Tiny Improvements – Brett Kelly

Tiny Improvements

3007624052_f3a7133a6b_bYou may recall periods when, upon taking a quick mental survey of your life, you realize that—yep—almost everything could be a whole lot better than it is, all told. Then you might realize that pulling yourself out of such a funk is going to take a ton of work and, perhaps more discouraging, a good long time.

Such realizations are usually followed immediately by your head drooping slightly and feeling like complete crap. There may also be some swearing.

It’s “good news and bad news” time. We’ll start, as our parents did, with the bad news:

It’s all true. Things are terrible.

Silver linings may indeed be present or even visible and I’m not suggesting that you spend every waking moment reminding yourself that things suck, but it’s important to simmer a bit in the knowledge that you’re in a pretty awful spot.

And that’s alright. Happens to pretty much everybody and, unless we’re talking about a terminal illness, the chances that things will get better are pretty fair. That’s the good news.

Speaking as somebody who has been trudging through Everything Sucksville for awhile now, I’ve learned a bit about how to endure it. My favorite tactic is making tiny improvements.

Tiny Improvements

It may surprise you to learn that I’m not a professional fashion model. I know.

In fact, my “presentation” used to be one of the last things I thought about.

For years, I wore t-shirts and either Dickies shorts or jeans, depending on the weather. I wore an unmarked, black baseball cap and would get my hair cut every two months or so — mainly because my hair would become so voluminous that my hat wouldn’t fit.

The only variance in this pattern was Sunday mornings (for church); I would wear a button-down shirt of some kind—usually wrinkled—and I’d smear some crap in my hair so the messiness would at least appear intentional. This was also the one day per week I’d shave.

Fast-forward to a few months ago when my brother pulled me aside…

“You look terrible. We’re going to get haircuts.”

And we did:

Look good; feel good. @mrbrettkelly

A photo posted by Jon Kelly (@___mrkelly) on

He was absolutely right. This tiny little improvement to my appearance was like a cold glass of water halfway through one of those ultra-marathons.1

Since then, I began shaving and styling my hair every day (well, almost). I invested in some decent wet shaving equipment and everything (which, incidentally, is really great; if you’re a dude and you’re still using some 9-blade monstrosity, I highly recommend the wet shaving thing — this post got me informed and here’s a list of all of the supplies I personally use and like, if you’re curious):

Now, instead of looking in the mirror and seeing a poorly-dressed goofball who looks like he just rolled out of bed, I see a poorly-dressed goofball who only looks like he just rolled out of bed from the neck down. I’ve also begun slowly building a collection of decent clothes, so even the poorly-dressed bit is starting to be less true:

Fresh haircut and winks with Garfield.

A photo posted by Brett Kelly (@mrbrettkelly) on

Jonathan and I have made noodles, beer, and haircuts a regular thing. Once per month, I give myself permission to enjoy a fun, slightly indulgent afternoon with my brother. He cracks me up and we always have a good time. And even though I still spend a good deal of my time realizing how crappy things are, haircut day is one of a handful of little oases that go a long way toward cheering me up:

Pre-haircut open containers in the (parked) car. A couple of class acts, we are. Hi mom!

A photo posted by Brett Kelly (@mrbrettkelly) on

Remember: tiny improvements. For me, all this grooming stuff works out to about 2–3 hours, once per month, and about 15 minutes a day. Pretty small time investment, and I feel better as a result.


So, if things suck, look for one or two small things you can improve. After all, your mood and circumstance are the sum of everything you’ve got going on, so even something as simple as a haircut and a bowl of noodles with somebody you like can make all the rest of it seem a teensy bit less like the end of the world.

  1. No, I don’t actually know what running an ultra-marathon feels like. Leo probably knows. I think we can all agree, though, that some water halfway through would probably be pretty nice. 

(Big image courtesy of Paul Joseph)

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I’ve been using that Proraso soap for a couple of years. It’s great. Give their pre-shave cream a try as well, it’s like magic in a jar. Ok, not really magic, but it’s tingly and invigorating and makes your beard hairs softer and easier to shave.


Yes to tiny improvements! Also, I agree wholeheartedly with your shaving recommendations… Safety razors are so awesome, I’m giving a talk about them at my company’s next gathering.


Floss. Counts as a tiny improvement for most folks.


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