We're all familiar with the theory: we should focus on what we can change and stop stressing over what's beyond our control. The problem is: how do we do that?
Psychologist María Martínez attempts to answer this question in her new book Living in Kaizen Mode: Feel the Power of Acting Now on What Depends on You.
To crack this enigma, it would be useful to start by clarifying what the Kaizen method is. "Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy of life. It's the art of making the big and overwhelming manageable by taking the smallest possible action on what is within your grasp RIGHT NOW. It involves introducing small, gentle changes into your life that don't cause stress, suffering, or overexertion, so that you can maintain them over time and inadvertently create significant changes," explains Martínez.
This small yet significant miracle entails a complete shift in perception, "learning to see the parts of the whole, that we can only act on what is within our control RIGHT NOW. And that we can NEVER change what is beyond our control (what happens in the world around me, what others think, feel, say, or do)."
So, Martínez continues, "when philosophy becomes a way of life, it's referred to as the Kaizen method or Kaizen way. And to ensure this isn't just intellectual knowledge, the 'Kaizen Path method' is created. Because you can't change your mindset just by reading. You need a subconscious change, and that's what the Path achieves: integrating a new way of perceiving and functioning in all areas of your life, enabling you to turn any situation into small, manageable actions that you can handle without stress."
Let's be honest: amidst numerous methods and approaches to achieve serenity, we often find ourselves halfway between skepticism and exhaustion. What sets Kaizen apart from similar proposals and why could it help us feel better? "Truthfully, it's entirely different from what's out there. Because embracing the Kaizen perception is like constructing new foundations upon which you can build anything. It's a kind of mental cleanse to eliminate everything that weighs you down and hinders clear vision. It's integrating what any therapeutic discipline, philosophy, or spiritual belief proposes as a starting point: taking responsibility to act NOW on what's within your control and redirecting attention from what you cannot act upon (now or ever)."
And this specialist is committed, specifically, to guiding those who wish to take this new path. "That's what I do. I assist you in changing the ground on which you sow EVERYTHING in your life so that whatever you sow can grow. Because as long as the soil is the same, depleted and lacking nutrients, no matter how much money you spend on expensive seeds, you'll only end up frustrated and wasting time."
Can it genuinely be applied in our everyday lives or is it another 'wonderful plan' incompatible with reality? "I love this question. I believe there's nothing more realistic and AS compatible with life as operating in Kaizen mode. In fact, what we're doing now is IMPOSSIBLE: moving from purpose to purpose constantly relying on excessive effort and stress to get there. It's like the saying, 'start like a horse and stop like a donkey.' Kaizen is the natural way to achieve anything in life. In fact, it's so natural that we already operate in Kaizen mode for the bad stuff."
In counseling, she asserts, "the question 'when did you start feeling this way?' is quite common. And the usual response is 'no idea.' Because we've been doing small things for so long, consistently, leading us to where we are now, to the current discomfort, without us even realizing when it began."
At this juncture, "the interesting part is consciously starting to function in this way, but with a goal that appeals to us and taking the reins. Essentially, Kaizen helps in sustained action without mentally and physically draining yourself. It's like functioning at a cruising speed."
We all carry a heavy load, yet we can't seem to find those 'Kaizen glasses' to 'simplify' our lives. What do we do then to perceive everything differently? "That's precisely why the 'Kaizen Path' was created: over 12 weeks of Kaizen-mode work and guidance (with very simple exercises directly addressing the subconscious), your perception transforms, and you create your own 'Kaizen glasses.' You internalize (meaning you make it your own, feeling it as natural) the fundamental idea of Kaizen: knowing what depends on you and what doesn't, so you can start acting NOW on what's within your control."
Nevertheless, she continues, "starting by realizing that what truly weighs on you DOES NOT DEPEND ON YOU (you can't act on it or change it) is already a liberation."
There's 'what depends on you' and 'what doesn't depend on you.' Most of us can (almost) all see that, but... How do we focus on what's within our control? "It's not so easy to see... In fact, it's quite muddled. Otherwise, we wouldn't suffer so much because of what others may or may not think, we wouldn't be paralyzed by 'what if...?' scenarios, and we wouldn't feel guilty for 'what we couldn't do better in the past.' We've generally been raised with phrases like 'don't make me angry,' which leads us to the conclusion that I am responsible for your emotions (and vice versa). Hence, sharpening our vision is a fundamental aspect of changing our perception glasses."
So, once we know "I can't change YOU (and truly accept it, meaning I won't waste thoughts or energy on that matter), nor can I change circumstances, I turn towards myself and observe what I can do NOW with what's within my control at this moment. Nothing more (and nothing less)."
This approach, she maintains, "removes you from any anger, blockage, frustration, or unpleasant feeling. Because besides propelling you into action, it demonstrates that you're in control (which doesn't happen when you try to modify what's not in your hands)."
Are we truly capable of much more than we believe? Doesn't this just sound overly optimistic? "Well, for me, belief precedes experience. So, as your beliefs about the world change, your experiences in it also change. The problem with the phrase 'we are capable of much more than we believe' is that sometimes it feels like a burden. As if, on top of everything you do and carry, you have to do even more."
On the contrary, she believes, "in the idea that where you focus, you go. But for a very simple reason: you can't go to a different place than where you're looking (your internal GPS). So, when you keep banging your head against the wall, perhaps you need to change the focus. The focus that gives you freedom is the one that enables you to act. And you can only act on what's within your control. So, if you align your GPS towards that, you'll naturally leave behind all the baggage, without even noticing."
How can we view life through those 'Kaizen glasses' and make things less burdensome, stop getting angry because things aren't going as well as we'd like? "You know an egg can't protect you from the rain. Therefore, when it rains, you grab an umbrella, not an egg. And you do it naturally because it's logical and clear, integrated. You don't even think about it. Well, it's the same with the Kaizen mode. You know you can't change what happens to you, or what others think, feel, say, or do. So, you don't even consider acting on it or changing it, you ACCEPT it. And because you know what you think, feel, say, or do depends on you, you look towards that every time something happens in your life. You find yourself setting boundaries (which can only be set when you know where you end and the other person begins), having mental calmness, being more productive (in what you want to be productive), and most importantly, you realize you're FREE to choose to do or not do (without being constantly influenced by the environment)."
According to all this, "something depending on you doesn't mean you're obliged to do it; it means you have the freedom to choose what to do. Because on what doesn't depend on you, the only thing you can do is accept (and the sooner, the better). When you know this, your life changes. Your stress reduces to a minimum, your mind calms down, your anxiety, anger, frustration, worries also diminish significantly, and you stop procrastinating (among many other things)." Sounds fantastic... Will we be able to put it into practice?