As humans, we tend to set goals throughout our entire lives and dedicate most of our time trying to achieve them. That gives us purpose and motivation to strive forward. Yet, it can have detrimental consequences to our mental health, activating stress indicators that come as a byproduct of pushing ourselves too hard towards massive goals.
As psychologist Karl Weick suggests in his article “Small Wins,” we should make it an everyday practice to focus our attention towards the positive by counting each small win we make. By taking the Alcoholics Anonymous as an example, he suggests that the principle works due to the change in perspective. Instead of focusing on overwhelming and complex goals, participants are encouraged to choose small, achievable daily actions:
The impossibility of lifetime abstinence is scaled down to the more workable task of not taking a drink for the next 24 hours, drastically reducing the size of a win necessary to maintain sobriety.
By celebrating these small, daily wins, participants feel more confident and motivated to achieve the same satisfactory feeling the next day, and so the behavior gains momentum leading to an almost effortless achievement of the ultimate goal.
The Dangers of Dreaming Big
We are encouraged on a daily basis to “dream big” and set our bars high if we want to achieve great things. This phrase is an inescapable part of every motivational speech by almost every successful person who ever lived. There is nothing wrong in the saying itself, yet it tends to be misinterpreted by us, the regular mortals who are fascinated by fairy tale stories of dreams that come true to those who are brave enough to wish and focus on the ultimate goal.
For every great achievement ever made, there have been a million of small wins and breakthroughs that gradually led there, and this is something many people tend to overlook when working on achieving their goals. If we forget to appreciate the small wins we regularly make, the following negative consequences will appear:
- Our sense of self-worth can be worsened
- We risk feeling bad about ourselves and feeling incompetent when we constantly compare present state to our final goals, which can only lessen our chances of making progress
- We are prone to the feeling of failure and depression when our goals can’t be achieved
- The increased amount of stress we have to cope with when we work on getting it all and now is counterproductive, as it blocks our productivity and weakens our physical health
Once we change the perspective from big to small and break our final goal into smaller, achievable chunks, we take the pressure off and avoid the risks to our health. By focusing on everyday progress, we automatically feel much more motivated, which causes our brain to get hooked on the positive rush and the feeling of accomplishment striving to achieve more. Understanding the importance of small wins and knowing how to apply it to your everyday life will cause tremendous benefits to your goal achieving and your overall health.
Here is the 4-step process you can take to develop the habit of celebrating small wins:
Step 1: Start small
First of all, you need to write down your final goal, and forget about it. It sounds silly, but this will help you focus on the fragments ahead of you, which is the only way to get things done. Instead of wasting energy on planning months ahead, focus on the next day’s challenges only. Be here and now and only think one step ahead in order to move forward. This will give you the constant sense of accomplishment, which will motivate you to move forward and boost your self-esteem.
Step 2: Reflect often
Every once in a while, take some time to reflect on your progress. So often we focus on goals yet to be accomplished and forget about the progress that has already taken place. This means comparing yourself — with yourself. For example, if your goal is to lose certain amount of weight, instead of beating yourself up for not getting there yet, you should compare some older photos of yourself to the new ones. By doing so, you will get the visual proof of your progress which serves as great inspiration for future advances and inspires positive emotions.
Step 3: Reward yourself
From early childhood, we get familiar with the achievement — reward formula which makes us consider it a norm in each such situation. Therefore, if you achieve certain success, no matter how big or small, your mind expects that you provide yourself with an adequate prize. If the reward doesn’t come, your motivational fuel gets drained, making your efforts futile. So, next time when you catch yourself single-mindedly chasing a complex goal without appreciating the small wins, give yourself a break and treat yourself to a movie, favorite sweet, or a short trip with your friends.
Step 4: Enjoy the process
Maybe the most important element to keep in mind in order to maintain mental strength in a competitive and goal-oriented world is to remind yourself to be content with yourself and the goals achieved. Remember to have fun and not take yourself too seriously. Enjoy experimenting and growing. By appreciating the process and the lessons learned, you will be able to avoid the stress and negative emotions, even if you don’t achieve the ultimate goal.