Baby steps

Small Is Big

August 25, 2023

A small, cute thing

Over the past 14 years of writing posts for Catching Happiness, I’ve returned to one topic quite a few times.

Baby steps. Tiny habits. Happy little things.

Small is big.

This week I was thinking about writing another post on this topic, but decided not to. I stand by what I wrote in the past! Instead, I’m compiling a Link Love from my own archives. Here are a few Catching Happiness posts about the glory of the small (click the title to read the entire post):

In “Thinking Small,” I talk about breaking through resistance by taking the smallest “next step” possible. I concluded, “Big dreams and new, improved habits are made up of many tiny steps. A happy life is made up of small, simple pleasures and everyday adventures—the cup of tea, the walk with the dog, the movie night with your spouse or best friend, the work project done well and turned in on time. Thinking small can make a big, big difference.”

I invented a new word in “The Power of Little Things.” 

One of my first posts about the power of small was “Just Call Me a Tortoise.” In it, I praise the practice of taking baby steps: “The beauty of baby steps is that if each small step is solid, you’ll find yourself making steady progress. You’ll be less likely to stagger forward then backward in fits and starts. In this way, you will go slower to go faster.” 

I listed a few small things I love, with pictures, in “The Beauty of Small Things.” 

“Painless Progress” describes the Japanese concept of kaizen. “Kaizen is the process of continual improvement through small and incremental steps. It started as a Japanese management concept and continues to be used in business, as well as in areas such as psychology and life coaching. It reinforces my belief that as long as you keep moving forward, even if by baby steps, you will eventually get where you’re going.”

Finally, in August of 2021, I was feeling especially overwhelmed. (Kind of like now.) “Something Small or Nothing at All” was my attempt to find inspiration and motivation to do something, anything. 

Rereading these posts reminded me of what I firmly believe: baby steps, tiny habits, small changes—and yes, happy little things—make a real and lasting difference. Starting now, I’m reviewing what small habits and changes I can commit to so that I can finish this year of loss in a stronger, happier place.

What are a few of your favorite small habits?

Baby steps

Dreaming Is Not Enough

January 11, 2016

Back in 2010, I wrote a blog post about Barbara Sher’s book Refuse to Choose, and my enthusiasm for my “six-year calendar of happiness.” Thrilled to understand myself better, I thought the calendar represented a way to focus my Scanner nature and enjoy and pursue all the things that catch my interest in a tidy and organized fashion.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

And, at first, it worked pretty well. In 2010, I played with my horse, began learning watercolor, read a couple of classics. In 2011, I did more of the same. However, despite my hopes otherwise, my freelancing sputtered to a halt. I never studied Florida history (2010), did any cross stitch projects (2011), or finished the book I was writing (2012). I had the single word “travel” under 2014, and though I visited my family in California and took a road trip to St. Augustine with a friend that year, that hardly seems like what I’d originally had in mind.

I’m sure Refuse to Choose had advice on making those dreams and goals happen, but I conveniently forgot the part where I had to take action. Here are three mistakes I made:

  1. After writing down the topics I wanted to concentrate on for the next year, I tucked the list away and never looked at it again.
  2. I didn’t break down the larger goals/objectives/dreams into small actions I could take.
  3. I didn’t revise and expand each year’s goals as I went.

This reminds me of the Sidney Harris cartoon of two men standing at a blackboard chalked with equations. Step two of the problem they’re solving is: “Then a miracle occurs.” I kept expecting that miracle to occur! I kept expecting to meet my goals or learn fill-in-the-blank or experience I-don’t-know-what without taking any steps to make it happen.

Writing down goals and dreams is a start, but it’s only a start. Just writing down “travel” didn’t take me where I wanted to go, either literally or figuratively. In 2016, things are starting out differently. After I jotted down some goals for the year, I made a list of things I’m going to do in January to reach those goals. Then I made a list of what I plan to do this week. Then I sent that list of tasks to a friend who has agreed to kindly prod me when I start blowing off the steps that will lead me to my goals. (I’m an Obliger, so this step is important for me.) As the year progresses, I will adjust my goals as I need to, and I still want to jot down a few ideas for future years—true to my Scanner self, I have many things I want to explore that I will not have time or energy to tackle this year.

Why do I share this with you? Why should you care?

First, because I hope to have many more simple pleasures and everyday adventures to share with you here on Catching Happiness. More importantly, I hope if I succeed that I’ll be a positive example to inspire you to live a fuller and more interesting life. (And if I fail, I can be a cautionary tale!)

