Success is a journey not a destination

Celebrating little wins is critical to monitoring and tracking incremental accomplishments and achievements as it allows you to notice and pay attention to the present moment and your journey of achievement which is sometimes more important than the end goal. Celebrating little wins facilitates you in remaining motivated, focused and intentional in working  towards larger goals.

In a study of how everyday life inside organizations can influence a person’s performance, researchers analyzed nearly 12,000 diary entries from 238 employees across seven companies. They found that identifying and  capturing small wins every day enhances an employees motivation.  Recording progress in some way helps to boost self-esteem and concept whilst also contributing toward future successes.

In 1984, Carl Weick discussed how the scale at which we perceive social problems matters, especially regarding innovative action. He reported that small wins lead to big wins and that this has long been established in various fields (e.g., business, athletic training, weight loss, addiction recovery, etc.). More recently, the Progress Principle (Amabile & Kramer, 2011) empirically established that indeed small wins increase productivity, joy, and creativity. Educational research and reform (i.e., policy, teacher training, evaluation, etc.) could benefit from the additional knowledge that a ‘small wins’ perspective can provide. Indeed, teachers regularly see, use, and are motivated by small wins: small wins can gain momentum and spread. Small wins are emotional moments often marked by struggle and/or frustration, thus making success rewarding.

An  exploratory study  identified that  small wins within education contribute to larger wins and successes and these insights are transferable to our daily lives and achievements of 2020. Its important to acknowledge that small wins are  ephemeral and transient moments of meaningful success which contribute to motivating Students and Individuals into reaching for far greater wins and successes. The small wins of 2020 will position us for greater successes in 2021 therefore we should accept and acknowledge the small wins as stepping stones and platforms to success.

Success isn’t final and failure isn’t fatal but it’s the ability to continue that counts ( Winston Churchill)

It is important to acknowledge small wins as when you accomplish something, it activates the reward centre of our brains, allowing us to feel a sense of pride and achievement. The neurochemical  dopamine is released and produces us with feel-good emotions such as happiness and contributes to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction as part of the reward system. This important neurochemical boosts mood, motivation   and attention whilst also helping to  regulate  learning, and emotional responses. Dopamine  helps you to experience the feeling of getting rewarded, and can result in  you  wanting to achieve even more.

How do you celebrate little wins even if your year hasn’t exactly gone your way

  1. Gratitude – develop a mindset of gratitude through gratitude journaling as this  increases our focus on positive experiences, which improves well-being, increases happiness, resilience and compassion. Gratitude journaling can consist of daily paying attention to and comprehensively  recording at least one thing that you are grateful for such as a person in your life, academic, workplace  or business achievement. Journaling prompts may include something you are proud of, someone’s company that you enjoy, doing a novel activity, a valuable lesson learned, an opportunity , the best part of a day’s experience or a challenge that you have overcome. Gratitude Jars can be a useful tool for focusing upon small wins and being able to review them periodically.  Focusing on small wins through fostering gratitude can facilitate an increase in resilience and empathy will position you for success and growth in 2021.
  2. Reward your successes and small wins as this positively  reinforces the behaviours as the chemical dopamine is released when the reward receptor is activated which increases our sense of achievement, productivity, motivation and feelings of happiness and joy. Consequently we are more likely to build upon these small wins and they will be platforms for continued wins and success in 2021. I have observed the benefits of acknowledging and rewarding small wins whilst working with children and Adults that are struggling with motivation and depression. Rewarding small achievements such as having a shower, getting dressed or making a phone call can elevate someone’s mood and motivate them to engage in these behaviours consistently which allows them to works towards returning to previous levels of functioning and sustained behavioural improvements. I have observed these benefits when implementing activity scheduling or graded task assignment with Individuals struggling with motivation which I know many are experiencing in 2020 as a result of being furloughed, lacking a routine and experiencing reduced life satisfaction due to the pandemic and lock down.
  3. Vocalise this and tell people  about your small wins such as friends , colleagues and family members . Talking about your small wins creates an opportunity to receive positive feedback and this will motivate you to continue to acknowledge and share your small wins regardless of the impact . The incremental wins lead to larger wins and will facilitate you in focusing on the positives and successes rather than selectively attending to losses or setbacks which can hijack your resilience and create stagnancy. It’s Important to remember to to celebrate and acknowledge the journey of  success as it doesn’t happen overnight. Dont forget to shout about your wins whether that be on social media, though text message, email, phone call or in person conversation. I do this regularly and I love the positive feedback , its addictive in a good way due to the dopamine release so why not try it out for yourself.

Have a read of Martina’s  recent feature in the Metro exploring the power in celebrating small wins of 2020

Martina Witter

Accredited Cognitive Behaviour Therapist


If you struggle with celebrating your small wins book your 20 minute complimentary consultation to see how we help you to develop a positive mindset and acknowledge your wins and build upon them.


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