Incremental Improvements

When I commented yesterday on the new PBS special, I intended it primarily for bloggers I read regularly, thinking that it might interesting to look at blogging from a new perspective — and hopefully encouraging them to continue blogging since far too many bloggers I’ve followed have quit blogging after a few years.

However, Mike seemed to be considering a different audience when he emailed this note to me:

I looked at the HAPPINESS EXERCISE PAGE and (since I’ve done it for years) it seems easy.

But I don’t think it would come easy to a novice.

She has a related suggestion about incremental improvements like doing 5 minutes of pushups.

I think that applies to writing, too. For someone like you (a professional blogger) it seems natural as breathing. And you have a long history as teacher/reader of poetry.

If I were suggesting that anyone try the happines writing idea I would shrink the assignment dramatically.They will not know where to begin. For many, 10 minutes of straight writing could be exhausting.

I’d suggest brief and focused questions. They might write about how they are likely to spend the morning. They might write about the way they expect to spend lunch hours in the current week.

They might ignore the mundane and write only about the 3 most important things they’ll do this week (or today). Or even things they already did.

Some will have trouble knowing how to start. They might like an example.

Today I answered a lot of emails left over from the holidfays, and concentrated on the ones that involved a deadline. I also spent a few moment saying hello to almost everyone I work with, just asking how their holidays went, etc. They all had something upbeat to say. One woman said she got pretty sick but now was feeling better.

I called someone who asked me (via email) if I’d help to nominate someone else for an award. I would and did. She was pleased. I told her I thought her nominee was highly deserving and offered to help in any way I could.

I made soup in my office so I could work through lunch hour and leave early to get my wife’s car at the repair shop. I also called my wife to let her know her car wold be done by 3:30.

I had a nice visit with the mechanic. I asked him to name his favorite whiskey and said I planned to bring him a bottle some time.


Once they get used to it, they might feel more confident dealing with more abstract matters.

If I were presenting this to a class, I would certainly agree with Mike’s advice. Since Google and comments indicate that students often find their way here through Google, I thought it was certainly worthwhile to use Mike’s letter to make the point for those who are just considering starting a journal or a blog.

On another note, like Mike, I rummaged around the Happiness page more than I indicated in yesterday’s entry. I was also struck by her advice to “perfectionists” since I often fall into that category. As I’ve recently been reminded, too much of a good thing can definitely be a bad thing. When I first started physical therapy, the therapist gave me an exercise squeezing a ball between my knees to help reset my back. It seemed quite effective, but I ended up doing it so often and so forcefully that I ended up with tendonitis in my legs.

The hardest part of recovering from my back problem has been not doing too much. I’m so eager to get back to where I was three weeks ago, that my therapist is constantly telling me to back off, particularly when I experience pain. Apparently “no pain, no gain” is no longer the mantra of physical exercise, and, of course, I know that from much experience in the last few years. But “knowing” something and following it is difficult when you’ve spent your life trying to do your “best” in everything you do.

I walked Skye for the first time in three weeks yesterday, and I knew I would have to limit the walk but didn’t realize how much I would have to limit it. I cut the walk in half and was still limping and huffing and puffing before I got back.

Todays Tai Chi class was also somewhat of a surprise. I think of Tai Chi as a gentle “warm up” but found myself unable to perform moves that I’ve always performed before effortlessly. It turns out that twisting my right foot is more of a problem than I’d ever imagined it would be. It’ll take me awhile before I can master the form again .