I’m lazy. I like things to be easy. If you tell me that in order to get healthy I need to go on an anti-inflammatory diet where I have to give up, well, let’s just say, food, I won’t do it. It’s too hard to stop tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, flour, dairy, sugar, pasta, bread, and everything else that makes life worth living all at once.
I will not do it. Not one bit of it—much less the whole shebang.
I balk like a stubborn mule. Do you have a mule?
Mules don’t like overwhelm.
How my Physical Therapist unwittingly used a Japanese strategy to deal with my mule
I recently engaged a Physical Therapist for a repetitive strain injury. Typically I left it until I couldn’t move my thumb at all and was in agony. He helped a lot with the recalcitrant thumb, but it was something else he showed me that you may find interesting.
We discussed a health problem I had had for several years that caused breathlessness and left me exhausted after even the smallest amount of exercise. I was terribly unfit as a result. And mule-like I didn’t like going 3 times a week to the exercise classes my doctor insisted on.
My PT taught me just one thing—how to breathe. I mean really breathe. Big gulping deep breaths for minutes at a time. All day. Whenever I thought about it. He persuaded me to buy a fitness watch that would beep to remind me to breathe.
Breathe. I can do that. It’s pretty cheap and very easy. The Mule in me didn’t notice.
Well, gentle reader; I’m here to tell you it got me off the couch. After a few weeks I had more energy and was using the treadmill for more than 2 minutes before collapsing. I even got in a swimming pool for the first time in 5 years.
All because of breathing? Yes.
One thoughtful change had worked better than all the expert advice from umpteen doctor/chiropractor/acupuncture/massage therapist appointments pooled together. Oh, and kick in a portable oxygen tank that I never used.
What my PT had done for me, albeit unconsciously, was mimic a Japanese system called Kaizen.
A little background here is interesting
Hang in there with me.
In the years following WW2 the Japanese were exhausted and defeated—their economy destroyed by the devastating effects of war. Japan was in dire straits, yet within 30 years bounced back with one of the strongest economies in the world.
American businessmen traveled to Japan to learn their secret and discovered that the Japanese employed a method called Kaizen to get back on their feet. It involved making itty-bitty changes—not big ones. They tackled their huge problems one tiny step at a time, one week at a time. It worked. Spectacularly well.
Kaizen literally means ‘incremental change, continuous improvement’.
Start with the smallest and practice the easiest.
How does this apply to me, I hear you cry?
Simply this. If you make small, seemingly insignificant, but thoughtful adjustments in your life, slowly but surely everything will start to improve.
What about, if instead of those huge monstrous dietary deprivations, you gave up just one thing for that flipping anti-inflammatory diet? Let’s say sugar. Or pop drinks. Or cereal. Just one thing. Won’t kill you.
You can do that. Even I could.
Overly ambitious goals will trigger overwhelm and defeat. They don’t motivate.
Tiny changes will slip under the radar of the mule-mind.
So, let’s look at your goal or challenge
What is the smallest step you can take this week in relation to it? Can you do it for a week?
Treadmill for just 5 minutes a day?
Learn one Spanish verb this week and use it?
Give up sugar in your tea? See if you can stand stevia. Just for a week.
Don’t watch YouTube while you eat breakfast. (Not sure I can do that one. May be too challenging.)
Think tiny. Don’t go big. Think easy. Think small.
Ignore advice to ‘Go big or go home!’ ‘Go all in’, or ‘Make a 100% commitment if you’re serious! 98% is not good enough’. Bad advice.
Instead, go for 50% max. More or less willing to give it a go. What have I got to lose. Why not.
Next time you feel overwhelmed with an issue and all your myriad options, try Kaizen. You’ll be amazed. It’s unimpressive, dull, unspectacular, not at all sexy, but will get you results.
Let me know how you get on. I’m genuinely interested.
My approach to coaching is based on this philosophy. So if you want help getting that mule moving, or more info about Kaizen, contact me by replying to this email.
Easy and effortless beats difficult and challenging every time.
I confess. To the bewilderment of most of my friends I’m a huge sports fan. I like watching almost everything—from Wimbledon to American Ninja Warrior, I can watch for hours.
