A life in pulp fiction

When I was but knee-high to a grasshopper, Dad would often pop his head into whatever bubble I was in at the time and spin a battered and yellowing paperback onto my lap.

“Here, read that. You’ll like it,” he would say.

Then he’d wander off to build a homeless shelter or a school or a choir or whatever else he was crafting for the world at the time.

It wasn’t until many years later that I realize that he was crafting me too.

Those books prepared me for things I would encounter later in life that there are no lessons for; love, drugs, adventure, luck, betrayal, and death.

Those ageing and comically-fronted tomes of pulp fiction changed the way I thought about the world.

They opened my eyes to the possibilities and the madness and the complex, crushing beauty of it all.

And I wouldn’t be me without them.

Double-fisting screens

The ‘Golden Age of Media’ is gone for good.

TV isn’t more boring than it used to be. The stories and production are probably better.

But when was the last time you watched TV without getting distracted by your phone? 

Is that because TV now is crap? Or because our phones have us better trained than the gogglebox could ever manage?

Recently I was scrolling Instagram for memes and an argument while watching a violent TV show, and I caught myself: spread across the sofa, devouring media with both hands like a fat kid up to his elbows in a pot of peanut butter. 

Shovelling those images and sounds into my brain as fast as my weak human senses would allow, wallowing in the hormones milked from my tired little brain.

And I thought, “Fuck this.”

So I went and found a book to read.

But that didn’t last very long before I fell asleep.

The Best Kaizen Books for Self-Improvement

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

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

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

Table of Contents

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

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

Success Habits Kaizen_Michael_Ceaser

Kaizen Ben’s Book Review:

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

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

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

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

Choose Yourself — James Altucher

Choose Yourself - James Altucher

Kaizen Ben  Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Small Step Can Change Your Life — Robert Maurer

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

Amazon Description:

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

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

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

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

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

How to Set Goals with Kaizen & Ikigai — Anthony Raymond

How to Set Goals with Kaizen & Ikigai Anthony Raymond

Amazon Description:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Practice — Seth Godin

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

Amazon Description:

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

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

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

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

Kaizen and You — Igor Popovich

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

Amazon Description:

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

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

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

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

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

Atomic Habits — James Clear

Atomic Habits James Clear

Amazon Description:

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

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

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

Learn how to:

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

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

The Power of Habit — Charles Duhigg

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

Amazon Description:

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

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

Algorithms to Live By — Brian Christian

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

Amazon Description:

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

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

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

The Tipping Point — Malcolm Gladwell

The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell

Amazon Description:

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

Outliers — Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers Malcolm Gladwell

Amazon Description:

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

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

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

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

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

Goodreads Description:

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

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

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

Understanding Variation — Donald Wheeler

Understanding Variation The Key to Managing Chaos_Donald Wheeler

Amazon Description:

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

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

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

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