You can be invincible,
if you never go into a contest,
which is not in your power to win.
Look out lest seeing some more honored
or with great power or otherwise blessed with fame,
you are ever carried away by the impression.
For if the essence of the good is in your power,
neither envy nor jealousy have a place;
and you yourself will not wish to be a magistrate,
nor a president or consul, but free.
–Epictetus, here, (another translation here, thanks to MeFi.
Epictetus’ advice is interesting to understand in the context of New Year’s Resolutions, and also the book One Small Step Can Change Your Life by Robert Maurer. It is about taking small steps. It is about applying to one’s personal life the business philosophy called “Kaizen” in Japan, and based on the work of W. Edwards Deming, a brilliant management theorist whose ideas are constantly referred to but almost never actually put into practice in America.
Kaizen is about improving one’s business by small and unambiguously achieveable steps, rather than dramatic “innovations.” This is of course alien to American big business, because it’s the big changes which impress the stock market and inflate your stock options, even if they end up ruining the business.
Anyway, Maurer’s book suggests trying to improve one’s life by means of small, nonthreatening steps, which are insignificant one by one but which add up to change.
There are a lot of things about the book that make sense to me, but I haven’t actually done anything with Kaizen yet. My wife and I thought of Kaizenning ourselves towards exercise, but we chose a step that wasn’t small enough and ended up not doing it. (That’s the test of whether you’re doing it right: if the step is non-trivial enough that you fail to do it, it was too big a step.)
So I’m trying to think of areas where I’d like to improve my life, and completely trivial steps I can take to achieve them.
- Draw more. I could resolve to cover one sheet of paper per day with markings of some sort.
- Exercise more. TODO. Don’t know what I can use as a trivial step for this.
- Keep the house clean. How about take one object which is lying out of place and put it in its place per day.
- Create a job I really love. For this one I’m thinking maybe “take a minute every day to imagine what it might be like to have my ideal job.” Imagining things is a good first step for difficult and complex changes.
- Escape my caffiene addiction. Not sure about this one. Have to think.
Those are a few to start with. Just thinking.