter what it is.

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

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

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

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

Mark Manson calls this the ‘Do Something Principle.’

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

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

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

Take it from me. 🙂

The strangest secret

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

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

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

And once you understand that turning ‘thoughts into things’ is what your human brain was born to do, you’ll be shocked we don’t shout about it from the rooftops.

And even more shocked that most people don’t use this tool at all.

All it takes is to take a goal you thinking about, and decide, “I am going to do this.” 

And then keep on thinking that. 

Think about doing it; think about it being done; and think about the kind of person who does that thing. And all those thoughts will tell you what you need to do to get there. Who you need to be to get those things.

You’ll start making decisions and choices that drive you towards that goal, and each one with show you what you need to do next. 

Simple.

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

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

 

 

You got this

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

You. Got. This.

It’s what you were born to do. 

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

Keep slaying those days!

Don’t worry about what’s ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your daily practice?

Mine is this blog 🙂

Only fear standing still

There’s an old Chinese proverb that says:

Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.”

Often, we’re in such a hurry to get to the results that we’re disappointed when they don’t arrive immediately. We get frustrated when our social media posts go unnoticed, or we get overlooked for a raise.

We want the instant success that we see on social media.

But real success doesn’t come overnight. It can’t.

Because true success is overcoming challenges, solving problems, failing, and starting again.

Being successful means taking that little step forward towards your dream — whatever happens.

As you take on your challenges today, remember that the only failures in life are those that don’t keep taking those little steps forward every day. The ones that stay still.

Keep on stepping!

What is kaizen and what does it mean?

You may have heard the word kaizen and wondered what it meant. The answer is stranger than you’d think.

The root of the word kaizen is in manufacturing and business processes. But the principles behind it are applicable in our lives too. That’s why it has crept into the world of self-help.

But what does kaizen actually mean?

What is kaizen, and what does it mean?

Kaizen is a concept and a Japanese word. This is the word:

kaizen kanji horizontal

The word simply means ‘change for the better.’

A more straightforward translation might be ‘improvement.’

There isn’t much philosophical about the words improvement or kaizen by themselves. But kaizen has grown in meaning in the last half-century to describe the philosophy of continuous improvement both in business and private life.

The Deeper Meaning of Kaizen

The English language is well-known to relentlessly and mercilessly acquire words and phrases from others — often shamelessly ignoring its deeper meanings.

One of my favourite quotes on this:

“We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.” James Nicoll

Kaizen has avoided that treatment so far. But unpicking its meaning reveals a philosophical beauty.

This gent does a better job than I could ever do.

Kai (revolution) = Self & Whip (flagellate)

Zen (good) = Sheep (lamb/goat) & Alter (sacrifice)

Kaizen, translated very literally, means revolution through small sacrifices.

I love the philosophy behind this.

Change is the relentless beating of life upon us.

And ‘good’ essentially meaning sacrifice, or from sacrifice. Because nothing truly good ever happened without a little sacrifice.

Sacrifice is how you get there. Not huge sacrifices, just small, meaningful ones.

Keep both of those meanings in mind as we go a little deeper into the meaning of the word kaizen, and you’ll see the power these short lines represent.

Kaizen translates to improvement.

But ‘improving’ isn’t very helpful. How do you improve? And how do you know you’ve improved when you get there?

To incorporate the philosophy of kaizen into your life, you need a framework.

Here are some pillars that make kaizen practical for personal growth.

The 3 Pillars of Personal Kaizen

Kaizen has been turned into a framework for creating better businesses. And as with any such framework, it rests upon pillars or principles. You can find various versions of these, but they all seem to be rather wordy and boring business-speak.

After some research, I decided that these three were probably the most important — everything else stemmed from them. Someone will probably complain about me twisting meanings here, but I don’t care. Words are what you make of them.

1. Mokuteki 目的 (Purpose)

Mokuteki is at the core of kaizen. It roughly means ‘purpose’ or ‘goal.’

Mokuteki is the growth part, the addition, the result of the improvement.

If you want to execute kaizen in your life, mokuteki is both your goals and your intention to achieve them.

It’s the whole point.

You could also use seichō (成長), meaning growth or ‘ (増) meaning increase. Or just kaizen, of course.

I find ‘purpose’ to be most fitting for self-improvement, partly because of its double meaning in English.

