I try to improve myself a little bit every day. I’ve heard the “get 1% better every day,” “take baby steps,” “kaizen method” spiels, but I’ve never been one for vague metaphoric mantras. I prefer “incrementalism.”

I’m currently the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. The reasons are manifold but tiny. I don’t know if my happiness will last forever, or even much longer, but I can say with confidence that the combined effort of a lot of little things (and a few big things) has led me to this point, and it’s only looking up from here.

*Knock on wood.*

So where did this incrementalism thing start?

I graduated university (or thought I did–it was complicated) at the end of 2015 and found myself in the real world. And, like every English graduate ever, I was completely lost.

There was no work, no plan, no money, and it was all my fault. So during that in-between-jobs, nobody’s-hiring, stir-crazy time of my life, I decided I needed to prioritize the important things. Just so I felt like I wasn’t losing complete control.

The problem was, I didn’t really know what was important. What about money? That’s always important, right? So I began budgeting. I bought a pad of sticky notes, and every morning I wrote my to-do list, checking it off throughout the day, and at the end of the day I wrote down how much money I spent, and on what.

I still do this today, even though a girl I once dated told me it was “quirky.”

Writing down your daily expenditures is one of those things everyone tells us to do but for some reason we never do it. Instead, we tap our debit/credit cards again and again and hope our bank account balance won’t be that bad when we finally check. Deciding to start paying attention was a tiny effort that has paid off in a big way.

Literally. I’m conscious of what I’m spending, why I’m spending it, and whether it’s a good investment compared to other expenses.

This has led me to making small changes in regular purchases that have resulted in incremental savings. For example, I threw out my old multi-blade razor and bought a safety razor along with a box of 100 blades (about $56 total), which will last me at least four years. A far better investment than countless Gillette penta-blade plastic whatevers that cost 40 bucks for a pack of eight–and that’s not including the razor itself. Small changes such as that have added up over the months and made me more confident about handling expenses, being frugal, and paying off debt.

The end of 2015 also saw the beginning of my writing prompt challenge. Just 15 minutes of writing a day led to 365 little stories. Those stories have not only helped me get regular work as a freelance writer, but have also made me diligent and prolific at my craft. Writing for a living seemed impossible when I “graduated.” Now I write creatively as a full-time job, making more than I have at any previous job. Writing for 15 minutes a day for a year of my 30-year (so far) life was one of the best investments I’ve ever made.

Of course, there are many other little things that have helped, which I’ll go over in future posts. Changes in habit, in attitude, in routine. But I won’t claim I’ve got some magic formula for happiness. I’m just re-tracing the steps that got me here.

– H.

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