Some of you are familiar with Emile Coue’s famous phrase, “Every day in every way, I am getting better and better.” Coue` was a French psychologist who believed that most of our problems -mental and physical – were a result of our thinking. He came up with this affirmation and had his patients repeat it with gusto for ten minutes a day.
It’s quite a brilliant approach really. It tells the brain that positive changes are happening right now. Those changes are global in nature, and they will continue. And you know what? It gets results! Call it placebo, hypnosis, or whatever. It works for some people.
If you like to feel more control over what shows up, there is another method. It’s called kaizen. It’s a Japanese concept that means “good change.” It’s easy because the changes are small, so anyone can do it and the changes are easy to implement. The big payoff is that the mindset becomes a lifestyle, and small changes equal big changes over time.
If they are so small, why bother? Have you ever tried to lose twenty pounds? Run ten miles? Or pay off $50,000 in student loans? If you tried to do the whole thing in one fell swoop, or even with a big, comprehensive plan, you probably failed, right? It was too big of a jump to get started and too much effort to sustain. Zazen is just the opposite.
You succeed if you are able to sustain a 1% gain. Yep, that’s right. A 1% gain is a victory. Hey, we can all be champs in this system, right?
The simple way to do this is to vow to do better today than you did yesterday and follow through with concrete actions. That’s it. If you do that, Coue`’s affirmation becomes a reality for you. Every day in every way, you do become better and better.
If you’d like something a bit more structured, here are the steps.
- Gain Knowledge/Skills
- Mindfully Implement Knowledge/Skills
- Review for Effectiveness
- Repeat what works; revise what doesn’t work; upgrade what is working
- Start over at step #1.
Knowledge is data or concepts. For example, a concept could be something like, “Anything is possible” or “Everything is energy” or “There’s a sucker born every minute.” These are just ideas. There are all sorts of ideas. Some are useful some are not useful. Some may seem more real than others. If you keep the ones that are useful, discard the ones that are not useful, and don’t worry about what is real, you will advance towards your goals and happiness.
Skills are ideas that can be put into action. Skills are things like “Be nonjudmental” and “Ask for what you want.”
Mindfully Implement Knowledge/Skills
Mindfully implement knowledge/skills means that you are aware of what you are doing. You are observant while you are doing it because you are going to want to be able to give yourself feedback later on what worked well, what could be improve upon, and what didn’t work at all. If you are trying to live a healthier lifestyle and doing five push ups per day is part of that goal (remember the change is small so this is perfectly reasonable), you don’t want to do it while you are watching television. Give it your full attention so that if you stop doing it, you will have some idea why. If you like doing it, you will have some idea of what is the motivating factor.
Review for Effectiveness
Reviewing for effectiveness is a great step because it gives you feedback. After all, you don’t want to keep doing something incorrectly or that is not getting you the results you desire. Let’s say we are talking about the pushups in the previous example, and you stopped doing them after two days. Was it just too much of a challenge? Was your stomach too full? Were you too tired? What changes need to be made so that the change can be both doable and sustainable? Is it something that you just really don’t like? Is there any particularly reason why you don’t like it? Does the activity actually get you any closer to a healthier lifestyle? If you have this information, you can either tweak it to make it work or change the action step to something else.
Repeat, Revise, Upgrade
Once you know whether or not the change was effective, you can repeat what worked well, revise it using the feedback from step 3, or use the feedback you gathered to upgrade effort. If five pushups seem really easy and you found that you were really pleased with your effort, you might do five pushups in the morning and five at night the next week.
Start all Over Again
Once your efforts are sustained and you are at a new level of functioning, the goal is to maintain it. This is about constant improvement so that you can say and believe, “Every day in every way, I am getting better and better.” Perhaps at the end of six months, you are still just doing five pushups per day, but you are also listening to two books on tape per week, you’re down to half a pack of cigarettes per day, have given up donuts and bagels, and have paid down more debt than you ever thought possible and it took very little effort on your part. Would you say that your life is better now than it was six months ago?
Our lives are the creation of small decisions. As long as we are breathing, we’re making those small decisions. When we stop racing towards the goal line of “lost 20 pounds” or “make a million dollars” we give ourselves space to create a sustainable, enjoyable lifestyle where we can be present. (Kaizen is actually a better approach to weight maintenance too because when most people reach their goal in pounds, they feel they’ve crossed the finish line and stop doing the behaviors that got them there. Kaizen is about building a lifestyle of mastery).
This is not to say that you can’t make huge strides and skyrocket to fame or glory. It’s just saying that kaizen, or embracing the small, continuous changes can take you from using training wheels, to riding a bike, to winning a cycling competition because it allows you to develop, grow, and stay in the race.