How we tend to stop ourselves from getting better (and what we can be doing instead)

Three Common Ways We Limit Our Own Improvement

If we ask anyone, they’d likely agree that they want to improve their lives. Not many would say they are totally satisfied with where they are at and that they want to stay at the same level forever.

Here’s the strange thing though: we might actually be behaving in ways that prevent or slow down our own improvements against our own will. Here’s why.

Because we don’t notice how we can improve

When we are used to doing things, it’s more natural for us to continue doing those things in the same way because we think we know it well. Not many people actively and consciously seek new ways to do things for the better.

Because we don’t like making much effort

Although we admire people who achieved great things, when it comes to our own self-improvement, we often try to avoid making that extra effort. Those who mastered something great are often seen as lucky or gifted. The years of effort these people quietly made to get to their ‘overnight success’ is frequently unrecognised or even ignored.

Because we become defensive when we receive feedback

When someone else tells us how we can improve, it is easy for us to become defensive. “Yeah….but…” can become our habitual response. And we might well be doing this unconsciously.

So, let’s explore a different approach to these situations.

And it starts by learning to create a culture (or habit) of making continuous improvements.

Kaizen: Uncovering the Secrets of Japan’s Continuous Improvements

You’re probably aware of the Japanese word ‘Kaizen’. It means ‘Making Improvements’ and it’s used everywhere in Japan: at home, at school and at work. It’s embedded in our (yes, I’m Japanese) culture. In Japan, we are taught the value of making improvements from a very early age.

In the business world, Japanese companies are generally regarded as masters of making continuous improvements. They may not be always good at innovating totally new ideas or getting ahead at a great speed, but they are excellent at taking existing ideas and processes and making many small improvements. This gives them the ability to create far superior results in the long run.

Significantly, there are three important ideas embedded in Kaizen-thinking.

Effort vs. Talent

In Japan, people who make a greater effort are more appreciated than those who just do things well. And they take pride in being greater service to others than to be serving their own interests. When making an effort becomes the most admired quality in the environment, every person making small improvements everyday can create greater collective advancement as a whole.

Nothing is Ever Perfect

Knowing that nothing is ever perfect enables us to see more opportunities for improvement. Becoming ‘successful’ does not stop us from making further improvements. And experiencing devastating defeats do not stop us from getting up again and moving forward. By understanding this, we become open to finding ways to improve no matter where we are at.

Finding Joy in the Process

In Japan, we are taught to appreciate and enjoy the process of making effort. Having great outcomes is enjoyable too. But the motivation behind the effort we make should not be to win the game or prize. We can aim to become greater than who we are now, stretching our own limit. This way, we can be more humble and grateful for every person and opportunity we encounter along the way.

These are simple, common sense ideas. And yet, merely creating a culture of valuing these ideas helps any group (businesses, families and communities) achieve much greater progress, instead of creating a culture of valuing talent, competition and instant success.

And there is one more critical factor too…

Mastering the Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback

Although we all know the importance of learning from feedback, it’s one of the hardest things for anyone to do: to give and receive feedback in a constructive and open-minded manner.

Most workplaces struggle in this aspect. Feedback is frequently given in flattering ways to please others or as a form of judgment and confrontation in a downward movement (from seniors to juniors). People don’t know how to give feedback when it’s most needed because of the fear of offending each other.

But no one is naturally great at accurately perceiving what they do and how they’re impacting others. Having trusting relationships where constructive feedback is given and received with care, respect, honesty and openness unleashes our ability to make continuous self-improvements.

I’ve heard it said that, ‘perspectives means seeing things from a place where you’re not.’ And we can only see things from ‘where we are not’ by seeing things through others’ eyes, hearing the thoughts of others and experiencing things in others’ shoes.

Creating the environment where people are encouraged and feel comfortable to give and receive feedback is critical in the maximisation of your collective achievement.


If you want to do more…

You can learn more about the art of making improvements in Masami’s latest book “GIVING BUSINESS: Creating The Maximum Impact in the Meaning-Driven World”.

You can also take the free IMPACT TEST, invite others to evaluate you and find out your path to creating the maximum impact.

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