Most of us have a tendency to go through life noticing our mistakes. They often stand out to us like sore thumbs and they can be a cause for regret and gloom. What we are likely not to pay too much attention to are the small goals that we accomplish. When we do achieve successes we tend to gloss over them and not give ourselves time to feel good about them.
What would happen, however, if you were to write down these tiny achievements every day for a week?
In a recent 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”.
For approximately 15 years Amabile and Kramer have looks at the psychological experiences and their performance in organizations. They found that a person’s inner work life was a crucial determiner of an individual’s emotions, motivations and perceptions.
To better understand the inner work life of individuals they asked members of project teams to respond to an e-mail survey at the end of each day, for a four-month period. The survey asked participants about their: “emotions and moods, motivation levels, and perceptions of the work environment that day, as well as what work they did and what events stood out in their minds.”
Twenty-six project teams from seven companies participated. Overall there were 238 individuals who formed the study and they created nearly 12,000 diary entries.
As Amabile and Kramer write:
“…we do know, from reading thousands of diary entries, that more-positive perceptions, a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, happiness, and even elation often followed progress. Here’s a typical post-progress entry, from a programmer: “I smashed that bug that’s been frustrating me for almost a calendar week. That may not be an event to you, but I live a very drab life, so I’m all hyped”.”
The progress principle described
“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.”
Amabile and Kramer stress that progress is not only about long-term goals and major breakthroughs. Although these events can be very positive they tend to happen only occasionally. The small things we achieve on a daily basis can also provide us with a sense of progress.
As they write: “even small wins can boost inner work life tremendously. Many of the progress events our research participants reported represented only minor steps forward. Yet they often evoked outsize positive reactions.”
What Recording Small Wins Does To Our Brains
Amabile and Kramer explain how the practice of recording our progress helps us appreciate our small wins, which, in turn, can boost our sense of confidence. This confidence can then be leveraged to help us become more competent and achieve future, larger successes.
Any accomplishment, no matter how small, activates the reward circuitry of our brains. When this pathway is opened some key chemicals are released that give us a feeling of achievement and pride. In particular, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released which energizes us and gives us a feel-good aura. This chemical enables us not only to get that sweet feeling of reward but also motivates us to take action and repeat what we did to trigger its release in the first place.
By writing down you daily wins you can become more aware of your progress. A better experience of your progress may increase your: motivation; perception; sense of accomplishment; and feeling of happiness. So why not start today? Buy yourself a diary or downloading some apps and start making notes of your small achievements!