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7 Japanese concepts to transform your life

By Sam Instone - March 09, 2023

Have you ever wondered how caring, successful families pass values from generation to generation?

Perhaps they pay attention to Japanese culture...

Japanese people have developed a deep respect for nature, a keen aesthetic sense, and a reverence for tradition reflected in their daily lives.

This unique culture has given rise to a wealth of ideas that can help us build strong and successful families...

Ideas that have been shaped by geography, climate, and history and have evolved over thousands of years.

So, here are 7 I believe can help families navigate the challenges of life and maintain their unity and success.

They offer a unique perspective on how to live a fulfilling life and build strong relationships with others.

1. Ikigai

What's your purpose?

Ikigai translates to "reason for being" or "purpose in life."

The reason you wake up each morning.

It's the intersection of what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for.

By identifying your ikigai, you can find a sense of meaning and direction in your life.

How to apply ikigai to your life:

Start by reflecting on your passions, strengths, values, and the needs of the world around you.

I've done this via my Accountability Document.

Consider what brings you joy and fulfillment, and how you can use your talents and skills to make a positive impact.

By finding the sweet spot where your passions, skills, and values intersect, you can discover your ikigai and live a more purposeful life.

An incredible book on this subject is Ikigai, The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life.

2. Shikata ga nai

Control what you can control

Shikata ga nai translates to "it cannot be helped" or "there is no alternative."

It emphasises acceptance and resilience in the face of adversity.

It's not about resignation, but acknowledging that some things are outside of our control and finding a way to move forward.

How to apply shikata ga nai to your life:

Find a situation that's beyond your control.

Instead of resisting or fighting it, accept it and focus on what you can control.

Practise resilience by finding ways to adapt to the situation and persevere.

By embracing shikata ga nai, you can cultivate a sense of inner strength and peace, even in challenging times.

All long-term investors accept the markets are beyond our control...

3. Wabi-sabi

The charm of flaws

This concept embraces the beauty of imperfection, transience, and the natural world.

It's about finding beauty in the imperfect, the incomplete, and the fleeting.

Wabi-sabi encourages us to appreciate the simple, unadorned, and natural elements of life.

How to apply wabi-sabi to your life:

Embrace the imperfections and flaws in yourself and in the world around you.

Instead of striving for perfection, focus on the beauty of what's real and authentic.

Find joy in the simple and natural things, such as a quiet moment in nature or a handcrafted object with visible imperfections.

By practising wabi-sabi, you can cultivate a sense of gratitude and contentment, and find beauty in unexpected places.

4. Gaman

Stay strong, control how you react

Gaman translates to "enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity."

It emphasises perseverance, resilience, and self-discipline in the face of hardship or adversity.

Gaman is about staying strong and not giving up, even in difficult circumstances.

How to apply gaman to your life:

Recognise the challenges you're facing and accept them with patience and dignity.

Remember, you can control your attitude and your actions.

To quote Viktor E. Frankl in his brilliant book, Man's Search for Meaning:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

Through gaman, you can develop a sense of inner strength and fortitude that will serve you well in all aspects of your life.

5. Kaizen

Always seek to improve

Kaizen means "continuous improvement."

It's about making small, incremental changes or ongoing sustainable improvements in all aspects of life, from personal development to business operations...

In order to achieve long-term progress and growth.

How to apply kaizen to your life:

Find areas where you'd like to improve.

Break down your goals into small, achievable steps that you can work on consistently over time.

Focus on making incremental progress rather than trying to achieve major changes all at once.

Celebrate successes along the way and use them as motivation to continue.

By practising kaizen, you can develop a growth mindset and achieve continuous improvement in all areas of your life.

6. Shu-Ha-Ri

Learning and mastery

"When the student is ready the teacher will appear. When the student is truly ready the teacher will disappear"
- Tao Te Ching.

Shu-Ha-Ri is a martial arts concept that's been adapted to various fields, including business, education, and personal development.

It refers to the stages of learning and mastery: Shu (follow the rules), Ha (break the rules), and Ri (create your own rules).

Shu-Ha-Ri emphasises the importance of following tradition and learning from others, before developing one's own style or approach.

How to apply Shu-Ha-Ri to your life:

Learn and master the basics of a particular skill or field.

Once you've a solid foundation, start experimenting and exploring new approaches and ideas.

Finally, develop your own unique style or approach based on what you've learned.

Through Shu-Ha-Ri, you can achieve mastery in your chosen field while also fostering creativity and innovation.

7. Mono no aware

Beauty in impermanence and transience

Mono no aware describes the bittersweet feeling of appreciation for the fleeting nature of life.

It's a reminder of the impermanence and transience of all things, including joy and sorrow, beauty and decay.

It's about cherishing the present moment, acknowledging its beauty, and feeling gratitude for the time we have.

How to apply mono no aware to your life:

Start by noticing and appreciating the small moments that bring you joy.

Think about their transient nature.

Instead of clinging to experiences or material things, appreciate them for what they are and let them go when it's time to move on.

By practising mono no aware, you can cultivate a sense of gratitude, acceptance, and resilience in the face of life's impermanence.

One more bonus concept

Finally, one more I love: Mottainai.

Mottainai conveys a sense of regret or concern over waste.

It's about valuing and respecting resources and avoiding unnecessary waste or extravagance.

How to apply mottainai to your life:

This concept is often associated with environmentalism and sustainability, but it can also be applied to personal resources like time, energy, and money.

How are you using your most precious resources?

So there we have it. 

By embracing these Japanese concepts, you can create a lasting legacy for your family that will endure for generations to come.

If you want more information on other ways I see other caring, successful families flourish and thrive - please let me know.

You can connect with me on LinkedIn or email me at samuel.instone@aesinternational.com.

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