Kai-zen or the art of making it happen

We’ve all had those moments, every once in awhile. We sit down, we start thinking and we take stock of our lives. And the conclusion we get to, is that it’s not going so great. We haven’t accomplished any of our goals, our dreams seem as distant as the day we conjured them up, we never lost that holiday weight, changed our diet, quit smoking and on and on and on… We start to feel like a failure, we get depressed, and that of course, demotivates us even more. So now, having taken a harsh look at our reality, we have even less desire or energy to do anything about it. We surrender to doom and gloom, we tell ourselves that nothing matters, nothing is worth the effort, why make plans and have dreams if nothing ever comes to be. And we go back to living day in and day out, telling ourselves that there’s no point to it all anyway, so why bother.

This time of the year is particularly bad. We’ve started the new year just a couple of months ago, filled with hopes and dreams and lofty ideas of the better life we’re going to live and the better person we are going to become. The slate has been wiped clean, we have a fresh start, and this time we are going to make those New Year’s resolutions stick. Except that life continues to happen the way it’s always happened. We work, we pay the bills, we take care of mundane everyday chores, and before you know it, it’s already March. And we’ve done nothing. We’ve changed nothing. Said taking of stock takes place and we conclude that we have failed, miserably, yet once again. And doom and gloom and depression set in.

But is it really so? Is it really that hard to make positive changes happen, to make dreams come true, to achieve goals and to reach new levels of knowing, being, doing, having? The sad truth is that we are our own worst enemies. We aim so high, that when we fall, we hurt like hell. And it is emotional hell where we find ourselves. It’s a vicious cycle. We have a negative experience, this hurts our confidence, this in turn lowers our self-esteem feeding the belief that we are good for nothing, which in turns stops us from realizing our full potential. Which leads to even worse results…and the cycle starts all over again, a downward spiral. Until one day when, if we are lucky to get there, we realize that life is not doing this to us, the universe is not punishing us, our deity is not squashing us down. Our lack of faith and optimism and courage have turned our worst fears into a self-fulfilling prophecy. The less we get from life, the less we want, and the less we want, the less we get. So we dig deep into that well of light, which by the way never dried up in the first place, and we shake off the blues, we pull ourselves up and we say to ourselves “No more will I be a victim of my own worst fears. No more will I let myself think of or want for myself less than I deserve”. We do that, and we get up and we march forth. If we’re lucky. Others get stuck in this bottomless pit for years, some even for life. For that’s what it does to you. It takes away your life. You’ve given yourself a life sentence.

So how do we get out? How do we change what appears to be almost unchangeable? Do we make a list of all the things we want to accomplish and throw ourselves at it, changing everything at once, turning our lives upside down overnight? Personally, I think that’s the surest way to fail at everything. Putting yourself on a different diet while hitting the gym five times a week might seem like the right way to go, but your body needs time to adjust to such major changes. And physical changes are not the only ones this applies to. Developing productive habits, changing our way of thinking, letting go of fears and painful memories – all of this takes time. It took you years to get yourself to where you are. And you cannot change overnight. Your body will cry, but worse than that, your mind will rebel. Your ego wants to run the show and it is not happy when you take control in your own hands. So you miss the gym once and then you miss it again and before you know it you stop going at all. What the heck, you’re not getting any thinner, are you? After all those weeks sweating and working out, no results to speak of. You slip in a burger or a doughnut, and soon you’re back to living on junk, since, let’s face it, you’re so miserable eating healthy. You sneak in a cigarette or two, telling yourself that you just need one now, because you’re having a bad day. And soon you’re back to a pack a day, because, let’s be honest, you gotta die someday anyway. And that dream that you know will take you six months to accomplish, three weeks later you’re not any closer, so why bother, nothing good ever happens to you anyway.

But there’s another way of doing things, a better way, tested and proven over centuries. The Japanese call it Kai-zen. Translated elaborately, it means ‘Constant daily incremental improvement’. It means taking one small thing about your life and doing it just a little better every day. And after a week or two, when this new way of doing it has become part of your daily life, take something else. And change it just a tiny bit, every day. And then tweak another, and another. On a daily basis it will feel like you’re changing nothing or at least not much. There will be no shock to the system, no turning your life upside down. But slowly, as the weeks and months pass by, you will have changed yourself and your life for the better. Because quantitative accumulations lead to quality improvements. Reducing a bad habit by 1% a day will see you be rid of it in a few months. Changing one ingredient of your daily meals every week will turn into healthier eating habits over time. Increasing your meditation time by one minute every few days will turn you into a Zen master in no time. Ok, maybe not. But you get my point. 😉

