The key to a better life is continuous, incremental improvements.
It is rare that we experience a dramatic, huge leap forward. Do you ever feel like you must be missing something because you read all these books about the secrets of self-improvement yet fail to experience the super results they claim are possible?
Did you know that if you perform a search on Amazon for “secrets to success” in the title that you will find over 17,000 books? The results cover the entire spectrum of life from romance to leadership to happiness to investing. We are obsessed with the idea that there is a magical formula that will catapult us to a better life.
Real self-improvement takes hard work, persistence, and patience.
Cathy takes it even farther at Ripples to Improvement. She says that, “These books will tell you that self improvement is difficult, it’s challenging, it’s hard. Well, let me tell you the truth that no one wants to admit: self improvement sucks!“
What does she mean? Is she trying to discourage us from trying to improve ourselves? Is it hopeless? No. I think the point that Cathy is trying to make is that these things don’t happen overnight. They aren’t magical or secret. They aren’t even easy, but they are worth it.
I know that it is often hard to avoid getting discouraged when we read a book or article about a way to improve our lives and the concept is simple, but implementing it in the real world is difficult. I know that things don’t happen as quickly as we want. I know that we get frustrated.
At least, I do. I expect too much, too soon. However, I also know that I am better today than I was last year and I’m way better than I was 10 years ago. The things I have learned and the ways that I have changed have helped me to be more effective at accomplishing my goals and living more harmoniously with those around me.
Learn from the Japanese and use kaizen.
The Japanese have a system of improvement that they call kaizen. It is most often thought of as a quality improvement system used in manufacturing. It has been successfully used by Toyota Motor Company to build some of the highest quality, best-selling cars in history. In fact, the Toyota Corolla is the best selling vehicle ever built.
What is kaizen? Toyota defines it as, “A system of continuous improvement in which instances of Muda (waste) are eliminated one-by-one at minimal cost.” Wikipedia says, “Kaizen is a daily activity whose purpose goes beyond simple productivity improvement.”
We could learn something here. Notice that kaizen is a daily activity of continuous improvement. It is gradual and it never stops. Toyota continues improving the Corolla. That is why they have been so successful with it. Every day Toyota strives to improve the excellence of the Corolla. Even though the Corolla sells like hotcakes they don’t stop and say, “That’s good enough.” Of course, they also don’t hold back selling the Corolla because it isn’t 100% perfect.
We need to understand that self-improvement is a process that takes time. It is about really changing our lives for the better. It is not about reading books and blogs just for the sake of reading. It is about making a real difference in what we experience on a daily basis.
There is no quick fix. We need to approach our lives like Toyota deals with the Corolla. We should seek everyday to build a slightly better day than the one we built before. We need to embrace who we are today without giving up on creating a better self tomorrow. We need to be patient and look for opportunities to improve even though who we are today is pretty dang good.
The right attitude toward self-improvement is crucial.
Yes, self-improvement can suck at times, but it is usually because we aren’t thinking about it correctly. We get the wrong attitude because we get swept into believing that we aren’t changing rapidly enough.
Be patient with yourself. Give it time. This is a lifelong process. Just like the Corolla, we will never be absolutely perfect. There will always be room for improvement. Just don’t give up.
When you feel discouraged, realize that you are being too hard on yourself. Learn to appreciate just how far you have come. Ahh, yet another opportunity to examine ourselves and improve!