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 .

7 thoughts on “Incremental Improvements”

  1. Twisting is the worst thing you can do with a bad back!

    Our PBS station did not run that show tonight and I was disappointed.

  2. Thanks for quoting so freely from my (suggested) writing sample. I did not realize you had an audience of bloggers in mind. So I offered it for anyone who might decide to try writing his/her way toward happiness. A note of caution: Anyone reading that little sample might be underwhelmed by. It has no literary weight or topical juice.
    I would say it is easier to drink your way toward happiness, even if you have to repeat the exercise daily. That may help to answer the question you raise about why so many bloggers just quit blogging. My hunch is they started drinking instead. Much easier.

  3. One of the main reasons I decided to include the whole email was because it served as an excellent transition to the last half of this entry, the part where I noted my own impatience, accompanied by the hard-learned knowledge that patience may well be the most important step in success.

    I’ve tried that “drinking yourself to happiness” approach and it didn’t turn out too well for me.

    Perhaps the fact that I’ve been as happy as I’ve been since I started blogging, despite suffering the worst illnesses in my life, suggests to me that writing regularly may well be one possible way of achieving happiness.

    That doesn’t mean that I’m unaware of the irony that my great Christmas vacation was quite joyful, without ever once feeling guilty about not writing here.

  4. As far as I know, Jane Fonda made up the mantra, “No pain, no gain,” and physical therapists generally did not agree with her.
    Hang in there — patience wins, Loren.

  5. Interesting post Loren, and an interesting e mail from Mike. I would just like to say that I find the discipline of writing every day on my blog a very important part of my life. As I get older I get more immobile. At present we have so much snow that going out for me is off limits – so blogging means mental discipline. Mike says he finds it difficult to write – I would say just sit down at the computer and let it flow – that is what I do. If all else fails then find something in the newspaper which is worthy of discussion.
    Re your back problem Loren – so sorry it is very bad at the moment I have deterioration of the lower spine and find that I can no longer carry shopping, even unloading it from trolley to carboot is not possible – but lots of very gentle walking does make it sustainable, so I do hope you keep up that walking. Happy New Year to you.

  6. I’ve found that blogging, like my morning walks, is best done consistently. Trying to make myself blog again regularly has been difficult – I find it often difficult to decide what I want to write, and too often decide to write nothing. And in the time since I stopped blogging regularly, I’ve found that many bloggers also stopped. It’s left me unfocused, and that, to me, is unsatisfying.

  7. I will have been blogging for three years come April. I don’t think I could find the time to blog everyday (but never say never) and try to blog somewhere between twice and week and once a week. If I haven’t blogged in a week I start to feel twitchy. What I love is the feedback, the sense of engagement and the dialogue that develops. It has also led to some great meetings and some non virtual friendships. I came to you via Weaver by the way, she is great!

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