A Japanese term meaning “improvement”.
I think of Kaizen as ‘continuous improvement’ or ‘continual change for the better, one small step at a time’, as this is how I first heard of the term.
A lot of the successful Japanese manufacturing companies in automobiles and technology have used this exact approach to obtain massive success over time.
What could you achieve if you just focused on taking one small step in the right direction today, and then another one every day after that?
2. BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE…
Gandhi did not say “Be the change you want to see in the world” even though it is often attributed to him. What he actually said was this:
“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi
3. BE HERE NOW
If we are fully present in the moment and aware of what is going on both internally and externally, we have a choice in what we decide to do.
If you do not feel present, meditate, ground yourself, get outside, move and connect with your five senses in the moment and the world around you.
“Awareness is all about restoring your freedom to choose what you want instead of what your past imposes on you.” – Deepak Chopra
4. CHOICES DEFINE YOUR LEGACY
This happens through a lengthy process of choices becoming actions, actions becoming habits, and all of your habits informing your character and ultimate legacy. A quote along these lines has been attributed to a Mr Wiseman in 1856, and it tells us that whatever we sow, we must later reap.
It is therefore essential to engage in as many helpful actions as possible when we still have a choice and before they become habitual. The more engrained something is, the easier it is to do automatically, and the harder it can be to stop.
“Neurons that fire together, wire together.” – Donald Hebb
5. LIFE WASN’T MEANT TO BE EASY
We often don’t appreciate things that just fall into our lap, and we tend to value things much more when we put in some hard work to get it. Even people that build their own IKEA furniture rate the furniture as being more valuable than people who see that same furniture complete but haven’t made it themselves.
I know I’d be more proud of the $3million I built up through hard work than the equivalent amount of money won through a lottery. How about you?
“Anything in life worth having is worth working for.” – Andrew Carnegie
6. THE MAGIC HAPPENS OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE
“Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.” – Brian Tracy
So many people want a comfortable life and therefore stick to what feels safe. Unfortunately, if you are not willing to feel uncomfortable, your life will only get smaller over time.
When you first step out of your comfort zone, it will be scary, you will feel awkward, and it may even feel unsafe. But is it really, or does it just feel threatening because it is new? If at this moment, you run back to what you are used to, you won’t grow. However, if you can persist through the initial pain, it will only get more comfortable in time, and your comfort zone will continue to expand and grow.
7. RETHINK WHAT IT MEANS TO BE FREE
What is real freedom to you?
Doing whatever your parents, school, bosses or government wants you to do? UMM NO. This is called compliance.
Being a rebel and doing the exact opposite of what your parents, school, bosses and government told you to do? STILL NO. This is called counterpliance and is always defined by what you have been shown to do, which means that you are still part of the system. Plus you may end up grounded, expelled, fired or in prison, which doesn’t sound too free to me.
Just living for the moment and indulging in all of your passions and pleasures whenever you want, because YOLO, right? NOPE. This is called hedonism, and may feel great for a night, but not for a lifetime. It can have some pretty nasty side-effects too if you aren’t careful, including weight gain, disease, debt, dissatisfaction and even death.
True freedom must come from making the choice that is likely to be the best for you in the long-term, even if it denies you that last alcoholic drink or dessert, or the fun that happens after 2am, or that extra TV episode, or the added snooze time in the mornings. If we can’t get ourselves to do things that are difficult or painful in the short-term but beneficial in the long run, we can never honestly be free in the long-term. As a former NAVY SEAL famously said:
“Discipline equals freedom.” – Jocko Willink
8. GETTING STARTED IS ALWAYS THE HARDEST PART
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started” – Mark Twain.
In a book that I once read (the Willpower Instinct I think), I came across a 10-minute rule that I found surprisingly useful. Basically, if you are not sure if you are up for doing something, give it a go for 10 minutes, and if after 10 minutes you still don’t feel up to it, stop. I tried it a few times with going to the gym, and usually, once I get there and get into it, I’m fine, but my brain often tries to tell me that I am too tired before I go.
The reason the 10-minute strategy seems to work is that it is much easier to get our brain to do something for 10 minutes than it is for a considerable chunk of time. This is because it requires much less energy when we are forecasting our capacity to do the task. Human brains are cognitive misers, which means they are always trying to “help” by conserving energy. If you want to get started or you feel tired, think small. Also…
9. THE FIRST DRAFT OF ANYTHING IS RUBBISH
“Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing. There is, and you can’t get out of it. I rewrote the first part of A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times. You’ve got to work it over. The first draft of anything is shit. When you first start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none, but after you learn to work it’s your object to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself.” – Ernest Hemingway
This quote is fantastic because too often people think that the need to produce a masterpiece the first time they try or do something. If one of the most famous authors of all time produced crap on their first draft, why should we expect more on ours? The solution is to focus on the process, not the outcome, and just produce work before trying to edit, review or criticise what you have done.
