After an undeniably exhausting couple of years, we all could use a little pick-me-up. One way to get that boost is to celebrate small wins, no matter how tiny or insignificant they might seem.
A recent poll of more than 2,000 Americans revealed that four out of five are more conscious of their small daily wins since the pandemic began. Moreover, 9 out of 10 feel that noticing small wins has a positive effect on their mental health. Another whooping 67 percent are making more of an effort now to celebrate these wins than in years prior.
This is especially true among millennials, 90 percent of whom agree they derive motivation from small wins. Since motivation is a key component of high productivity levels, it stands to reason that celebrating small wins could also boost your work performance.
That’s exactly what this iteration of The Productivity Box series is all about—so let’s dive right in.
Celebrating small wins is a powerful motivator
Think about the last time you accomplished a goal. Whether it was to nail a client presentation, write a stellar blog post, train for a half-marathon, or deep clean your house for the first time in months, it feels satisfying to recall these moments.
That’s because visualizing memories of success will activate the reward center in your brain, according to the Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience Journal. When the reward center lights up, it releases dopamine. The pleasure chemical tells your brain to “repeat the actions that led to this accomplishment, so those feelings of pleasure will return.” Just like that, you’re motivated to continue achieving.
Let’s face it, major victories don’t occur all the time. But you can re-create this reward–pleasure–motivation–performance cycle with smaller wins that take place on a consistent basis. According to the same survey mentioned earlier, the average person encounters four small wins a day or 14,060 each year.
This equals thousands of opportunities to celebrate. And celebrating these small wins does not mean you have to minimize or overlook what’s hard. Nor that you aren’t allowed to feel stress, anxiety, and other mental health challenges.
When you choose to celebrate the small wins, you choose to acknowledge those pockets of joyfulness, excitement, and gratification just as much as the hardships. The more aware you become of moments worth celebrating, the more inclined you’ll be to seek them out. This has a cumulative effect on your performance because it puts you in the mindset to strive for triumph and success.
What counts as a small win—and how to spot it
A small win is whatever feels rewarding to you. For example, if you managed not to snooze your alarm this morning and, as a result, had extra time for a latte at your favorite coffee shop before work—that’s a win.
Perhaps you committed to an entire week of social media detox and you did it—that’s win. Maybe you carved out 30 minutes for an at-home yoga session instead of just collapsing in front of the TV—that’s a win!
Finishing all tasks scheduled for today and having enough time to plan out the next day—that’s another win, at work.
That’s the beauty of it, you get to decide. As long as it evokes a sense of accomplishment, it counts as a small win.
So how can you recognize these wins and celebrate them accordingly? Simply learn to pay attention to the moment you’re in. As a recent study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reveals, those who are mindfully connected to the present show higher levels of happiness, which leads to many other positive outcomes too.
Paying attention to small wins and flashes of joy in the present can:
- Nurture curiosity and openness
- Increase goal orientation
- Boost cognitive flexibility
- Improve emotional intelligence
- Promote self-efficacy
- Create a strong sense of purpose
Don’t let each moment pass by unnoticed. Focus on what brings you pleasure and recognize these small wins for what they are—cause for celebration.
How to make the most of small wins
Don’t just recognize small wins—make them work for you. Here are a few actionable ways to celebrate small wins and maximize their impact on your work performance.
1. Keep a record of your accomplishments each day.
Reflect on the small wins from each day. Which goals were you able to cross off the list? Which human interactions made you smile? Which tasks were you most proud of completing?
The more of this joy you find in your day, the more you want to create it.
2. Share your wins with someone who will value them.
Self-validation is important, but sometimes you need external affirmation from another person too. According to a recent poll, verbal affirmation is one of the top two most preferred ways to receive appreciation or recognition in the workplace. Tell someone, whom you trust to see the value in small wins, so they can join you in celebrating.
3. Reward yourself with a special treat.
Pat yourself on the back for a job well done with a reward that reinforces the behavior and motivates you to continue it. This treat doesn’t have to be extravagant—it can be as basic as ordering takeout from your favorite restaurant, opening a bottle of wine, and turning on a movie.
If it makes you feel special, then it will work as a reward.
4. Visualize how to build on this success in the future.
We’ve already touched on the power of visualization for past wins, but you can use this technique to spur yourself toward future victories as well. For each small win you celebrate, picture yourself building on that momentum to reach more goals and attain more success.
And don’t forget that incremental progress can lead to remarkable outcome.
5. Remember to be grateful for all your achievements.
While it’s important to recognize small wins, that’s only half the battle. You also must learn to express gratitude for them. As research in Harvard Business Review points out, a gratitude practice will strengthen your interpersonal connections and influence you to act in prosocial ways that benefit the whole team and foster collaboration. It’s not hard to see how this can elevate workplace dynamics and overall performance metrics.
Such moments can motivate and empower you to keep doing great work and seeing the joy in each opportunity.
Celebrate small wins and reap the performance benefits
If you feel like you’re on the cusp of burnout with no motivation left in the tank, pause for a bit and celebrate the small wins you’re experiencing each day.
This hack can have a profound effect on your mental health, attitude, energy levels, and performance as a whole.
Just remember that productivity starts with a mindset for success. So don’t overlook your own accomplishments, no matter how small. This simple practice can have a powerful ripple effect in life and at work.