Celebrate the Small Wins

Yesterday, I solved a major hurdle in bringing the next phase of 99 Walks to life. It was a problem I’ve been struggling with for five months. I’ve had a dozen calls, spent hours researching, asked a hundred questions and got a hundred different answers. Yesterday, I found a solution.

I should have felt fantastic. I should have taken the afternoon off or, at the very least, taken a long walk in one of my favorite places. But I didn’t. Instead, I checked it off my list and asked myself “what’s next?”

This is what most of us do as we launch from one task to the next, barely stopping to acknowledge the big value of the little wins along the way. Yet our failure to celebrate our small successes is surprisingly self-defeating.

In 2007, researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer conducted a study in which they analyzed nearly 12,000 diary entries made by 238 workers to uncover what it is that inspires people to be more creative and productive at work. As reported in the Harvard Business Review, the results were surprising. The most important motivator wasn’t the pressure to perform or fear of failure. It wasn’t the work environment, incentives, recognition or support. Instead, what proved to be the single most important thing to fuel positive emotions, motivation and forward momentum was whether or not the workers felt like they were “making progress in meaningful work.” The researchers discovered that “the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.” They dubbed it the “progress principle” and the lesson is clear: in order to stay motivated, we need to recognize and celebrate our forward momentum. The small steps. The little wins.

We don’t do this enough. Too often, we are so focused on our larger goals that the small milestones feel inconsequential and not worthy of celebration.

But they are. If our goals are big, the journey to achieving them will be long. If we postpone our sense of joy and our feeling of accomplishment, if we focus only on what is left to accomplish without savoring what we have accomplished, we rob ourselves of much of the fun along the way as well as of one of our most powerful motivators.

So make a decision, today, that you are going to recognize and celebrate the small wins that represent forward momentum. Rejoice in the one-mile walk that you took even when you didn’t feel like it. Celebrate getting through a full day without a chocolate chip cookie, yelling at your kids or spending more than 30 minutes browsing Instagram. Resist the urge to think “it’s only one day” or “I have so much more to do” or “what’s next” and take a moment to relish your accomplishments.