For some reason, I always feel compelled to assert that I’m “not big into self-help stuff.”
I loved and deeply internalized a lot from the Brene Brown special (if that’s not self-help, I don’t know what is), have been known to mull over things I hear in Goop podcasts for weeks on end, and often bookmark inspirational quotes for later use. The other day, I skeptically decided to pair a run with one of Nike Run Club’s coaching sessions (you can download the app and they have a bunch of different “runs” you can take where a coach will tell you when to pick up the pace, slow down, etc.) and rolled my eyes as the coach in my earbuds insisted that I was “stronger today than yesterday” and all kinds of feel-good nonsense.
But then something he said pierced me.
“It’s all about small improvements, doing something just a little bit better today than you did it yesterday.”
I clung to that message with something like desperation and carried it with me for my 22-minute run (in the spirit of incremental improvements, it was two minutes longer than my previous run!), the wobbly-legged walk across CPW, up the elevator into my apartment, and straight into the weekend. There is a lot going on in my life — all good and happy and forward-moving things, but the magnitude of detail and coordination involved is knee-buckling to a planner like myself. (In fact, I put myself to bed early last night, at 8:52 p.m., and then laid awake for a full two hours, stiff as an ironing board, fretting over all the details for today: doing complicated math to estimate when micro might need to be breastfed throughout the day to accommodate an apartment viewing and an appointment, pondering whether I should offer mini’s teachers coffee and a treat during their visit to the apartment or whether that was overkill, worrying about the phrasing of an email I’d just sent to a broker, wondering whether Gap would still be running it’s Labor Day promotion as I’d forgotten to order socks for mini for school, etc.)
But. Two things left me bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning, and I can tell you that neither of them had anything to do with getting a full night of sleep. The first was saying a few prayers yesterday asking God for grace and patience (these were prayers that felt more like conversation — beseeching conversation, mind you — though I have been known to more formally lean on words from the Bible in trying times and the Hail Mary is never far from my tongue). Lord do I need them with my stubborn and wonderful toddler and my awake-all-hours-of-the-night baby and the impending chaos of a move and a new routine as mini eases into life as a school-goer.
And when I woke today, though I was bone tired, I felt a warm kind of zen permeating my outlook.
One step at a time, Jennie. We’ll get there. Patience and grace. (Thanks to all the readers for the encouragement yesterday. I read and re-read every single one of them.)
The second, though, was this concept of small and incremental improvements. Though I appreciated the message from a fitness perspective (encouragement that it’s OK to take things good and slow as I get back in shape post-baby), I immediately appropriated it for my purposes as a mother and wife.
The truth is: I will never be able to do everything well in a single day — or, maybe I will, but those days will be rare and blessed things. Instead, I pledged to focus on the itty bitty improvements each day, the tiny victories that make me feel good about myself as a member of my family. So I took out a little notebook and started jotting down one thing, sometimes two, I am proud of every single day. It takes only a few minutes at the end of the day, and it immediately puts me in a better state of mind, one oriented around progress and accomplishment. A few of mine from the past few days:
+Read a lot of books to mini and micro today. Enjoyed every minute of it.
+ Took mini to Church and she was an actual angel. Came well-prepared with activities (this is still the MVP) and snacks, and I must be doing something right, because she understood that she was supposed to be quiet and actually put her finger to her lips (“shhh”) a few times. I was able to fully listen to and internalize the Gospel today for the first time in what feels like weeks.
+Ran two minutes longer than the previous jog.
+Put both kids down by myself and actually felt like I was owning the process versus the other way around.
+Ate dinner at the table after both babies were asleep like proper adults rather than sitting on the couch in front of the TV.
When I look back across these “small improvements,” they’re nothing big or particularly noteworthy, but they give me the impression of achievement– sort of the same strategy that undergirds my commitment to listing every single little thing I intend to do in a given day, from remembering to do tummy time with the baby to taking Tilly for her midday stroll.
But this kind of journaling has done something else, too. Per usual, I write to know what I think. And this practice has made me think, hard, about the things that matter to me as a mother. What makes me feel that I am doing a good job? How do I measure myself as a mom? What does “success” look like? I’d never actually paused to think about this, critically. Looking back across my list, I reckon it has something to do with feeling prepared and mindful and present when it comes to the rearing of my children.
I’m wondering if any of my magpies are up to the challenge of doing the same thing: writing down one small improvement or achievement you’ve made every single day, whether in the realm of career, fitness, marriage, friendship, family, motherhood, health.
I’m confident it will make you feel good about yourself (or better about yourself, if good is too far afield) and think carefully about how you are measuring your own success, important and eye-opening exercises both.
+Can we talk about these shoes for an unconventional bridal lewk?
+I don’t know how, but this dress is only $34.
+Are you reading this month’s book club pick? It’s a good one. A bit academic in part, but worth it for the gems of life wisdom. (I’m also side-car-ing with this lighter mystery/thriller book and I LOVE IT so far.)
+This blouse gives me D&G vibes, is on sale for only $45, and would look so cute with dark-wash denim as we ease into fall.
+Fun and forgiving navy mini dress. (Could work if you are expecting or post-partem!)
+Fun dress — I like the idea of wearing this as an expecting mom to my own baby shower!
+Cute keepsake hanger for a special garment for a child.
+Is it absurd I want this for micro, who will outgrow it in like 2 weeks? (He is growing like a weed and VERY tall.)