I want to be happier and I’ll bet you do, too. While doing isn’t always the answer, sometimes it is. I want to do more of the things I say I want to do rather than only dream about them. 

What are your dreams for 2016? How do you plan to make them come true? Please share in the comments below.


Act Now!

June 22, 2015

Photo courtesy Jake Hills

No, this is not a late-night TV ad: “For just three payments of $29.95, you can have this beautiful Whatsit! But wait, there’s more…”

No, this is my current motto. Lately, I’ve been feeling stuck, overwhelmed, frustrated…all squirmy and uncomfortable inside. As tired of complaining to my long-suffering friends about my frustrations as they are of hearing me complain. And the more I’ve stewed, the more drained and frustrated I’ve felt.

June 10th’s quote offered me a clue about the answer to this problem. I’m certainly uncomfortable, unhappy and unfulfilled…what am I going to do about it? Sit and think some more, or act? 

In the past, I’ve noticed an immediate surge of energy and lifting of spirits when I do something, even if it’s as mundane as cleaning out a drawer in the kitchen. So that’s what I did. I cleaned out two drawers in the kitchen. Then I reglued the wood trim on the breakfast bar. Then I dropped off the comforter set at Goodwill that I had been carting around in my trunk for literally months.

These small actions relieved one tiny, itchy part of my brain, but they were just the warm up. Lately I’ve felt especially stuck and unsure of myself as a writer. I’ve been plugging away here on the blog, but I’ve let all other aspects of my writing slide. I’m ready to get back into freelancing, but I have a number of issues to deal with, including feeling terribly rusty and out of practice locating markets and pitching articles. So I took a small step towards correcting this by joining the Freelance Writer’s Den, and exploring the resources available there. My first goal: get a writer’s website up as soon as possible. And, in the meantime, I’ve already collected a number of my writing clips on a portfolio site, which you can see here.

Yes, I do believe in the value of contemplation and that doing is not always better than being, but sometimes you must act. It doesn’t matter what the step is, as long as you take one…and then another.  So that’s where I am. Taking baby steps, looking for “different ways [and] truer answers.”

If something is frustrating you, what action are you going to take?

Baby steps

September Is the New January

September 09, 2013

Photo courtesy Candace Penney

Is it just me, or does September feel like a new beginning? Most of my life I’ve treated September the way most people treat January: as a new year. Even before I had a child going back to school or lived in Florida where the promise of the occasional cooler, drier day bumps up my energy, I reevaluated my life in the fall. My birthday is in September, so I think that adds to the “new start” feeling since like most of us I become more introspective around birthdays.

I’ve thought about starting my own Happiness Project, like Gretchen Rubin has written about in the book of the same name, and its follow-up Happier at Home (where the title of this blog post came from). I even began listing areas I’d like to focus on, but decided I’m not ready to attack things I want to change or enhance in quite that fashion. Planning all those months in advance felt too overwhelming to me. Instead, I decided to take baby steps and do some very simple things to get my new year off to a good start:

First, I’m keeping a time log this week to see where I’m spending my time. (I’m using this one.) From there, I hope to come up with a flexible schedule so I can get the important things done while still having time to play.

My weight has become a concern again, so I’m tweaking my eating and fitness routines to combat those creeping pounds.

I’m making plans for fun by figuring out the details of our postponed anniversary trip and scheduling some upcoming Field Trip Fridays.

I’m purging—the freezer, my closet, my file cabinet. I’m always battling stuff!

Even though it’s still blazingly hot here and it doesn’t feel like fall yet, I’m starting to feel more energetic, more likely to make some changes and explore new avenues. I’m ready to savor simple pleasures and take part in everyday adventures. Even though the calendar says September and not January, I’m ready for a new year!

Do you make any special plans in September? Are there any other times of year you evaluate life, set goals or take up challenges?

Baby steps

Positive Procrastination

August 19, 2013

It’s summertime and my procrastination levels are as high as the humidity. Here are just a few things I did while I was supposed to be writing this blog post:

Read some of the “Funniest Reviews” on

Moved individual blog post files into my “Completed Blog Post” folder.

Changed the sheets on my bed. Changed the sheets on my son’s bed (he’s sick).

Added three books from the July/August issue of More magazine to my TBR list. (Kind of Cruel, Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers, and The Green Boat.)

Folded laundry.

Looked at pets up for adoption on

Washed the French doors that look out onto the lanai.

