How To Set Goals With Kaizen and Ikigai

How to Set Goals with Kaizen & Ikigai: Focus, Cure Procrastination, & Increase Personal Productivity. A Japanese Strategy-Setting Guide. (Achieve Success Through Discipline and By Making Good Habits.)

Anthony Raymond

Anthony Raymond is an independent author and has written two books: How to set goals with Ikigai and Kaizen, which provides an approach on how to attain our goals; and his second book, How Autonomous Vehicles Will Change the World, with the theme of futurology, is about the advent of autonomous car technology, and the way these vehicles will impact our society and culture. 

From time to time, you may find yourself struggling to complete a life goal. It might be a college entrance exam, a new business startup, a fitness regimen, or perhaps even a mission to find someone to marry. While personal objectives vary widely, everyone of us (each nobleman, king, pauper, and pleb) has been assigned a nonnegotiable imperative: You must set and accomplish new goals (of one form or another) each and every day, until the day you die." 

"When you train your mind to be ever-cognizant of these four concepts, you’ll have a unique perspective on goal-fulfillment - one that few people in the west have ever been exposed to. The synergy of these ideas will enable you to muster greater self-discipline, focus, stick-to-itiveness, and drive. Even your most challenging life goals may suddenly seem achievable to you.

This book introduces four concepts from the east: lingchi, hansei, ikigai, and kaizen. Through these four concepts, Anthony shares ways in which we can achieve our goals. Let’s find out how these concepts can be applied to our daily lives.

Lingchi and Hansei

Lingchi is a Chinese term that is commonly translated in the West as “death by a thousand cuts.”

The Lingchi metaphor

For most of us, our lives are not defined by a single horrific act of violence. Our daily offenses never make the 5 o'clock news. Instead, our lives are burdened with a thousand little depravities, a thousand little sins, or a thousand little cuts.

As you look back at life’s challenges (in health, wealth, and relationships), you’ll find that personal failures are typically not the result of just one problem. Instead, the big problems in life - about the issues that really matter - are usually the result of many little problems; the innumerable (and seemingly miniscule) issues that we allow to accumulate year after year.

Taken one by one, each of these infractions is hardly noticeable. But, over time, the accumulation of these issues can result in a disastrous outcome. A thousand little problems come together to form a big problem, and your life goals are subject to Lingchi - a death by a thousand cuts.

Hansei

Hansei could be directly translated as “past examination” or “self-reflection.”

When it comes to personal development and productivity, Hansei is similarly useful - prompting us to remain humble in victory, take responsibility for our flaws, avoid the natural tendency to cast blame on others, and learn from our mistakes. 

With Hansei, we try to make sense of the long chain of decisions that led us to our present life situation (good or bad). In performing this ritual of practiced introspection, we hope to enhance our sight into future objectives and develop an awareness of past wrongs. 


Hansei is the practice of carefully identifying, considering, and taking responsibility for past mistakes or shortcomings, followed by the implementation of changes to ensure that these errors do not reoccur.

These two concepts remind me of a quote from one of Gregg Krech’s books: “Whenever we’re facing a challenging situation, one of the wisest things we can do is take a few minutes to distinguish between what’s controllable and what isn’t controllable.” As Anthony states: “Lingchi can teach us to recognize the pernicious effects of each tiny life transgression. But without Hansei, we might not know the best way to interpret this information, nor how to devise a plan to improve our situation. 

I think it is important to evaluate each circumstance that happens in our lives; what are the things that we really value, the things that really matter. By doing so, I believe that this will help us to minimize those minor mistakes that we go through, avoiding the burden of a thousand little cuts because we are aware of the things that we need to prioritize in life. 

Ikigai

Ikigai is a Japanese term comprised of two words: “iki” and “kai”. The first half of the compound (“iki”) translates to “life” or “alive”. The latter half (“kai”) means “benefit” or “effect”. So a casual English translation of the term Ikigai might be “that which brings benefit to life.” But many other interpretations have been suggested, such as:

  • “The thing that gives your life meaning”
  • Your “true calling”
  • Your “labor of love”
  • Or, simply “your passion”

Brief history of ikigai

The exact origins of ikigai are not known. The word can be traced back to Japan’s 8th century “Nara period.” But most present-day Japanese citizens do not commonly use the term. However, for the residents of Okinawa - a small island located 400 miles south of the Japanese mainland - the word is very important to their culture and personal well-being.

After its introduction at TED, the Ikigai concept seemed to go dormant for a few years. Then, in 2014, the English blogger Marc Winn wrote a post on his website, in which he combined the Ikigai concept with a self-development Venn Diagram - originally drawn by the Spanish writer Andres Zuzunaga. Winn’s blog post (and its associated sketch) went viral shortly after publication - eventually inspiring thousands of Ikigai-related books, blog posts, videos, and articles. 

