Do yourself a favour

It was a long time before I understood what “Do yourself a favour” meant.

There’s a Past Ben and a Future Ben and Me.

For a long time, I didn’t give Future Ben much thought.

I knew about Past Ben, who I didn’t like very much because he was perpetually screwing Me over.

But Future Ben was smart and young enough to handle the consequences of whatever bullshit I wanted to do at the time; to pay this or that debt or worry or pay the price of whatever I wanted to do at the time.

One night a few years back, I had a dream about Future Ben and he was in a very sorry state indeed. And all he said was, “Why? Why did you do this to me?”

After that, I started to do little things to look out for Future Ben — doing him a little favour now and then — because he wasn’t getting any younger.

And sure enough, Past Ben started cleaning up his act, and I didn’t have such a mess to worry about.

And that just made it easier to do myself a favour more often.

 

 

Wikipedia was tiny

Today, Wikipedia has over 6,229,184 million English pages.

Tech companies and governments use it to source news, fact-check, and fight misinformation — despite despairing teachers everywhere. There’s even a copy of Wikipedia on the moon.

But in its first year, Wikipedia only published around 20 pages.

The gamechanger for them — letting other people contribute — almost never happened at all. But just a year after they’d made that one small change, they had 20,000+ articles.

When we’re on a journey and things aren’t going our way, it’s tempting to give up. But the gamechanger is often just a bit further down the path, around a corner where we can’t see.

A couple more steps forward, with maybe a small pivot, and life can change pretty damn fast.

Mind follows body

People think that to change your behaviour or reach your dreams, you have to change your mind. But that’s backwards.

Mindset plays an important part, but the truth is, when we change our actions first, our minds will follow. 

That’s why even a tiny behavioural change — like drinking a glass of water in the morning — can make us healthier. 

That one small action opens the door to dozens of other small but positive actions over the day. And over time, these all add up and move us closer to where we want to be, and who we want to be. 

We can’t talk ourselves into change, but if we act as if it’s already happened, our minds will quickly catch up.

Raising the bar slowly

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.

How to Apply Kaizen in Your Life in 5 Easy Steps

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

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

1. Self-reflect to find your purpose

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

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

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

Ask yourself: What am I trying to achieve?

Then write it down.

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

2. Research to find your change agents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Track and record your actions to actualize your progress

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

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

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

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

5. Always look for ways to improve your actions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Thanks to Darwin Vegher for putting this photo on Unsplash

11 books about kaizen for self-improvement

This is my reading list for books about applying kaizen principles in your life. 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 year, I’ll write a more personal, opinionated version of each abstract.

Until then, this is guide is for you. 

One Small Step Can Change Your Life — Robert Maurer

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

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.

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

Amazon Description:Success Habits Kaizen_Michael_Ceaser

A small but potent guide to implementing kaizen in your life, this ‘book’ won’t take you more than a couple of hours to read — MAX!

It’s about 20 pages so you would think I’d be able to read this one pretty quickly…and it’s only $3.

 

 

How to Set Goals with Kaizen & Ikigai — Anthony Raymond

Amazon Description:How to Set Goals with Kaizen & Ikigai Anthony Raymond

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.”

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

Kaizen and You — Igor Popovich

Amazon Description: Kaizen and You Personal Success through Self Knowledge and Continuous Improvement_Igor Popovich

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 get 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 (pronounced ky’zen) is Japanese for a 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 the constant improvement of their personal and business achievements.

Atomic Habits — James Clear

Amazon Description:Atomic Habits James Clear

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 systems. 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. Along the way, readers will be inspired and entertained with true stories from Olympic gold medalists, award-winning artists, business leaders, life-saving physicians, and star comedians who have used the science of small habits to master their craft and vault to the top of 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 the way you think about success and give you the tools and strategies you need to transform your habits, 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

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

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 they can be changed. 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.

“Few [books] become essential manuals for business and living. The Power of Habit is an exception. Charles Duhigg not only explains how habits are formed but how to kick bad ones and hang on to the good.” —Financial Times.

“Sharp, provocative, and useful.” —Jim Collins.

“A flat-out great read.” —David Allen, bestselling author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

“You’ll never look at yourself, your organization, or your world quite the same way.” —Daniel H. Pink, bestselling author of Drive and A Whole New Mind.

“Entertaining . . . enjoyable . . . fascinating . . . a serious look at the science of habit formation and change.” — The New York Times Book Review

Choose Yourself — James Altucher

Amazon Description:Choose Yourself - James Altucher

The world is changing. Markets have crashed. Jobs have disappeared. Industries have been disrupted and are being remade before our eyes. Everything we aspired to for “security,” everything we thought was “safe,” no longer is: College. Employment. Retirement. Government. It’s all crumbling down. In every part of society, the middlemen are being pushed out of the picture. No longer is someone coming to hire you, to invest in your company, to sign you, to pick you. It’s on you to make the most crucial decision in your life: Choose Yourself.

New tools and economic forces have emerged to make it possible for individuals to create art, make millions of dollars and change the world without “help.” More and more opportunities are rising out of the ashes of the broken system to generate real inward success (personal happiness and health) and outward success (fulfilling work and wealth).

This book will teach you to do just that. With dozens of case studies, interviews and examples–including the author, investor and entrepreneur James Altucher’s own heartbreaking and inspiring story–Choose Yourself illuminates your path to building a bright, new world out of the wreckage of the old.

Algorithms to Live By — Brian Christian

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

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.

In a dazzlingly interdisciplinary work, Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths show how algorithms developed for computers also untangle very human questions. 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

Amazon Description: The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell

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 throughout the world think about selling products and disseminating ideas.

Outliers — Malcolm Gladwell

Amazon Description:Outliers Malcolm Gladwell

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 idiosyncratic 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.

Understanding Variation — Donald Wheeler

Amazon Description:Understanding Variation The Key to Managing Chaos_Donald Wheeler

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, through our culture, 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 needs to be done 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.