Now, it’s not that these things had no value—it’s just that they were, perhaps, not the best use of my time right then. However, I did eventually get a blog post written, and my house is a little cleaner and more orderly, so maybe procrastination can be positive after all? Yes, it can—if you use it for your benefit. John Tierney, writing in the New York Times, reported on what some researchers are calling “structured procrastination,” or “productive procrastination.” How it works, according to Tierney: Start your to-do list with a couple of “daunting, if not impossible, tasks that are vaguely important-sounding (but really aren’t) and seem to have deadlines (but really don’t).” Fill out the list with “doable tasks that really matter.” As one researcher says, “We are willing to pursue any vile task as long as it allows us to avoid something worse.” Hence my willingness to wash windows rather than sit down to write.

Positive procrastination: another tool I can use, along with the kitchen timer, baby steps, and rewards, to chip away at my resistance to writing and other meaningful projects I keep putting off.

Do you have any tricks to increase your productivity?

Baby steps

Take One

February 27, 2013

“Take the first step in faith, you don’t have to see the whole staircase just to take the first step.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.

What’s the first step you need to take today to reach one of your goals?

Baby steps

Fun at Fannin Hill Farm

March 30, 2012

A couple weeks ago, my trainer took a small group of us to Fannin Hill Farm where we schooled our horses over cross country jumps, or in my case, practiced trotting over and jumping small obstacles. (Baby steps!) I’ve been to Fannin Hill several times before, and Tank and I always have a blast there—I don’t know if it’s the change of scenery or what, but we usually wind up riding at a higher level than we do at home. Like people, horses like a change of pace, so usually we all—horses and humans—have a terrific time. This day was no different. (Special thanks to Holly Bryan for sharing her photos from the day.)

Me and Tank

 For me, Fannin Hill is the perfect combination of challenge and safety. Each section of the farm has a number of jumps of various sizes and styles and plenty of room for each rider to jump or not as she sees fit. If you’re not jumping, you can trot or canter on the flat, or simply hang out and watch the others. You’re never too far away from “the herd” so your horse doesn’t get anxious about being left behind, as he might on a trail ride. There are also hills to walk up and down (good conditioning for the horse). At Fannin Hill, I’m more easily able to step outside my comfort zone—maybe because of the extra adrenaline or the element of trying to keep up with girls who could be my daughters!

Doesn't Tank have a beautiful face?
My lesson buddy Emily, with Jessie:

All dressed up to go home (in protective shipping boots and helmet):

The positive effects of a visit to Fannin Hill carry over into my riding at home—I have more confidence in myself and my horse and we usually take a step forward in our work together. And what could be more fun than spending time with my horse and some of my horsey friends? As Gayle, our trainer said, “Aren’t horses the best hobby ever?!”

What have you done just for fun lately? Did you step outside your comfort zone? What did you learn?


Painless Progress

June 24, 2011

I recently learned of another Japanese concept that I find interesting and encouraging: Kaizen. Kaizen is the process of continual improvement through small and incremental steps. It started as a Japanese management concept and continues to be used in business, as well as in areas such as psychology and life coaching. It reinforces my belief that as long as you keep moving forward, even if by baby steps, you will eventually get where you’re going.

One of the beauties of Kaizen is that the steps can be so small that you don’t mind doing them over and over again, until they become habit. Once established as habit, you don’t have to think about them anymore. Kaizen encourages the practice of starting with something easy so you’ll see immediate benefits to encourage you to continue. I’ve got several ongoing projects/issues that are not going as well or as quickly as I’d like. In addition to trying to keep myself from feeling overwhelmed, I’ve been casting around for ways to make some small changes that I hope will jump start me. For example, I want to get back to sketching, and I’d like to take off a few pounds. My plan is to replace some of the time I spend watching TV at night with doing yoga, or with sketching. Not for hours, and not every night—maybe just 15-20 minutes three times a week to start with. To make it easy, I’ll keep my yoga props handy in my bedroom, and a few sketching supplies in a basket in the family room so that I don’t spend time searching for what I need to get started.

I find Kaizen comforting. Changing small things doesn’t scare me, and I believe I’ll make more progress by doing a little every day (or most days) than if I become too harsh a taskmaster for myself. I already regularly use a kitchen timer for short timed-writing sessions (it’s amazing how much you can write in 15 minutes if you just keep the pen moving), so I know this can work.

What small, incremental steps can you take on your way to your dreams?

For a much more thorough and inspiring exploration of Kaizen in regard to goals and dreams, visit