And never more so than when it comes to making resolutions, at New Year’s or any other time, or managing your own expectancies for the future. Surely one of the most difficult things for anyone to resolve, as all too often we simply ask too much of ourselves or expect too big a result.
In which case, if I may, let me try seed an idea with you. The idea of the humble mustard seed, what it can teach you, and how it could greatly help you with any and all resolutions you might make in your lifetime.
And, no, I’m not going to quote Matthew 17:20 at you. Although, it’s true, the very idea that “With faith the size of a mustard seed nothing is impossible” could well be taken as a nice parallel to what I’m going to be banging on about here.
No, all I ask is that you ponder for a moment the teeny tiny mustard seed. Called to the surface to realise its full potential. Orientating itself for success in utter darkness, before setting off on its long, lonely predetermined journey to fulfilment. Over the course of which it’s required to push its way through densely packed soil or solid clay so as to emerge eventually into the welcoming light of day.
(And please do excuse the simple poetics here. I’m trying to build up a picture, even a little story, that hopefully you’ll never forget.)
Where was I? Oh, yes, the humble mustard seed pushing its way through dense clay with thousands upon thousands of teeny tiny efforts, all aimed in the same direction. All with the same purpose of achieving a single desired result, to reach a new dimension of experience.
The slender new shoot, now revealed, sprouting tiny green leaves, tiny wonders in themselves. Yet you could all too easily crush and obliterate those same teeny tiny leaves into nothing by simply rubbing them between your thumb and forefinger.
Go figure. All that work and to what end?
It suggests that an emerging new idea, or early success, still requires very careful tending.
But back to the mustard seed: Is it perchance, too humble a metaphor for you?
What if I were to frame it differently, colour the idea with a hint of bright green Wasabi, and refer to it by the name Japanese business culture would immediately understand it.
The concept first introduced into post-war Japan, a culture that venerated strict adhesion to tradition and was thus very resistant to change, to help instil a “change for the better” mind-set.
And very effective it proved to be, too. Especially in Japan’s newly emerging automobile and electronics manufacturing industries, as was the intent all along. As ‘Kaizen’ not only gave permission to change, it also supplied a simple guide on how to change: by urging people to seek out and make continuous, incremental, small steps towards improvement in whatever aspect of work they happened to be involved in.
And much more effective, don’t you think, than the British Government’s post-war mandate, to a population faced with years of continuing austerity measures, simply to “Make Do And Mend”.
The relevance of ‘Kaizen’ for you and me today: the simple understanding that the practice of consciously using small steps to achieve a desired aim is readily adaptable to almost every aspect of one’s personal development.
As in practical terms it suggests that if you do commit to making small, steady, modest, gradual, incremental, continuous steps while working to achieve whatever it is you’ve resolved to accomplish, success is not only possible, it’s all but inevitable.
And if the practice of only ever engaging in small steps to achieve any worthwhile change at first appears to be counterintuitive, the positive end results for countless thousands of people and business organisations around the world would suggest it works rather brilliantly. And the changes you can achieve in yourself, in a single year, with one teeny tiny, small improvement made each and every single day, nothing less than huge.
No important goals, however large or small, have ever been won overnight. Anything worth achieving always demands some degree of prolonged effort. And patience. The best of anything is always a long time coming. Especially if the long desired result is ever going to have any chance of lasting.
Case in point. There was this BBC TV personality, when I was growing up in Britain, name of Val Doonican, who had a nice, easy-going manner, a beautiful Irish lilt when he spoke, and a warm and engaging singing style. Mostly pop and novelty songs, what you might call ‘easy listening’, but all hugely popular with the mums and dads, and even the odd kid. He was the UK’s answer to Perry Como.
Having worked the clubs and theatre circuits steadily over many years and guested on any number of regional TV variety shows Mr Doonican was finally given his own weekly BBC television show. And, seemingly overnight, was catapulted into national stardom. When asked by the nation’s press to comment on his sudden rise to fame he gave a wry smile and said: “Yes. It’s only taken me seventeen years to become an overnight success.”
Funny isn’t it what you come to remember and why?
Now, of course, I’m not saying it takes seventeen years, or even seventeen months or weeks, to effect long lasting change. Everyone is different, and a “change for the better” will take exactly as long as it needs to take and no more. But you need ask yourself: If results came fast and easy, would you really trust them? Would you really trust you? Would others?
Ever heard of the old adage: “Soon ripe; soon rotten”? Once heard, never forgotten.
The plain truth is work on yourself is never really finished. “Perfection is in continuance”. And as you reach new heights of success you’ll more and more want to demand more and more of yourself. It’s how we’re made.
And so believe you me it’s eminently feasible for you to change into a new and better you and have any resolution you care to make, whenever you care to make it, fully realised. Just as long as you always remember to approach it in the right way, by taking one small step at a time and doing it repeatedly and in continuance. And ultimately you’ll reach your intended goal, however large, however far off, for how can you fail.
Lessons are always out there ready to be discovered, and embraced, and remembered. Whether the opportunity to learn is triggered by the sight of tiny green mustard shoots in a flower pot in the back garden, a YouTube video of an evergreen Irish songster, or a beautifully crafted plate of sushi graced with just a touch of freshly-made Wasabi.
Now about that character trait or emerging skill or yet-to-be-fulfilled dream inside you that you’ve resolved to improve upon…
‘A little mustard with that?’