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Goal Getting

How to Celebrate Small Wins to Achieve Big Goals

Written by Leon Ho
Founder & CEO of Lifehack
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We all want to be successful in our goals but along the journey to reaching our big and ambitious goals, we can feel demotivated sometimes. This is why celebrating small wins along the way is so important in giving us motivation to push through difficulties and move forward.

So what is the secret of highly successful people achieving their goals. Most of it comes down to the way you view the goals and the challenges put in front of you.

What Are Small Wins?

Small wins are anything you accomplish that aligns with your intentions. They can be related to work, personal or professional relationships, habit changes, and/or finances. Small wins can be easy to gloss over, especially if you’ve been raised on a diet of self-criticism and perfectionism.

Take Thomas Edison, the American businessman who invented the lightbulb as an example. It took Edison almost 10,000 attempts to create a lightbulb—that’s a huge amount of “failures” before finally finding success. But in response to his repeated failures he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

In other words, he took his failures and turned them into successes because his perspective was focused on achieving rather than failing. It’s quite clear he had a mindset and positive perspective that allowed him to celebrate those small steps and see them as achievements.

Although we easily feel negative about failing, we almost never celebrate our successes, and this is where the magic lies.


Appreciation Is Key

Appreciation can sometimes be played down in life, and we often forget to appreciate what we’ve done and what we have. Appreciating our small wins and the small steps we take can be the difference between failing and succeeding.

Lack of appreciation and gratitude can lead us down the slippery slope of not being able to see the importance of our small wins. Celebrating the small stuff is us acknowledging that we are well on our way to achievement. In fact, we are achieving all the time, and it’s a myth that we are only successful once we’ve reached that elusive goal.

Creating Successful Habits

Successful habits equal success. We all know creating and changing habits can be hard as our minds find it difficult to adapt to new routines, but acknowledging and celebrating the small wins are how you help yourself establish the habits you need and to keep you going.

Our brains need positive feedback, so allowing yourself to be rewarded will develop an “addiction to progress” that will cause your brain to want to carry on to the next steps.

The secret to a successful habit is understanding the importance of the present moment and taking the time to celebrate small wins as they come. We tend to take the present moment for granted – it seems insignificant, and we believe the little things we do in the moment aren’t changing us.

You must invest in the small things over a long period of time and understand that you only have the moment you are in. It is the combination of moments over time that achieve the big things.


For example, say you want to learn a whole new subject. Reading 10 pages of a book today on this new subject will not significantly raise your knowledge, and maybe not even 10 pages tomorrow and 10 pages the next day. However, it’s the combination of all these moments of reading 10 pages a day that will eventually allow you to fully learn the new subject.

In other words, reading those 10 pages a day may seem insignificant in the moment, but they are all important in the steps towards achieving your goal and learning how to focus.

Why Should You Celebrate Small Victories?

The key to success is realizing that our big goals aren’t going to happen overnight, in the next week or maybe even the next year, but this is okay. We tend to focus on the end goals rather than the small and significant steps we take to get us there.

This is why it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate small wins. The problem with not doing this is we end up diminishing our motivation, and motivation is what keeps us on the right path and gives us the strength to soldier on to the top of the mountain.

A lack of motivation usually arises when we are unsure of how far away from our goals we are. We sometimes blindly believe that the goal is still so far away when it could actually be just around the corner, something we will never know if we give up.

It’s, therefore, important to make sure you celebrate your small goals along the way. Acknowledging small wins sparks the reward circuits of our brains and releases chemicals that give us a feeling of pride and a happiness factor, making us want to go further towards our next achievement.


The reasons for celebrating small wins are:

Boost Your Energy

When energy is low, it can be challenging to accomplish anything. When you celebrate your small victories, you will give yourself little hits of energy that will add up over time.

Once you start experiencing more energy, you might notice feeling more motivated to accomplish all those items—large and small—on your “to do” list. This becomes a positive feedback loop. You accomplish something, celebrate, increase your energy to accomplish more, and repeat. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that celebrating the small victories leads you to accomplish even bigger ones.

Keep Track of Your Progress

In a study Teresa Amabile, from the Harvard Business School, and Steven Kramer looked at nearly 12,000 diary entries from 238 employees in seven companies and found what she refers to as “The progress principle”:[1]

“Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. … everyday progress—even a small win—can make all the difference in how [people] feel and perform.”

