June 7, 2023–I have developed a revolutionary philosophy of self-improvement: Small and Frequent trumps Large and Seldom.
This applies to working out, learning new skills, creating, and raising children.
On days when I don’t feel like going all CrossFit–which is every day–I do a minimal set of reps on my exercise du jour. Whether sit-ups, pullups, or squats… I might just do a set of 10 each first thing in the morning, then go eat an inappropriate breakfast. When and if I do a further workout that day, my muscles are ready, resigned to the fact they will be asked to engage in more meaningless repetition.
Same with biking, walking, or jogging. Short distances, frequently. Very short distances, as in running from the house to the barn, to the mailbox, to the garden.
I believe this helps trigger muscle memory, lubes joints, and lets my body know that it will be called on at any time to expend effort. Obviously, no marathon will I complete, unless it is run in 40-yard increments over three months.
I actually came up with this strategy in 5th grade. I was taking band, and our teacher made us write down how many minutes a day we spent practicing. At the end of the week, I saw numbers as low as 8 minutes, 10 minutes, 12 minutes, but by golly there was a number in every day’s box. I figured out early on that doing something every day, no matter how minimal, helped me along my musical journey to reach the giddy height of being named first chair drummer in 7th-grade band.
I used the same approach much later when wrestling with the violin in middle age. Rather than practicing for one hour straight, I pick up the violin and do one piece, then walk away. Over the day, I might play other pieces. Somehow it seems easier to go back to the instrument if I already have one song under my fingers.
Wannabe writers continue to believe there is a secret to success. There isn’t. To write any size piece, all you do is sit down and write. Every day. Simple. Do the math: If you need to turn in a 1500-word piece, write 150 words a day for 10 days. Send it in and start practicing your autograph for signing bookplates.
I’ve learned when I have a challenging piece, it helps to blurt out anything on it the night before attacking it.
When I return to it the next day, that awkward starting process is behind me. In my mind, I’ve already started. Surprisingly often, what I’ve done is most useable, even though it didn’t feel like I even tried.
There used to be a parenting movement called “quality time.”
It was a technique designed to absolve busy parents of the guilt of not spending enough time with their own children. The gist was, it’s OK if you only spend 5 minutes a day with your child, and long as it’s “quality time.”
Like the lunches I fed my kids, this was baloney.
Kids are not designed to have a parent ignore them for 23 hours and 45 minutes, then being hyper-focused on them for 15 minutes. That is not natural. It compartmentalizes caring.
Research shows children are most comfortable with “lateral play.” That is, they have security knowing their caregivers are nearby, even if engaged in different activities. Occasionally a child will slide over to interact with a parent, even if only to lean on them to watch them work, or to show them their latest drawing, or to ask a question about a puzzle they are working on.
Some parents are uncomfortable with giving children unfettered access, because they fear the child will smother them. Actually the opposite happens. When a kid is confident their parent is accessible, they no longer feel so insecure that they need to keep checking in to make sure they are still there. They are comfortable exploring their own world, just knowing you are nearby.
To review: Small and Frequent trumps Large and Seldom.
Doing anything always beats doing nothing.