“Compounding is the greatest mathematical discovery of all time.” — Albert Einstein
The quest to become a better version of yourself often feels like a roller coaster ride. It’s hard. And it’s usually so uneven. You can end in failure. But life is a journey, not a marathon, so you always have another opportunity to restart and improve.
Many people look out for secrets, tricks, and hacks that will make everything better right now. But unfortunately life doesn’t work that way. There are no “overnight successes.” Think of all the incredible people you truly admire. They didn’t succeed because of one giant move, but rather a series of small and consistent actions over time.
Stop aiming for radical personal change
“Be patient with yourself. Self-growth is tender; it’s holy ground. There’s no greater investment.” — Stephen Covey
A magic bullet cannot save you; you’ve got to embrace the process and enjoy it. You can’t escape the hard work it takes to get better. Every incredibly successful person you know today has been through the boring, mundane, time-tested process that eventually brings success. So stop looking for “quick hacks” that bring faster results.
Instead of reading every self-improvement post for the one golden tip that will make you superhumanly efficient, focus on doing the actual work that needs to be done. You can inspire yourself to take action. The hard, long process is the only way through. You can’t achieve tremendous life success with a quick fix. Nobody has it that easy.
Your big, audacious goals are not inspiring you
“Whoever wants to reach a distant goal must take small steps.” — Helmut Schmidt
Your attempt to be better usually ends in failure because your life-changing goals overwhelm you into inaction instead of inspiring you into action. Unrealistic goals make it insanely difficult to make any progress. You will get “stressed” over what is supposed to help you take action.
Your performance and ability to get things done is inextricably bound to brain performance. A big, audacious goal looks scary to your brain. And when your brain encounters scary, it goes into “freeze” mode. You don’t want that. If you constantly overstretch yourself, you will lose the required energy you need to take the necessary action to get better.
Setting a goal, no mater how simple, is always the easy part. Everyone has goals. The real challenge is not determining if you want the result, but if you are willing to accept the sacrifices required to achieve your goals.
If you want to achieve your goal every time, create a system that works. Instead of a goal, design a great system or process. That way, you will always win. Even when your short-term goals are achieved, your next goal won’t be a struggle. Having a system is what matters. Committing to the process makes a huge difference.
James Clear explains:
We place unnecessary stress on ourselves to lose weight or to succeed in business or to write a best-selling novel. Instead, you can keep things simple and reduce stress by focusing on the daily process and sticking to your schedule, rather than worrying about the big, life-changing goals. When you focus on the practice instead of the performance, you can enjoy the present moment and improve at the same time.
Self-improvement is not a destination
“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily.”—Mike Murdock
Learning should not end after formal education. Lifelong learning—the ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge—can enrich your life and make you a better person every day.
Self-improvement isn’t a destination. You’re never done. Even if you have some success, and you want to maintain it, you have to keep doing the things you were doing that got you that success in the first place.
Your first step to improving your life and becoming the best version of your self won’t be easy. Nobody can promise you that things will be easy—but they will get better. It pays to take a small action—any action—and grow from there. Remember, you are better off, when trying and crawling, than any person who isn’t trying.
The Kaizen approach and how it works
“Little strokes fell great oaks.” –Benjamin Franklin
The Kaizen approach was developed by Depression-era American business management theorists in order to build the arsenal of democracy that helped the US win World War II. The Japanese took to the idea of small, continual improvement right away and gave it a name: Kaizen.
While Kaizen was originally developed to help businesses improve and thrive, it’s just as applicable to our personal lives.
The idea here is to focus on consistent, every day improvements in your life—ones that make you better than you were yesterday—rather than how small the step you take is.
According to Brett and Kate McKay of The Art of Manliness:
Instead of trying to make radical changes in a short amount of time, just make small improvements every day that will gradually lead to the change you want. Each day, just focus on getting 1% better in whatever it is you’re trying to improve. That’s it. Just 1%.
It might not seem like much, but those 1% improvements start compounding on each other. In the beginning, your improvements will be so small as to seem practically nonexistent. But gradually and ever so slowly, you’ll start to notice the improvements in your life. It may take months or even years, but the improvements will come if you just focus on consistently upping your game by 1%.
Here is why Kaizen works
As John Wooden explains:
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.
The Kaizen approach is a reminder that all improvements must be maintained if we wish to secure consistent gains. Think of the smallest step you can take every day that would move you incrementally towards your goal.
Becoming 1% better every day is a simple, practical way to achieve big goals. 1% seems like a small amount. Yes, it is. It’s tiny. It’s easy. It’s doable. And it’s applicable in most things you want to do or accomplish.
It feels less intimidating and is more manageable. It might feel less exciting than chasing a huge win, but its results will be stronger and more sustainable.
This post originally appeared at Medium.