Acknowledging small wins helps you keep track of how far you’ve come.

Behavioral changes can be some of the biggest challenges we undertake.[2] It can be easy to fall into the “all or nothing” trap.

For instance, a lot of people feel that if they can’t achieve a behavioral change—like quitting drinking—the first time they try, then they might as well give up.

Positive reinforcement through celebrating small wins helps you get back on track after taking a temporary detour. “I only had 1 drink today” might be the small win that would lead you to only having it once a week.


Positive Emotions

According to a Jungian psychologist, Dr. James Hollis, our quest for happiness is actually not the focus of our lives. Instead, it would be in our best interest to design our lives around finding meaning.[3]

So, why is happiness mentioned in almost every single article about celebrating small victories, including this one? Because it’s what we want. As it turns out, the path to what we want is not a direct one.

According to Hollis, joy and happiness are not goals in themselves, but they are the by-product of those moments when we are doing what is really right for us.[4]

Happiness is a by-product! When we are fully engaged in our lives, our confidence runs higher, our actions match our intentions, our love for ourselves grows, and we experience a life filled  with meaning. So, if you want to experience happiness, you must find ways to incorporate meaning into your life. Celebrating your little wins can be a catalyst for finding this meaning.

To put it another way, if you are not yet willing to give up pursuing happiness, try viewing happiness as something you practice.[5] And if you want a proven way to engage with that practice, try celebrating all of your small victories.

How to Celebrate Small Wins

When we focus too much on the end goal, it can seem too far away to get to. Try thinking of it not as climbing a huge mountain, but descending one with perhaps a few nice restaurants (rewards) to stop off at and relax on the way down. Enjoying your incremental progress in this way will make long-term goals feel easier to achieve in the long run. With all this in mind, here’s how to harness the power of small wins.

1. Break Large Goals Down Into Smaller Goals

You don’t want to focus on the bigger picture, as tempting as that can be. Make sure you create small, achievable goals that will allow you to see your progress more clearly, as these small successes will help you feel good with each little step.

When faced with a large goal, our minds can slip into the habit of procrastination. Smaller goals can help avoid this.


2. Reward Yourself

Think about what you enjoy the most, and do this each time you complete a step. This could be anything from treating yourself to your favorite coffee or even taking a trip somewhere. Having something to look forward to trains the brain into creating motivation.

You can learn more about how to hack your brain’s reward system here.

3. Track Your Progress

Writing down or tracking your progress will remind you of how far you’ve come in achieving your goal. Sometimes, we can give up because we are unaware of how close we are to success and forget how much we’ve done. Write down all the small wins, as seeing them written down can be a reward in itself.

Remember, it is the small wins we achieve that need to be acknowledged and appreciated for what they are. Motivation is a huge factor of whether or not we succeed, and being able to reward ourselves and celebrate small wins is the key.


The Bottom Line

Learning how to celebrate small wins is key if you want to keep up your motivation while pursuing your goals. Each time you mark off a milestone, find a way to celebrate, whether it’s adding a star to that day on your calendar, treating yourself to a special meal, or going out with a friend. Goals are hard work, and you deserve a treat as you work toward them.


Don't have time for the full article? Read this.

How to Celebrate Small Wins to Achieve Big Goals

Being able to reward ourselves and celebrate small wins is the key to ourmotivation.

Celebrating small victories gives you an energy booster to accomplish more small goals.

Celebrating our progress along the way provides us with the motivation to push through the challenges we face and continue moving forward.

Celebrating small wins leads to personal and professional growth since people feel good about their accomplishments.

Small victories should be celebrated every time when a small goal or milestone is achieved.

Celebrate every small win by rewarding yourself with something you enjoy to motivate your brain.

Continue to keep track of your progress so you are aware whether you have achieved any goals.

Featured photo credit: Mert Guller via unsplash.com


[1]Harvard Business Review: The Power of Small Wins
[2]Harvard Health Publishing: Why Behavior Change Is Hard – and Why You Should Keep Trying
[3]Jung Society of Washington: It’s Not About Happiness
[4]Jung Society of Washington: It’s Not About Happiness
[5]Psychology Today: Happiness is a Practice, Not a Destination
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