The Kaizen one-minute method may have helped countries like Japan increase productivity, but it ignores a different kind of universal laziness: slackness in applying common sense in life, leading to personal and planetary woes.

Tokyo-born management expert Masaaki Imai’s one-minute Kaizen technique asks us to work for a minute daily on anything that needs doing but gets postponed – the common “I’ll do it tomorrow” disease.

The daily one-minute commitment becomes minimal acceptance of the longest journey starting with a small step. So instead of aversion to a task, we take little steps to accomplish it.

With the Kaizen way, a lazy diabetic patient gets the daily fitness routine going with a minute of exercise. People acknowledge lasting changes with a minute of work, minute by minute, day by day.

Minute revolution of the mind

A minute seems a short span, but it contains trillions of moments. At the quantum mechanics realm of reality, this mind-matter phenomenon called “I” – to which we develop so much attachment – is only subatomic particles arising and passing away trillions of times a second, like everything else in the cosmos. This rapidity of arising and passing away creates the illusion of solidity. Ignorant of reality, we get trapped in illusions.

An ancient mental exercise helps to experience this quantum reality, through the arising and passing of bodily sensations – and develop wisdom to deal with impermanence of all things. In residential courses worldwide, we start the exercise by concentrating the mind – by observing one’s natural respiration, the breath coming in or going out of the nostrils. Seems simple, but doing so even for one minute is not easy.

This exercise called Anapana reveals how wildly the mind wanders, leaping from past memories to imaginations of the future. It rarely stays in reality of the present – not even for sixty continuous seconds.

We observe the natural respiration (and not regulated breathing, as in pranayama) because the natural breath is connected to the mind – as in the breath becoming irregular with anger, fear etc and subtle when the mind is calm, in harmony with all beings.

Do we really need all that we crave – whatever ‘that’ may be?

This Anapana exercise (also useful for children) helps gain mastery over one’s mind. No more lolling as a slave to impulses, nor lazily letting the mind wander away from work. Success needs being master of the present moment.

But without wisdom of equanimity to cope with changes, success can bring stress, insecurity, depression. Economically successful societies too fall victim. The California-based World Population Review ranks South Korea, France and Japan among 20 countries with highest suicide rates.

Life’s car syndrome

The former town of Mühlburg, now a borough of Karlsruhe in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg, marks the area where a Roman road crossed the River Rhine. Mühlburg also marks the birthplace of Karl Friedrich Benz (1844-1929), inventor of the first automobile in 1885.

His Benz Patent Motor Car not only launched a US$2 trillion global automobile industry, but also initiated what I describe as life’s “car syndrome”: the mind trapped in warped ideas of success – delusions such as more we possess, the more we are “successful.” But the more we own, the more headaches we have.

Embed from Getty Images

Three-wheeled Benz Motor Car, with Karl Benz at the controls. Benz did not add a fourth wheel to the design until 1893, but future generations have added the fifth wheel: the car syndrome.

Self-obsession feeds the delusion that all eyes are upon me, and so the urge to impress. It makes no difference to the world if I wear a handloom shirt or a Brioni suit, eat street food or dine at Michelin-star restaurants, commute in a bus, Volkswagen Beetle or Mercedes-Benz F 015.

The “car syndrome” involves craving for more cars, but ignores the cares – fuel costs, traffic jams, parking problems, anxiety of theft and damage, garage bills. Do we really need all that we crave – whatever “that” may be?

An accurate measure of success is a contended mind. Contended billionaires donate significantly, instead of merely adding more zeroes to their bank accounts. Mental laziness of forgetting long-term consequences leads us to pursue apparent success than actual success.

No harm enjoying life. Flying in a $38,000 Etihad Airways Personal Suite is fine as fruit of honest work – with cheerful awareness of impermanence, on how the princely state can suddenly change to pauper status. The danger is when money becomes the sole obsession of life, not the byproduct of quality work. A wiser world of professionals sees the difference.

Siren Song of Lorelei

Prosperity of wealth can be damaging when poverty of wisdom bankrupts the Earth. With Global Footprint Network data, analysts at HSBC said the world had already spent its entire natural-resource budget for the year by August 1, a five-month overshoot.

In 1970, “Earth Overshoot Day” was two days – the date by which we have gobbled resources the Earth can replenish in a year. If unchecked, we head for economic, environmental and social upheavals.

Addictive consumption does not mean better quality of life. Discontented boredom looms after the most sensual indulgences, with the disillusionment of “is this all there is?”

The “car syndrome” includes “trophy” cravings of wanting to be seen with something or someone, and then falling into the trap – like the bewitching maiden of the Rhine luring sailors to their doom, and immortalized in Heinrich Heine’s ballad of the Siren Song of Lorelei:

Ich weiss nicht, was soll es bedeuten,
Dass ich so traurig bin;
Ein Märchen aus alten Zeiten,
Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.

(I know not the reason
Why I am so sad.
A legend of olden times
Haunts me, does not leave my mind.)

Before falling for entrapping allurements, a minute of self-dependence to ask oneself “do I really need this?” helps answer the Faustian question haunting life: Be a bird in a gilded cage, or be free.