Incrementalism: the art of fine-tuning change

I call incrementalism a basic principle of life: if you don’t work every day to make it better, it will get worse. ‘It’ can be anything at all.

Not all change can be effected by a sweeping pronouncement: “I am quitting smoking as of now.” “I will never think of him again.”

Instead, most changes fall in the category of ‘a little bit better’ or ‘a little bit worse’ every day. Physical therapy. Dieting. Improving your writing. Learning to walk again. Learning a language. Training a pet.

Time passes. I can’t stop it, but my actions every day affect my life and I have the choice every day to fight everything that wants to go in the wrong direction, and make a push, however tiny, in the right direction.

But it is one thing to notice and bemoan the effect – “I’m getting older, and I’m getting stooped over” – and another to do something about it. The assumption way too often is that there IS nothing you can do about certain changes, especially if the situation has gone on for a while, and the cumulative negative effects are large.

The human body is amazing and dynamic. It also has a very bad habit of handling many things automatically, without considering the wishes of the person inhabiting it. If you sit for a long time every day, it will curve into a sitting posture. There will be pain. And it won’t fix itself.

I learned the concept over the course of a summer a few years ago, in the aftermath of spinal surgery. Walking hurt, and over the course of time and using a walker, I noticed one day in the mirror that I was developing a ‘dowager hump’ – and that not only could I not stand up completely straight, I couldn’t bend backward at all.

Nobody will tell you these things – you have to notice them yourself.

I was horrified – of course I’ll never admit I’m old enough to be a dowager, but I knew I was too young to be that bent over.
I had the doctor (one of the people who should have noticed and said something?) send me to a physical therapist. The PT worked with me for a whole summer. She told me about Robin McKenzie’s work in Australia (7 Steps to a Pain-free Life).

It hurt – and was an incredible amount of work. I went two to three times a week – a huge time and energy commitment for someone with CFS. I did those exercises as many times a day as I could stand to do them. She worked with me and on me, and I did them at home.

Progress was almost impossible to see – unless we looked back to where I had started.

Over the course of that summer, I worked my way from a 20° FORWARD spinal curve to being able to go over 30° BACKWARD.

I have not stopped monitoring and pushing: I take every chance in yoga class to do a Cobra pose or a Camel pose. This past week, doing a backbend against the wall, I realized I can now do a 45° BACKWARD bend.

Not bad for a tiny effort continuing over at least three years.

Not the most important achievement in the world, but one of which I’m inordinately proud.

Change is doable.

All you have to do is to move every single day in the right direction – instead of the wrong one.

How do you apply incrementalism in YOUR life?


2 thoughts on “Incrementalism: the art of fine-tuning change

  1. Kathy

    The first step has been taken… Sometimes just being aware is not enough… You have to move! Congrats for moving in the right direction!


    1. ABE Post author

      You just can’t give up: the wrong direction is the default one. You have to struggle to make improvements. (shrug) So you do it.

      Thanks for stopping by.



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