10. DON’T PUT THINGS OFF TIL LATER
“If something takes less than 2 minutes to do, don’t write it down or add it to your to do list – do it now.” – David Allen, Getting Things Done
Most people have so much stuff to do at any one time that it is very difficult to ever get their to-do-list down to zero. This can cause anxiety and stress for some people, but the key is to have an excellent system to manage everything that comes in so that you don’t have to keep worrying and thinking about all of the things you need to do. Getting things done, or GTD is one such system. And the two-minute-rule from GTD says that small tasks should never go on your to-do-list if you can just get them done now. This rule alone means that my email inbox rarely has any unopened or unreplied emails.
11. BE YOURSELF; EVERYONE ELSE IS TAKEN
Some believe that Oscar Wilde first said this, but the fascinating quote investigator website said that they could not find it in any of his writings. Keith craft said something similar that I like better, in announcing that we all have a unique fingerprint and that we can, therefore “leave a unique imprint that no one else can leave.”
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
12. WE REGRET THE THINGS WE DON’T DO MORE THAN THE THINGS WE DO
When making a decision about the future, we tend to think about what we may lose if we take a risk. However, when reflecting on the past, we feel more regret about what we missed by not taking a chance. The question then becomes, do we:
- Play it safe, and not put ourselves out there because people may judge us or criticise us for giving something a go and not succeeding? Or
- Criticise others for being brave enough to try something that they believe in? Or
- Throw caution to the wind and give it our best shot, knowing that we will learn and grow more from mistakes and setbacks than we ever would have by sitting back and criticising others?
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt
13. FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANYWAY!
Susan Jeffers was my hero back when I read her top-selling self-help book. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t have to get rid of the fear before I acted fearlessly.
The Confidence Gap by Russ Harris then further highlighted to me that the action of confidence tends to come before the feeling of confidence, not the other way around.
Fear was designed to keep us safe as a hunter-gatherer but holds us back more in modern day life than it helps us sometimes. We need to instead assess the real level of risk whenever we feel fear, and go for it if the situation feels scary but is actually pretty safe. This could be horror movies, roller coaster rides, plane flights, or public speaking.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – FDR inaugural address, 1932
“What you see is all there is.” – Daniel Kahneman
How you are thinking and feeling in the moment is very much influenced by how you are thinking and feeling at the moment. If you feel on top of the world, you are likely to be feeling happy, thinking positively about yourself, others, the world and the future. Anything may feel possible. Then the next week you have a setback or get sick, and you start to feel depressed and hopeless and think negatively about yourself, others, the world and the future. Both can’t be true, if they are only a week apart, so it’s important to understand the power of WYSIATI.
Don’t think too big picture if you are feeling flat and down, and try not to shop if you’re too hungry. The choices you’ll make once you’ve picked up a bit and have eaten something are likely to be very different.
15. MEMENTO MORI
Latin: “Remember that you have to die.“
In many cultures around the world and through history, the acknowledging of our own mortality through prayer, meditation, reflection, ceremony, or celebration is much more common than it is in atheistic modern-day Western life.
The phrase memento mori helped people to consider the transient nature of earthly life, our goods and our pursuits and enabled them to become humble and clarify what was really important to them.
16. THINGS FADE; ALTERNATIVES EXCLUDE
Two things that are inevitable in life are:
1. no matter what we do, time passes and things erode over time (also known as the second law of thermodynamics), and
2. if we go down one path, we cannot go down another track at the same time.
– “Decisions are difficult for many reasons, some reaching down into the very socket of our being. John Gardner, in his novel Grendel, tells of a wise man who sums up his meditations on life’s mysteries in two simple but terrible postulates: “Things fade: alternatives exclude.” […] Decision invariably involves renunciation: for every yes there must be a no, each decision eliminating or killing other options (the root of the word decide means “slay,” as in homicide or suicide).” – Irvin Yalom (1991). Love’s executioner. p. 10. Penguin Books.
17. PARKINSON’S LAW
Ever wondered how on some days, when you are super busy, you manage to get way more work done. Then on quiet days, you don’t have much work to do, but struggle to get it all done. The reason for this is Parkinson’s law:
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.“
The Stock–Sanford corollary to Parkinson’s rule is better in my opinion, and it is something I used a lot when studying at uni:
“If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.“
If productivity is what you are going for, give yourself a closer deadline and someone to hold you accountable if you don’t meet it, and voila, productivity and efficiency improve!
