Kaizen is a combination of two Japanese words – kai which means change and zen which means good. The Kaizen approach believes that small, continuous changes have the power to make huge improvements in the long run. While it is a popular concept in business, Kaizen is also very much applicable to individuals who aspire to do great in life. This conversation I had with a friend shows how we can use Kaizen as a means to achieve both our small and large scale goals in life.
Friend: I’d rather die than miss a day at the gym
Me: That’s a bit extreme, don’t you think?
Friend: What I found is, if I miss one day, I will miss every day. Whatever set of excuses I have today that stop me gymming, they are going to be there every day.
Me: Yep I always have the same excuses: I am too busy, I am too tired. There’s never a convenient time.
Friend: Right, so since I’ve decided to go to the gym, I am going to stick to it, because if I don’t, I will fail at my larger scale goals. I say to myself: if I can’t make myself do this, how am I going to live my dreams? If I can’t carve out time and do the work, then how the hell will I achieve anything? I’ll be completely unfit and die. I might as well die right now, because that’s what I am doing to myself every time I give some bullshit excuse.
We procrastinate because we overvalue the present and undervalue the future.
We’re drawn to instant gratification. Sitting on the couch and watching TV is instantly enjoyable. Getting into shape at the gym takes a long time.
We not do understand the future consequences of our actions. We feel like skipping the gym today is a small thing. We don’t realize that tomorrow we’ll have the same excuses, we’ll never end up going.
We defeat procrastination by realizing:
If I do not take action today, then I will never achieve my dreams for tomorrow.
You can force yourself into doing anything by putting your dreams on the line.
One of the hardest things I did was to quit smoking. I tried and failed multiple times. I cut down to only a few a week. I made it a rule to only smoke around friends. Nothing worked, light smoking turned into heavier smoking and I always fell back into half a pack a day.
Then I got my ego involved. I said to myself: I have all these dreams, I want to build a business, solve big problems, change the world.
What a useless piece of crap I would be.
From that day forward every time I felt like a cigarette, there would be this feeling of dread. I knew that if I took just one puff, my dreams would be over.
It’s been 7 years and I have never touched a cigarette.
Willpower is something that you can train. Willpower is like a muscle, it gets stronger the more you exercise it.
After I quit smoking the cravings were really strong. There was a lot of mental pain involved in stopping myself from lighting a cigarette. But as the months passed, it became easier and easier. Today I don’t have the urge to smoke at all.
It’s the same with any task that requires brain power, it gets easier the more you do it. Your brain is a muscle. It gets stronger the more you use it.
When I just started learning how to code websites, it was really hard. I struggled through hours of tutorials by computer nerds with Russian accents. Code seemed so alien to me.
I kept on coding my website. Thing started coming together, I finished my first prototype. It was crappy, but hey it worked!
When I got to 50% completion, I could imagine what the completed website would look like.
I really wanted to finish. I got addicted. I spent days on end coding. I’d forget to eat meals. I was in the zone. Time just flew by and before I knew it, my website was finished.
I got into flow.
According to psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, flow is when a person doing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energy, focus, and enjoyment. Flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one is doing and loss of one’s sense of space and time.
The more you work on something, the more you exercise your willpower, the easier it is to get into a state of flow. Then the work becomes easy.
But if we don’t exercise our willpower, if succumb to our addictions, then it becomes a lot harder to get back on track. That’s why light smoking never worked me for me. If I had let myself have a few cigarettes, it would have weakened my willpower, and led me to have more.