You must have purpose — intent — to change. And you must have a purpose for doing it—your objective. The roots of the word purpose are from the Latin for resolve. Something else you must have.

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

This also fits nicely with our use of the word ‘purpose’ because eliminating waste and distractions becomes easy once you have a purpose.

There are some elements of this in personal kaizen, and we’ll certainly need to eliminate things that don’t help us work towards our goals.

2. Gemba 現場 (Place)

Gemba is a Japanese word that translates approximately as the real place. Google (rather dully) tells me that it means on-site.

If you’re interested, the two kanji characters that make this word translate as current and field.

In the business consulting frameworks, Gemba typically refers to the workplace or factory floor. But we can use it in several other ways:

A police detective would call a crime scene the gemba, live TV journalists report from gemba. It’s where the action happens, where the rubber hits the road. It’s the field where you will sow your seeds of growth. 

If you are trying to apply kaizen to your life, gemba is the area of your life that you want to improve.

To some people, their gemba is obvious and specific. It could be learning to play the guitar or running a marathon.

It could be more abstract for other people, like being happier, or more confident, or more successful in your career.

You need gemba to help you focus your efforts. It directs your energy and shows you what you need to sacrifice. It helps you cut away the chaff and focus on what’s essential to your mokuteki.

It keeps you on track. Identifying your gemba is essential if you want to benefit from the principles of kaizen.

You cannot climb any mountains unless you pick one mountain to climb first.

Gemba is also where you do that improvement: work, home, the gym. Understanding how your environment affects you is an essential part of self-development.

3. Renzoku 連続 (Persistence)

The final piece of a kaizen philosophy is this: continuity. That’s the more common translation of renzoku. But that doesn’t make a neat Three Ps for the pillars. 🙂 

The business concepts refer to this as standardization — and that’s important to remember. Another way we could look at this could be iji (維持), which would mean sustainability or to maintain, but I prefer 連続 because it is more about using it continually. And also the whole ‘P’ thing I mentioned earlier.

Personal kaizen is more about continuity because you can’t standardize life in the same way you can standardize a production line or business process. 

Kaizen isn’t about making fast changes to your lifestyle or habits. It’s about continuously making improvements to your lifestyle or habits. These slight improvements will all add up to significant change faster than you think.

It’s not about quick hacks and instant results. Because, as appealing as those may be, these things don’t work.

You might drop the ~10lb (for me, it was about ~25lb) that you thought was making you unhappy. You might get the raise you need to feel like a success. You might find the perfect productivity app, or personal trainer, or diet plan, or partner. But none of that will count for shit in the long run because they’re not what drives change.

Kaizen is about taking small definite actions every day — some of which you can standardize — no matter what happens. It’s about persistence.

Renzoku is the current that drives the change. It’s your motor, the wind in your sails. It’s the realization that there is no final ‘better’ — perfection is impossible, after all. 

The power behind the kaizen philosophy lies in renzoku. The whole point is just to put one foot in front of the other and keep on moving. It’s the method that makes it all possible; it’s the regular deposits you make into your account.

But it’s also the realization that making the regular deposits is more important than how much they are or how much is in the account!

It’s the action that makes it all possible. 

Kaizen is a Way of Approaching Life

Here’s another analogy that relates to this story about the man who wanted to climb the mountain.

Adopting a kaizen philosophy is deciding to climb the mountain for yourself. It is also your map and your method.

If you are that traveller walking up a mountain, gemba is the mountain, mokuteki is the view from the top, and renzoku is the action of putting one foot in front of the other; the steps you take to get there.

And those travellers who are fortunate enough to reach the top and look out on that view tend to realize one thing. Each of those little steps was the point. The steps were the goal in themselves. After all, how many people climb just one mountain?

Once you get to the top, you realize that the whole point is to climb — and to keep climbing.

Kaizen is the toolkit that will help you climb any mountain you choose.

 

What Kaizen Means to Me

This whole blog is about what kaizen is to me and how to use this practical philosophy to improve your life.

Kaizen helped me to turn my life around completely, and it can help you too.

It’s taken me from being a lost, sad, goal-less drug addict to a productive, healthy (mostly) happy human, doing what I enjoy for a living.  

And hopefully, it can help you too. 

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

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