18. THE IMPORTANCE OF MEANING AND PURPOSE
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Nietzsche was a nihilist, which meant that he didn’t think the world had any meaning in it. Irvin Yalom said that even if the world is meaningless overall, it is still essential for each of us to find things that are personally meaningful to us, either as an individual or as a group. Viktor Frankl showed that in the concentration camps in WWII, those with some higher purpose beyond the camps were the ones who could manage to survive the horrible atrocities they faced every day.
What’s personally meaningful to you? Where could you find purpose?
19. DON’T LISTEN TO THE DOUBTERS
“Impossibility is not a fact – it’s an opinion.” – Muhammed Ali
Think of anyone who has done something groundbreaking or is still trying to do something pioneering today – Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Bill Gates. I wonder how many of them were told to give up, grow up, stop being deluded or to think realistically? I’d say most of them.
Just because something hasn’t been done before, doesn’t mean it can’t be. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have had the massive amount of progression that we have had over the past 200 years.
20. CLARIFY YOUR VALUES AND MAKE DECISIONS BASED ON THESE
“(Some people spend) their lives doing work they detest to make money they don’t want to buy things they don’t need in order to impress people they dislike.” – Emile Gauvreau
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your life has to be a certain way just because everyone else is doing something a certain way and telling you that you should too.
By clarifying your own values first and building your own hierarchy, you can then see if what you are currently doing is consistent with what is really important for you. If not, what changes could you make, that you’d be willing to make, that would help you to start heading in the right direction? The earlier that you make these changes, or at least concrete plans to make them, the higher chance there is that you will be happy with the path that you are on.
21. RELATIONSHIP WARMTH IS THE NUMBER ONE PREDICTOR OF LONG-TERM HEALTH AND HAPPINESS
“Love people, use things. The opposite never works.” – Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus – The Minimalists
The minimalist movement has really picked up in the last 20 years in response to most of us in the Western world having way too much stuff and realising that it doesn’t make us any happier. If anything, it causes us more stress. Clothing used to be a scarce and valuable thing. Now wardrobes and houses are overflowing, and storage facilities are popping up everywhere to help clear some space.
What if we just bought fewer things, and focused more on what really matters: our connections with the important people in our lives. Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard study of Adult Development, found that in the end, close relationships are more critical to our health and happiness than anything else.
22. OCCAM’S RAZOR
“Given several possible explanations about something, the simplest one is probably right.“
Is the dog above trying to read, or is it merely sniffing the book?
Occam’s razor is why conspiracy theories are never likely to be true. Think about the moon landing, or 9/11, or the Illuminati, flat earth theories, or any other conspiracy out there. For the plot to be real, there are so many added levels that would have all had to run flawlessly for them to work out, and so many people would have had to keep this a secret for such an extended period of time without turning themselves in or trying to make money out of it in a tell-all. It’s much more likely that there is no conspiracy.
Occam’s razor can also be applied to losing weight, sleeping well, getting stronger, or improving any skill. Some people have complicated theories, but usually, the answer lies in relatively simple explanations. Doing too much, or complicating things beyond what is necessary often backfires.
Reduce things back to the bare essentials, and see what happens.
23. LAW OF DIMINISHING RETURNS
The law of diminishing returns says that each time we do something to receive a benefit, the benefit will be less and less.
Let’s say you order this massive stack of pancakes in the picture above. The first pancake may taste amazing, and the pleasure received is a 9 out of 10. Each bite is likely to be slightly less enjoyable than the one before, especially after you become full. If you somehow managed to get through the whole stack, the last bite could be a 1 out of 10 on the pleasure scale. Come back for pancakes again next month, however, and pleasure bounces back up to a 9 out of 10 again.
The solution is to wait for long enough between doing the same thing twice so that you enjoy it just as much the next time.
“Variety is the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavour.” – William Cowper
24. BE KIND
“If you’re kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.” – Mother Teresa
If you know why you are doing something, try not to worry about what others think. People who do not understand why you are doing what you are doing will choose to see it from their point of view. If they could not do what you are without getting something in return, they will assume the same intention is within you. But being kind is a reward within itself. If you can give just for the sake of it, do it. You can thank me later.
25. DESIGN YOUR OWN LIFE
“When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and (you should) just live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again“. – Steve Jobs
As far as I see the world, we only have one life to live. We can spend it doing what others expect of us, or we can spend it doing what is right for us. We can blame everyone else for how things turn out, or we can go our own way.
Regardless of what you decide, time passes, and eventually, you will either feel that you made the most of what you had, or you will accumulate regrets. I try to live my life with no regrets, and I wish the same for you too.
Dr Damon Ashworth