And above all, most of all, practice gratitude. If you are alive, even moderately healthy, if you have food on the table and a warm bed to sleep in, you are already wealthier than millions of people out there. Every day, take few minutes to go outside. Touch a tree, pick a flower, stand on your balcony for few minutes in the morning and listen to the birds in the trees. Watch the dance of the clouds across the sky. Find one thing, each day, to be grateful for. Realize how blessed you are to have been given the opportunity to experience this magic called Life. Cheer someone up and it will make YOU feel better. Give something away and it will make YOU feel abundant. Whatever you want or crave, give it away. And give yourself a pat on the back. You have made it this far. You have overcome obstacles, solved problems, found solutions. You have surmounted challenges and defeated pain. You have fought, and you have won, many times. You can, and you will, do and be and have anything you want. The trick is to want. To want it badly. To quote Napoleon Hill, “you have to have a burning desire” for anything you want. And you have to believe. Little by little, one day at the time, step into the light and make constant daily incremental improvements.



Addicted to life

Human beings are surely inclined to various types of addictions. Among others, they could easily get addicted to food, drugs, tobacco, alcohol, gambling, Internet, gaming, shopping, or work. Not to mention chaos, order, drama, other people, or sex. We get so easily attached to substances, devices and certain behavior that I’m pretty sure some alien species somewhere is laughing so hard right now at our mere idea of fun. Self-destructive fun. Yes, we do get attached. And not just attached, over-attached. Our human nature makes us overly vulnerable, but it certainly takes a human to make an addiction out of an attachment. In any case, quantitative changes usually lead to qualitative changes and most addictions have irreversible effects. Nevertheless, getting rid of a bad habit is never that easy. Quitting smoking or drinking, for example, sometimes seems like the torments of Tantalus. But why is it so hard? Paradox is, that we are given a strong free will. It’s actually strong enough to make miracles happen and yet, we often fail to deal with our own little flaws even though it’s us who have created them in the first place and we are fully aware that our little habits are slowly killing the bodies we dwell in. It doesn’t matter what type the addiction is, we are absolutely conscious of the adverse effects. But why are we slaves to our own habits and is it possible for us to regain control over our minds?

It is for a fact that some people are more susceptible to addictions than others and that for some it’s much more easier to fall into that trap. Whether it’s smoking, drinking, gambling, or else, addiction is the only prison where the locks are on the inside. Normally, there’s no one around to force us do this or that, it’s that little voice in our heads telling us that we want it. And that we want it now with an exclamation mark. This is very typical for instance when you try to quit smoking and one of the main reasons to fail. The typical pattern of behavior implies an emotional trigger. Something annoys us or makes us angry and we crave a smoke. We do believe that having that smoke will comfort us and will bring us emotional calm. So if we’re not determined enough, we have it and then we feel guilty about it, blaming ourselves for our weakness.

But let me tell you this, you are not weak. Even if you succumb to the temptation of a bad habit you’re fighting, you are not weak. But to be able to deal with it, first you need to understand how your mind works. This is crucial to avoid possible failure and that feeling of guilt that makes everything harder and even worse. So start by understanding that you have an obsession and you have that obsession because your subconscious mind thinks that certain activity that you try so hard to avoid is rewarding or pleasurable. Let’s take smoking, for example. You try to quit. But then the craving comes and you just can’t help it. You want that cigarette and it’s very likely you break down and eventually have it. Why? Because while your conscious mind knows that smoking is a deadly habit, your subconscious mind considers it a pleasure. You actually perceive having a smoke as enjoyable. You love your first coffee in the morning with a smoke, you reward yourself with a cigarette to relax after hard and stressful situations, most probably you have it after meals and sex as a part of the ritual. In fact, deep inside you think smoking is something good. And this very contradiction could be the reason for your failure to quit time and time again. What to do? Reprogram your mind.

There are different ways to do that. One, you could use recordings with subliminal messages. There’s a variety of them available online for various addictions, problems, and issues. You could use them even to feel positive or sleep better. Just look around. Two, you could use particular meditation techniques to avoid or provoke certain behavior, to choose how you react to particular situations. This could really help you get to the source of your problem and counteract. Remember, there’s no such thing as unbeatable addiction and you can regain control over your life whenever you want to. You just need the proper motivation and you have to believe that you can. And if you do, you’re half way there. And why not get addicted to life instead? Get addicted to happiness, smiles, and love. Now that’s what I call a beneficial addiction.