“When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. When you improve conditioning a little each day, eventually you have a big improvement in conditioning. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens — and when it happens, it lasts.” —John Wooden
"Lidt bedre hver dag" means "a little better every day" in Danish.
The Kaizen approach to self-improvement is similar to chunking in the world of NLP (Neuru-Linguistic Programming). It encourages action and continuous improvement through each small step that you take. It seeks to breakdown large goals into smaller ones that one can immediately act upon. Each one of us already know what we need to do, the next step is to prioritize them and get going immediately. There is no magic wand that will change things overnight, and no one will ever reach perfection but remember - Excellence is an act, not a habit.
Most of us seek to improve ourselves and become better? As mature individuals, you realize there is no point in comparing yourself to others; the only comparison is with yourself – to become a better you – a little better every day!
So I am passionate about getting a little better, and helping others grow. There is no doubt a long way to go, which means the sooner we start the better. The purpose of life is to live a life of purpose and what better purpose than to pursue a life of development and betterment. The world is but a reflection of ourselves and as we improve a little bit every day, so does the reflection.
The human potential is limitless and there is no destination but the journey, so it’s impossible to reach a point of no growth. Whenever we think we are good, we can be even better.
What can we possibly do to improve ourselves? Here are some tips, some easy, some not so easy, all doable.
Wake up early. “There are two ways of waking up in the morning. One is to say, 'Good morning, God,' and the other is to say, 'Good God, morning'!” ― Fulton J. Sheen. Several studies have correlated waking up early with success. Waking up early (say, 5 am or earlier) has been recommended by so many intellectuals and gurus to improve our productivity and our quality of life; it is a mystery so many of us still don’t get around to do this. Early risers are more proactive, are able to plan their activities for the day better and feel in control.
Take up a new course. Courses are a great way to gain new knowledge and skills. It doesn’t have to be a long-term course – seminars or workshops serve their purpose too. Every course and every workshop I have attended has always helped me gain new insights which I had not considered before. There is never any course or workshop where there is no take away! Enthusiasm, eagerness and attention will ensure that you always take something back with you.
Read a book every day. Books are concentrated sources of wisdom. The more books you read, the more knowledge and insights you expose yourself to. Make a list of the books you would like to read now! “It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.” ― Oscar Wilde
Exercise. I am sure I do not need to emphasize how much physical exercise is important not just for your physical health but also for your mental health. Whether you choose to jog, swim, gym, bicycle, do yoga or other calisthenics is immaterial – but exercise you must!
Meditate. Meditation is a natural state of pure being and experiencing, which we forget since we are dominated by our thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc. Meditation is not a technique, but a state and various methods, techniques and devices which are used to arrive at this state are also called meditation. Meditation helps to calm you and be more aware. It clears mind clutter and the biggest benefit is that you feel more energetic with lesser sleep, giving you more time than ever to do.
Stop watching TV. I have not watched TV for 20 years now and it has not had any adverse consequence - on the contrary, I have so much more time on my hands to read, write, and organize myself. Many people told me I would miss out on events and happenings but that which is important for you at a point in time has a way of reaching you. It is a very liberating experience to stay away from TV and it frees up a tremendous amount of time to be used constructively for other purposes.
Take up a new hobby. Learning something new requires you to stretch yourself in different aspects, whether physically, mentally or emotionally. It keeps the brain more agile your enthusiasm alive.
Learn from your friends. You are unique just like everyone else. Since everyone is unique, everyone has amazing qualities you can learn from, imbibe and adopt. Just make sure you are discerning.
Learn from people who inspire you. This requires no elaboration. What are the qualities in them you want to have for yourself? How can you acquire these qualities?
Hone your skills. As a blogger, I’m constantly trying to improve my writing skills. As a speaker, conversationalist and motivator, I’m constantly trying to create an impact on my audience. As a coach, mentor and therapist, I am constantly trying to help fellow human beings. What skills can you level up?
Relinquish the comfort zone. Being in your comfort zone all the time makes you stagnate. Juggle your routine. Do something different. By exposing yourself to a new task or environment, you’re forced to grow and learn.
Request feedback. Whereas the image that we have of ourselves is always near perfect, the truth is that we have no other perspectives except our own. To improve, feedback from friends, colleagues and others is essential because it gives us additional perspectives. The more unbiased the feedback you receive, the better it is for you.
Address your blind spots. Discovering our blind spots help us discover our areas of improvement. Each time we are annoyed, irritated, upset, anxious – it indicates a blind spot. This is when we introspect and the blind spot becomes a known spot upon which we have to work on.
To-do lists and Not-to-do lists. Focus is gained by preparing a list of tasks for the day. This helps you to stay focussed on the tasks that you consider to be important. A not-to-do list is as important as a to-do list because it takes time away for the tasks that you consider to be important. We all have the same 24 hours – whether it is Mother Teresa or us. Recognizing what not-to-do during a day is as important as what to do. And this applies for short-term plans as well.
Acknowledge mistakes. We all have our flaws and we all make mistakes – unfortunately, we spend a lot of time defending them instead of acknowledging, recognizing and acting upon them.
Action now. The best way to learn and improve is to take action. Everything that we have been procrastinating has now to be actioned without further delay.
Cultivate a new habit. I mean a new ‘good’ habit, not a new ‘bad’ habit. Make a habit of smiling at people, reading books, waking up early, going to bed early, exercising, reading articles like this one, etc.
Avoid negative people. As Jim Rohn says, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”. Being with negative people is possibly the most disastrous thing you can ever do. Better alone than with the crows.
Solve a puzzle or riddle every day. Boost your brain power. Education is important, but studies actually show that students who do mental workouts like sudoku have higher IQs than students who do not. This only shows that doses of sudoku are more than just ways to pass time. They actually help in improving your ability to comprehend more complex ideas. Researchers rank solving sudoku puzzles daily among the top ten non-traditional and alternative ways to boosts brain power. There are also crosswords, kakuro, scrabble, word mazes, etc. Do at least one per day.
Learn chess (or any strategy game). Chess is brilliant, but you can also try other strategic games like Chinese Chess, Othello, Bridge or at worst, Solitaire.
Use every minute constructively. You can't turn back the clock. We all have 24 hours – whether it is St. Mother Teresa or the Big B or us. Every minute should be spent wisely, even leisure and relaxation should be deliberate and not by sheer happenstance.
Always be Kind. You can never be too kind to someone. Cultivate empathy, compassion, patience, love and understanding. You will realize that people react differently when you are kind. The bonus is that you feel better than ever.
Take a break. This is as important as everything else to re-energize and rejuvenate yourself. Long vacations are not really required, several short weekend breaks may be all that you need. Spend time with nature. Late night parties are not a break – they sap your energy.
Commit to yourself. Embrace a life-long journey of growth and continuous improvement. After all it is the journey and not the destination that matters. Make a commitment to yourself that you will not renege.
I am sure many of you have more suggestions to add to this list and you are most welcome to do so. I would love to hear from you.
The author, Rajesh Seshadri, is an internationally recognized Certified Leadership Coach, Certified Success Coach and Certified Life Coach. He is also a NLP Master Practitioner, facilitator and therapist. The basket of therapies is holistic and integrative adopting techniques from Psychotherapy, NLP, Silva, Gestalt, Hypnosis and Silva UltraMind. Additionally, he is a seasoned corporate professional who continues to serve as a whole-time Director and Board Member. You can contact him here.