The exercise "Secret Acts of Virtue" asks us to do something nice for someone else, but to do it anonymously.
At first I really struggled with this exercise - I just couldn't think of anything to do! Then I started to feel really badly about myself. "Am I a terrible person?" I wondered. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I was having two problems.
My first problem was that I was thinking of the exercise as involving elaborate acts and I just couldn't think of good things to do. But then I realized that I do nice things all the time, it was just a matter of doing them with mindful intentionality. So some examples of things that I did were: clean up David's desk, pick up trash on the sidewalk, push in the shopping carts at the store, park far enough away from the person behind me that they would have no trouble getting out. These things aren't life-changers, but they just might make someone's day a little bit better. And that's a good thing.
The second problem I was having goes more to the heart of the exercise. Although I didn't realize it at first, I was struggling with the anonymity aspect of the exercise. Sure, I do lots of nice things for people, but it's usually either in a way that they know about it right away, or I want to tell them about it. A couple weeks ago I totally cleaned out and reorganized David's sock drawer (it was chaos in there). He probably would have noticed anyway, but I made a point to tell him about it when he got home. I wanted him to know that I had done something nice for him and I wanted him to thank me for doing it.
I don't think there's anything wrong with seeking praise for the good we've done. But it's also beneficial to sometimes not seek that praise. Most acts of virtue are also acts of selfishness: we do them because they help others but also because they make us feel good about ourselves. And that's ok. But let that sense of feeling good about yourself fulfill your need for satisfaction, rather than seeking even more praise. Just let the good be good enough.
The next exercise is: "Just Three Breaths: as many times a day as you can, give the mind a rest by just taking three mindful breaths."