While Okinawans tend to use the word in reference to social obligations or personal hobbies, western Ikigai pedagogy often focuses on self-development, skill mastery, and entrepreneurship. 

In this book, we’ll be utilizing the westernized interpretation of Ikigai - which is more applicable to our goal-setting efforts…

The historical origins of the concept is of secondary importance. What is important is that you discover your own Ikigai."

Ikigai means more of a “reason for being” than “that which brings benefit to life”; it is the feeling that we have, those simple joys, and the things that motivate us to keep on going. The Ikigai Venn Diagram circulating the web is indeed a Western interpretation of ikigai. In an interview with Marc Winn, the creator of the Ikigai Venn diagram, he shared with me that he just became interested in Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones, which reveals the secrets of the world’s longest living people, where the concept of ikigai was mentioned. This gave Marc the idea of combining the ideas expressed in Dan’s work with Andres Zuzunaga’s Purpose Venn Diagram.  

I thought that the author should’ve focused on the true meaning of ikigai. For me, it’s crucial to understand its origin, and what it really means for the Japanese. Ikigai is such a complex concept, and I think understanding its true origin can be a good start to understanding what it really is. 

Anthony shares some ideas on how to choose your Ikigai. He states that sometimes, people choose their own Ikigai, and sometimes an Ikigai chooses you

First, you can think of your Ikigai as being comprised of four parts:

  1. Passion
  2. Vocation
  3. Mission
  4. Profession

The trick lies in identifying which skills you currently have (or are willing to learn), and then rank-ordering these skills based upon these four attributes. 

It’s best if you pursue an Ikigai that is comprised of all four ingredients:

  • You might find your passion in a well-paying profession. But unless you’re producing something that the world really needs, you may not feel like your work has much meaning.
  • You can have a vocation that pays well. But if you have no interest in the field then the work can be torturous. 
  • You might succeed in discovering your mission and you may indeed have a passion for it. But perhaps you’re just not very good at it. Thus, you might forever be stumbling in your career - never really feeling like you’re “getting it.”


Anthony came up with a worksheet where you rank each skill based on: how much you love the skill; how good are you at this skill; how much will this skill benefit the world; and how likely are you to get paid for this skill; according to him, the row that has the highest number of points might be your Ikigai. 

He describes ikigai as a profession since his focus is more on the Westernized version of it. In the West, ikigai is associated with entrepreneurship. But I believe that a person’s ikigai can also be in the form of a hobby or anything that gives them joy and fulfillment, so it can also be about the simple pleasures that we have; it’s not necessarily about money. 

Kaizen

A direct translation of Kaizen might be “change for the good,” “change for the better,” or just “improvement.” In one sentence, we might define the methodology this way: Kaizen is a goal-achievement technique that encourages continuous improvement via daily incremental progress.

Anthony brings in 6 Principles of Kaizen:

  1. Start working toward your goal immediately, even if your first action is laughably small.
  2. Use a “Continuous Improvement Process”
  3. Interpret success and failure correctly
  4. Use the “Five Whys” technique to identify a problem’s root cause
  5. Your actions should be daily, weekly
  6. Measure your results ritualistically

In this chapter, he explains how Kaizen can be beneficial in every aspect of life: wealth, health, relationships, and meaning of life. This reminds me of a quote from Bob Emiliani’s book: “There are no limitations to where kaizen can be applied; any type of business or organization in any industry can benefit from kaizen.” In my interview with Bob, he explains that in any kind of work, be it at people’s workplace or home, they should have an objective in mind on what job they have to get done. Through the course of the day, something unexpected might happen that will hinder their plan; and if there’s a problem, that should put them in a form of kaizen. Then they can adjust to solve their problem. Any kind of industry that experiences these types of problems can make use of kaizen. So, adapting kaizen in our lives aids us in solving the problems that we encounter as it teaches us that we can face each difficulty more simply rather than make it more complicated. 

Conclusion

At the end, Anthony concluded that the four concepts (lingchi, hansei, ikigai, and kaizen) complement each other. Each one is lacking without the other. 

These concepts are a great tool in attaining our goals, and their ideas are somehow related to each other. But for someone who has a great interest and studied the concept of ikigai, I think that it is not only about lofty goals. The author mentioned that he will be utilizing the Western interpretation of ikigai, which kind of contradicts the book’s subtitle: A Japanese Strategy-Setting Guide. I think it’s important for people to know what it really means for the Japanese people because ikigai is perceived differently in the West. Ikigai is not really about entrepreneurship, it is more than that. It is more about intrinsic motivation -- what makes our day-to-day living worthwhile.

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