Kaizen: 1% Better Every Day

Image for post
Image for post

…and then you quit.

It’s not like you wanted to give up, right?

But after 2 weeks of trying so hard to stick with your new healthy habits, the ones that were finally going to bring you the life you so desired, everything has come crashing down.

If you are like most of us, then you have probably tried to replace your bad habits for new, healthier habits, however, instead of doing it slow and steady, you went for fast and abruptly.

What most likely happened after that, is that you quit all of them in 2 weeks or less.

No shame about it, most of us have fallen for that trap(myself included) multiple times until we realized that was not the way to go.

With that in mind, in my opinion, the way for great results, in any area of life, comes at the sacrifice of (most)short-term gains.

The Boring Reality Of Progress

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Likewise, so won’t the habits that will allow for success in our areas of choice.

We can prove this assumption by looking at those we admire and consider successful. Whether that is top athletes, musicians, actors or any other skill worth admiring, all of them got there after years upon years of working on their craft.

For every clutch winning game shot LeBron takes, there were thousands of hours spent on the court practising. This is true for sports as it is for any other skill.

So, what does this mean for us?

Well, in my opinion, it means that we have to completely shift our focus. To go from relentlessly aiming at a goal, to instead, setting whatever goal we have, and then, focusing completely on the process.

To look at the top of the mountain once, and from the on, look only at the step in front of us.

In my own experience, the consequence of this “focus shift” is a change in our course of action. When we give up the need to achieve the goal as fast as we can we allow for room to actually enjoy what we are doing, to enter a flow state where hours fly by while we focus on the craft at hand.

Where Kaizen Comes In

First of all, you’re probably wondering what kaizen even means…

Well, kaizen is the Japanese word for continuous improvement.

More specifically, to identify the smallest changes you can do to improve at the task at hand and to then implement those changes on a regular basis.

Whether it is losing weight, making more money, finding the partner of your dreams, or becoming an international pop-star, we always try to achieve these things by going for the “sprinter’s” approach.

That is, to attach all of our focus, meaning and self-worth to the realization of said goal and try to get it as fast as possible.

While I’m not saying this approach won’t work for some people, it is clear that when most of us try it, we end up back where we started pretty fast.

We try to improve 200% every day, only to monumentally disappoint ourselves.

Now, I know this sounds crazy, but what if we were to do the exact opposite of this?

If instead of going for 200% every day, we aim for a mere 1%? Sounds more doable, right?

But Gonçalo — you’re probably thinking to yourself — If I only improve 1% per day won’t that take me years until I reach my destination?

Well, while it may seem like that at first, let’s run some numbers:

If you were to start on the 1st of January, improving every day at a rate of 1%, how much do you think your growth would be 1 year later? 365% maybe?

Well, in reality, you would have improved by 3678%…

That is 37 times as better than when you started!

But here is where the hard part begins…

The Consistency Hell

On paper, all of this sounds delightful. You start today, slow and steady, and within a year you will have become a completely renewed version of yourself. Transformed for the better.

Well, that is assuming you actually put in the work everyday… And trust me, it is much harder than it sounds.

One would think that hustling 16 hours/day to get as fast as possible to your goal would be the hardest approach, however, and while I still believe that is extremely hard, it doesn’t compare to how hard it is to make small improvements every day, for years on end.

When you’re motivated it will feel like a breeze, after all, as long as you are slightly improving, everything is fine.

However, that motivation will slowly start to fade away. Tasks will lose their novelty and you will find yourself having some incredibly boring days.

On top of that, life will get in the way. You’ll get sick, have bad nights of sleep, breakups, hangovers, and all that life (or yourself) will decide to throw in your way.

What will happen then?

When you wake up at noon, completely hangover with a massive headache? Will you still sit down and improve your daily 1%?

Or when you had 4 hours of sleep because you were extremely stressed from the previous day? Will you still get after it?

See where I’m going with this?

And if this is starting to seem like I’m just complaining and doubting your will to get it done, well then, you are correct.

I am doubting your will to do this the same way that I doubt myself, most days.

When it is 8am and my alarm rings, most of the time, I am scared that I won’t be able to do what I promised myself I would.

I am afraid that the tasks I know will move my life forward will be left untouched, simply, because I didn’t feel like it.

But you know what?

As soon as I get the ball rolling, and the more I prove to myself that I can indeed do these tasks, the easier it gets.

And the easier it gets the more I enjoy them.

So how do you start?

You may not like what I’m about to say, so buckle up but, in my experience, the best way to start is extremely slow and steady.

It is to take the smallest action you can towards the goal in mind and improve from there.

Now, it will be boring and non-challenging when you start.

You will even question what the purpose of doing so little is.

But what you are doing is engraining the routine into your brain, building the roots of habit so that, when you start to make it harder on yourself, things will still go according to plan.

To put things into practical terms, for example, if your ultimate goal is to build 10 pounds of muscle, then the first step, according to the kaizen approach, is to start by going to the gym 5 days/week for a maximum of 5 minutes at a time.

Now, while in the short term that will have close to 0 impact, in the long term this will be the foundation on which you improve upon.

Because in the 2nd week you will go for 10 minutes, and then 15, and then you will increase the weights, and so on.

What this approach also does, opposed to the normal “go for broke” approach, is that it gives you checkpoints to keep you safe in the inevitable bad days.

What do I mean by this?

Well, if as an example, we look at people who lose a lot of weight very fast, they usually go back to their original state after a few months. To me, this happens because they never developed sustainable habits to get to their goal, so when something fails they go back to the only habits they’ve ever known, bringing them right back to where they started.

Now, if you slowly develop these habits, in a sustainable way, then that means that as you climb the stairs of progress, step by step, you will inevitably slip up, however, instead of falling all the way down, you will have the previous step there to hold you.

To conclude, even though this sounds all nice and exciting I guarantee you that there will be plenty of times when it won’t feel like that, however, as long as you keep going forward, slowly improving, there is a high likelihood you will arrive here you only once dreamed of… Just don’t be surprised if you feel empty inside when you get there, but that is a topic for another day!

Want More?

I recently opened my course on the step-by-step process to deal with procrastination once and for all.

There are only 10 spots so check it out here before it closes!

> Self-Discipline Mastery <

Written by

Stoicism & Philosophy | Building @pathsofmeaning

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store