Musings + Essays

Small Improvements.

By: Jen Shoop

For some reason, I always feel compelled to assert that I’m “not big into self-help stuff.”

And yet.

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.

Post Scripts.

+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.

+Get the Philip Starck ghost chair look for less.

+Darling childrens’ arm chair. (More nursery finds.)

+Fun and forgiving navy mini dress. (Could work if you are expecting or post-partem!)

+The most loved items on my blog so far this year.

+This might be the perfect size and shape for a diaper bag, but seeing how much I’ve destroyed my Goyard using it as a diaper bag (which is half the price!), I can’t justify it…

+I’m intrigued by the avant garde shapes of this new-to-me designer. This is kind of amazing?

+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.

+Good price on a super cute traditional outfit for a little boy.

+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.)

+Still into chintz.

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14 thoughts on “Small Improvements.

  1. Yes yes yes! Small improvements! I was just pondering this yesterday, I had my second baby nearly two years ago and still don’t love my mid section, I walked/ran 3 miles and had to remind myself to just appreciate what I was working towards since it’ll take time! + focusing on what I did in fact do on my to do list as you’ve suggested!

    As for the diaper bag… I was thinking of this. I would say that I will highly recommend not spending a lot on a tote right now, in fact, you could somewhat separate the kids belongings with minis things in a small backpack and micros in your diaper bag. Toss her backpack in your stroller when you have them both!

    My reason for that is that when micro is walking I assure you you will need to be hands free alllll the time! Whenever I attempt to bring my Louis tote with both kids it is a disaster, I need a light weight backpack so I can carry one child on my hip and hold the others hand, or push the stroller and hold a hand, etc. So soon you may be adding backpacks to your collection!

    1. Hi Brooke! Yes – that’s sort of where I’ve landed. I use a big Pam Munson tote that can hook onto the back of the stroller when I know that will be my home base but find myself just using my Goyard and adding/removing pouches when I’m only out with one or the other. I’d still like something for fall because my Pam Munson is so season-specific (very summery), but we shall see…

      Also, so glad this message of small incremental improvements resonated. It’s been really helping me lately!


  2. A thought on wording: you linked to a dress and referred to it as ‘fun and forgiving’ for pregnant and postpartum women. I initially read this post yesterday at nearly one month after having my first baby, and the word ‘forgiving’ has chafed at me the past day. I know it’s a word often used to describe clothing, but neither a pregnant nor a postpartum midsection needs forgiving. Rather, my belly could use some grace and compassion for growing my baby and now holding me upright despite a c-section during those long midnight feeds.
    Isn’t it funny how the way we think about bodies can so drastically change once your body is no longer solely your own?

    1. Hi Amanda — You are so 100% right and I apologize for the thoughtless turn of phrase. Going to strike this from my vocabulary! Thanks for your mindfulness.


  3. Yes to this! I’m going to start jotting these down in my planner. I find quick exercises like this to be so meaningful. A similar one I do everyday is scribble down a bulleted list of things that bring me joy. Yesterday’s were -dogs sticking their head out the car window, -my mother brushing my hair, -babies in fleece jumpsuits, -making it to the bus just in time. Sometimes I get so caught up in my to-do list, I forget the good already happening. A similar ethos to yours I think– there is value in noticing. Thanks for your thoughtfulness, as always! xx

    1. Oh, Katherine! I love — love — this comment. First of all, just the image of a dog sticking her head out the window brought a smile to my face. What a silly and sweet thing. And second, this: “There is value in noticing.” Applicable to so many contexts. Will pocket that. xxx

  4. Love your idea of writing accomplishments daily. We need to support ourselves along this path. Love!
    Reading this reminded me of a time when I too was smack in the middle of raising small ones. One evening my Mr and I went to a fancy dinner event and when my plate was served, I immediately began cutting my steak in tiny bite size pieces!!! Oh my! I was mortified. I didn’t even think about it until I was almost through the entire steak! Eeeks! Parenting will permeate your life!

    1. This: “we need to support ourselves.” So true! I love cheerleading for my girlfriends; why don’t I do it for myself?

      That is SO funny about the steak! My mom did something similar. I can totally see why. I already have mom brain. I’ve had multiple pieces of mail returned to me in the last few months either because I FORGOT TO ADDRESS THEM (!?!??!?) or jotted down an outdated address. I’m already on your page!


  5. I love this idea — and this: “I write to know what I think” is so me as well.

    I recently picked up Leigh Patterson’s Moon Lists — a guided, reflective journal — and made the decision to start using it this month. It’s broken out by week over the course of 18 months and gives prompts to get the journaler reflecting on their life. I really like it so far. I was great about unstructured journaling for much of my life, but for the past decade or so, I’ve only made entries every 6 months or so. I’m hoping the bite-sized prompts will make it easier to jot down my thoughts.


    1. LOVE this, and the prompts are super appealing to me. Actually might order one for myself! Thanks for the tip! xx

  6. I love all of this – I need prayers for patience and grace, TOO! Always thinking of you. And love the idea of writing down accomplishments – however big or small. I’m going to do it, starting today. xo

  7. You said the words pierced you- I felt that yesterday reading the comments from your post— a seasoned mother who was encouraging you said, “power through with love.” They were powerful words for me and just what I needed to hear with four young-ish , rowdy boys and a full plate. I am planning to jot down the little things in the journal- I’m inclined to list making and agree it will be a confidence-boost!

    1. Shauna — I so thoroughly agree and have actually been reciting those words to myself ever since I read them. Thank you for writing in about this and also to Cynthia for sharing them with us! xxx

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