How Math, Physics and Japanese Philosophy Helps You Get Things Done


Five birds are sitting on a wire. Three decide to fly south. How many are left?

Did you get two? Yeah, I did too the first time I heard this riddle.

The answer, however, is five.

Now, before you jump to the conclusion that this word problem is one of those Common Core math questions that stump even reasonably math savvy parents who struggle to help their third grader with their homework, stop and think.

Simply because three birds decide to fly, no flying is actually happening. Only flapping their little wings and positioning their tiny chevron due south leaves two birds on the wire.

It comes down to this: Decisions are not actions.

Oh how I wish they were.

If number of times I decided to cook more frequently, organize my closet or write a book were correlated with those things actually happening, I would not know the delivery guys from LA Bite on a first name basis, could actually walk into my closet with out risking an ankle sprain and, even if I didn’t have a book published, would at least have a manuscript for publishers to reject.

Action is the key ingredient toward achieving a goal.   While decision sets us up for what we want to achieve, it is irrelevant if there is no concrete action steps to move that decision forward.

And the key word here is concrete. Don’t confuse further decisions about our decisions as actions either (that’s just a form of procrastination). As my friends at can attest, my favorite way of entering this convoluted manner of procrastination is to buy books about the decision I made. The number of cookbooks, organization guides and how to write a book books I own would lead you to believe I am a rare combination of Martha Stewart and Agatha Christie. Runners up to would be the nice people at the Container Store from whom I purchase things like meal planning calendars, countless plastic containers that I am sure I will change my life and a collection of Moleskin notebooks that rival those of small stationary stores.

Sure, having the guidance and tools to take action are important, but still, they are not real action.

So what’s a good intentioned procrastinator to do?

Why physics, of course. Remember Newton’s first law, aka the law of inertia. Objects in motion remain in motion while objects at rest remain at rest (unless acted on by a force). In short, you need to get moving.

But how?

This is where we turn to Japanese philosophy for help. Rooted in the two thousand-year-old wisdom of the Tao Te Ching, Kaizen is the art of making lasting change through small steps. It is best summarized by the idea that “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

It’s cutting up one melon, removing five items of clothing I no longer need and writing for two minutes a day. On their own, these actions in and of themselves are not terribly impressive or helpful in achieving any of my goals. Rather, when they become layered on a top the other and momentum is gained, results begin to take shape.

Or, said another way, the flight to migrate south begins with a single flapping of a wing.

So what can you do today that is the equivalent of that single flapping of a wing, what is your single step that will set you on the course of success?