Maybe it’s because I’m so un-sporty that I admire and am in total awe of athletes.
I especially love watching the best in the world and can’t even imagine the discipline and practice it took them to get where they are. It inspires me. If I had just a smidgen of their zeal, what could I accomplish?
I heard a great sporting metaphor this morning on YouTube. It was related by a young man named Andrew Kirby and was based on the ancient philosophy of Stoicism.
Andrew had just completed a 28 day Stoic exercise on focusing on death (memento mori, remembering death in order to live better.)
Andrew insisted that meditating on death for 10 minutes every day had made him realize how important it is to live each moment fully, as if it were your last. It may be. You never know.
He likened it to a soccer player being allowed to play in the last 20 seconds of a game: the player runs on the field, and doesn’t give a thought to the fact that he wasn’t there for the whole game, nor to what will happen after the game.
He just grabs those 20 seconds he’s been given and makes the absolute most of it. He goes for the goal. Why not? He won’t have another chance. It’s his moment to make a difference and show what he’s made of.
I love this. What would it be like if we lived our lives as if we had been given 20 seconds to accomplish all we wanted to accomplish?
I wish I had heard this in time to put it in my new book on finding life purpose. The theme is so similar. The book is called Follow the Trail of Your Spirit and is all about how to live life in your best way.
“Follow the Trail of Your Spirit is a fast-paced, easy-to-read, down-to-earth life-coaching guide to finding purpose, meaningful activity, and your perfect career. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could find productive, satisfying, and fulfilling things to do, whether at work or simply hanging out at home, by just answering 10 questions?”
Malcolm Gladwell, journalist and writer for The New Yorker,
author of 5 best sellers, (Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, among others) and social science maven says, “You should pursue what interests you, not what you’re good at”. He goes on to say that passion gets you further than some dry notion of ability. Wham!
Follow your passion.
Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Computers, is famously quoted as saying, “you’ve got to find what you love…. if you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, don’t settle”.
Follow your passion.
Follow your passion. This succinct sound bite has become a popular mantra for many searching for purpose and success in life.
Hard to Argue With Steve Jobs
But is it good counsel? Hard to argue with on the surface—it sounds exciting, motivating, and oh so modern and new age-y. Problem is, Jobs didn’t take his own advice. He didn’t start out passionate about designing computers, nor starting a business.
He was passionate about Zen Meditation.
Apple kind of evolved—into the most successful company in the world.
Follow your passion may seem hard to argue with, but Cal Newport does just that. Cal is a best selling author of 5 books on career success as well as a professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University. Not someone to be sneezed at.
He says follow your passion is bad advice. Full stop.
Cal claims most of us don’t have a pre-existing passion that’s useful or has career potential.
Popular passions may be football, or baking, or photography, or swimming, but these are interests that frequently can’t be made into a successful career. He quotes numerous real life examples of people failing at attempts to make a career out of their passions.
Rare and Valuable Skills Are What We Need
According to Cal, following a passion is a depressingly bad strategy for success in life.
He says a better strategy instead is to build up competence, and look for rare and valuable skills we can develop, and just simply get good at something. From there passion develops, not the other way around. As you get better at something, your passion for it grows.
What do you think? When I listen to these two experts, I agree with both. But if I examine my own life, then Cal Newport’s advice seems to make the most sense. I grew up without any discernible skills, but great enthusiasm for boys and dating, cats, makeup, and reading. Not much to work with there. Bad career prospects.
With Competence Comes Zeal
Over the years I began to develop skills in things I had an affinity for, but not a passion, to begin with. As my competence grew, my dedication and interests developed.
I think this is relevant at whatever stage of life you are in. I’m semi-retired, and have found Newport’s ideas motivating and help me to focus on what I really want to be doing at this time of my life. It has encouraged me to drop things I don’t enjoy and have never been good at—and not blink an eye.
What about you? Do you think it’s better to pursue your passion, or develop your skills, work hard at them, and watch your passion develop?
Check out Malcolm Gladwell and Cal Newport on YouTube: