When you are plowing through your to-do list, orchestrating the various demands of life, it’s likely that you will overlook what could be a major source of daily happiness: Your wins, your accomplishments, the things on your list (or off) that you have actually managed to get done. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, there is power in small wins, and it’s the fulfillment that comes from making progress on meaningful goals.
Each day you experience wins, both major and minor, but you could be moving too fast (or you are too hard on yourself) to notice. Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk acknowledges he has a hard time celebrating wins because he “loves the climb.” But he says there is danger in ignoring both incremental wins and wins of any size. To always be focused on “what's next?” can deplete you. Once you make an effort to start noting and celebrating your wins, it can increase your sense of self-worth and your happiness. Plus, some people are motivated by celebrating stepping stones of progress.
Ask yourself if you gloss over any of these achievements without stopping to take notice:
1. You exercised
It’s 3 p.m. and you’re wondering where your day went. You are stressed because you still have so much more to do. While all that might be true, are you skating over the workout you got done early in the day? Exercise has too many benefits to list here, but if you did it today, that’s a win. Count it. Celebrate it. Oh, and don’t make the mistake of downplaying your heart-healthy time. If you walked, don’t beat yourself up for not jogging. Whatever exercise you completed, it’s on the board. Don’t devalue it with negative thinking.
2. You tackled a work project
Most jobs involve a list of work to-do's or big projects that are not possible to complete in one day, so why do so many of us make ourselves feel bad when we don’t conquer everything by the time we go home? In her book Thrive, Ariana Huffington writes, “We often use deadlines—real and imaginary—to imprison ourselves.” By switching your focus from the undone to the done you can celebrate the completion of small tasks on the way to completing a bigger project.
3. You had a touching conversation with your child
You know the moment when your child says something that just makes you melt? Soak up those moments of connection. We know that playing another round of Jenga or giving your kids a bath might not instantly resonate with you as productive time, but spending quality time with your kiddos is a big win. While you don’t need anyone telling you that time with your kids is important, when was the last time you gave yourself credit for your care and devotion?
4. You ate a healthy breakfast
Green smoothie? Steel-cut oatmeal? Scrambled eggs? That's a win! There’s nothing like getting a small triumph in the first hours of your day. Notice and celebrate your healthy choice.
5. You said “No”
If you said “No” to something you didn’t want to do or something that wasn’t congruent with who you are or how you want to spend your time, score one for your wins! Saying “No” can be a big deal when it’s an expression of our boundaries and values. Go ahead and feel triumphant over what you turned down.
6. You accomplished a large or difficult project
Say you cleaned out your garage or finished creating a huge spreadsheet at work, but instead of taking a moment to celebrate, your mind quickly moved on to the rest of the projects that await you. Don’t determine your self-worth by what’s left on your list. (Chances are you will always have a long to-do list. Most people do.) Take notice of how your hard work resulted in a clean and organized garage or a robust and useful spreadsheet and do a little happy dance before moving on to the next project.
7. You completed a bunch of small autopilot tasks
When you grocery shop, water the plants, change the bed sheets, wash the car and clean the house...take a minute to stop and think about all these tasks you complete week in and week out. You may think of it as drudge work or you may find joy, but either way, take pride in the fact that you are such a consistently productive human being who does so many essential services for your family and yourself.
8. You faced a fear
If you did something that scares you—whether big or small—make sure your mental chatter pauses long enough to give you some celebratory love. Maybe you are shy and went to a networking event. You pursued a new business opportunity. Maybe you successfully quieted your mind after an anxious moment. All of these success stories might not be noticeable to others, but they are clearly wins for you. Savor and celebrate.
9. You take time to do the things you love
If you are aligning your life with your values—the things you care about most—that’s a big win. Devoting some of your time to your favorite activities and experiences means you are living authentically and are more likely to be happy. Observe how your choices are creating a life you love and take time to be grateful for the role you play in making your incredible life happen.
10. You took stock of your accomplishments
One way to celebrate your wins is to keep track of them and even give yourself some rewards. For example, use a monthly calendar to note the days when you worked out and schedule a massage as a reward. Applaud yourself for writing another chapter of your novel by treating yourself to lunch at a favorite cafe. Prime your environment for success. Play a favorite song or put a smiley-face emoji in your phone calendar when you have a yogurt for a snack instead of a chocolate chip cookie. (No, we're not in pre-school, but some behavior modifications work for 40-year-olds as well as 4-year-olds.) Documenting your wins gives you visible proof of what you've accomplished so that you are more likely to keep at it. It also helps silence that inner critic who tells you that you are never doing enough.
If you are married to productivity, tough on yourself or future-focused, you might easily skip right past some of your small wins. It’s important to catch more of your wins because making progress on your goals fuels a sense of happiness and makes life so much more enjoyable. You're doing great—give yourself a pat on the back. Celebrate your wins! (Just not always on social media.)
Sandra Bienkowski is a contributing editor for Live Happy.