It’s happened to all of us.
Maybe it was while making New Year’s resolutions. Maybe you’ve had an epiphany of some kind. Somehow, you experience a sudden realization that you need to make some changes in your life.
So you start planning and scheming. And you start planning ambitiously. Go big or go home! You’re going to tackle your challenges with a bold strategy and radical changes. You’re going to go all the way to make it happen.
Until it doesn’t. Blame it on the Italians with those home-delivered pizzas derailing your weight loss plan. Or maybe it’s Buzzfeed with those gifs and top 21 lists seducing you into aimless web surfing.
The true problem here is that focusing on goals alone overwhelms us into inaction. The more overwhelming the goal, the more you’re looking like a deer stuck in headlights.
No Cheat Codes
But maybe that’s not who you are. You’re good at overcoming those torpor-inducing effects, and you start taking action towards your goals. Let me note here that browsing through countless sites promising tips on how to boost your productivity in the blink of an eye is not “taking action”. Neither is listening to dozens of podcasts hoping to find the perfect hack for self-improvement. There are no cheat codes in real life.
Getting Off the Roller Coaster
Looking for magic bullets makes you feel like you’re doing something, when in fact you’re doing nothing. Self-improvement ain’t that easy. Still, you need to stop the vicious circle of unrealistic plans and the self-pitying that follows. To do that, you can’t rely on cheat codes. You need to embrace the philosophy of small, continuous change. It’s called kaizen.
What is kaizen?
I know that some of you are now eyeballing these lines waiting for the umpteenth lesson on zen philosophy. Good news for you! Kaizen translates to “good change” and, guess what, there’s not much implied beyond that. The more philosophical sense of “kaizen” we’re talking about is written in Japanese with the phonetic katakana alphabet, which is most often used for the transcription of foreign words. It’s a contemporary concept.
Kaizen in Action
Many associate Kaizen with the Toyota Production System. The whole story goes something like this: American companies were struggling to compete with Toyota. So American execs visited Japanese manufacturing plants to discover what was going on. What they found was an unheard-of work ethos. Any worker on a Toyota assembly line could stop it to suggest a better way to do things or to fix a mistake. American workers, instead, were told not to stop the line, no matter what. Two key lessons follow: 1) the goal should be to work smarter, not just harder. 2) To do that, it’s important to take time to look for small, simple improvements.
Kaizen Your Life
While meant for businesses, Kaizen is just as applicable to daily life. Stop trying to make radical changes overnight, and focus on getting a little bit better every day at whatever you’re doing. Compounding effects will make sure that in time a big gain will be made. Want some examples?
Start small. Like, really small.
Let’s say you want to stop wasting your time on the phone before going to bed. Start concentrating on the 10 minutes before bedtime. Plan them in detail and make a habit out of your plan. Then start adding 2 minutes every day. Eventually, your whole evening will become more satisfying and stimulating.
Or start meditating. Focus on your breath for 2 minutes. That’s it. Then add a minute regularly. Maybe not tomorrow, but in a few months even our hour-long meditation videos may not be long enough for you. In the meantime, consider this playlist for shorter meditation sessions the start of your journey to continuous self-improvement. Remember that change is possible if you kaizen your life!