Why You Must Celebrate Small Achievements To Make Big Progress

Woman celebrating a win with fist bump in the air

Whether you’re trying to develop a new habit or make headway on a major project, celebrating your small achievements can make a huge difference to your motivation. 

Making time in your day to notice and acknowledge your wins, no matter how tiny they are, helps you feel happier and less frustrated because you can see that you’ve made progress.

“Success is a series of small wins”

– Jamie Tardy (author of The Eventual Millionnaire)

Why does celebrating the small wins matter so much?

Research into how daily life within seven different companies affected employees’ motivation and performance reveals that the little things make all the difference. 

As Amabile and Kramer point out, “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.”

This is true outside of a formal work context, too.

Team of office workers hi-fiving to celebrate small achievments
Success is motivating

Stop beating yourself up!

I’m sure you’ve had days where you’ve felt frustrated about not getting anywhere, despite having been busy all day. I know I have!

Instead of beating yourself up and focusing on what you didn’t get done, the trick is to actively look for what you did achieve, no matter how tiny.

Even replying to an email can count as progress.

Make a mental note of what you got done at various points during the day, for example whenever you take a break. You might even like to make a list. Doing so will make you feel more confident and capable both now and in the future.

This is even more important during stressful and challenging times, when it’s all too easy to get bogged down in negative feelings.

“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”

Oprah Winfrey

Celebrating achievements doesn’t always come easily

While some people are naturally really good at celebrating, it doesn’t come easily to everyone, myself included.

Until I discovered the power of celebration, I wouldn’t even make a fuss about my birthday if I could get away with it, let alone seemingly unimportant things like clearing my email inbox or submitting a piece of client work ahead of deadline.

When I completed a project, instead of taking the time to acknowledge all that I had achieved, I would leap straight into the next thing without stopping to catch my breath. I’ve now learned to stop and feel a sense of pride.

How pride in your achievements can help you make progress faster

The right kind of pride is one of the 10 positive emotions identified in Positive Psychology, and one worth cultivating.

While you may have been taught that pride is a sin, or that bragging is unattractive, science has proven that you’ll feel a lot better about yourself if you take time to recognise the amazing things you’ve done in your life.

This is also true for your not so staggering feats.

Put simply, feeling good about the result of an action, even if it wasn’t quite what we had hoped, leads to more action. This in turn leads to better results.

The opposite is also true. When we fail to make time to celebrate or feel good about our results, it’s easy to lose confidence and motivation. We end up taking less action so reaching our goals becomes harder.

For example, if I want to start a new habit of running and decide to run for 30 minutes 3 times a week but only manage two 30-minute sessions in my first week, I should be celebrating the fact that I did 60 minutes more running than I’ve ever done before instead of feeling bad about not doing that third workout!

Now that I know why it’s important to acknowledge the little wins, I’m forever looking for opportunities and novel ways to celebrate them.

Make room for milestones in your longer-term projects and goals

When you’re working on a big project that is going to take months and many phases to complete, whether that’s improving your own physical and mental well-being, renovating your home or a complex project for an important client, having plenty of milestones along the way is essential to help you stay focused and reach your end goal.

I walked the Camino de Santiago pilgrim trail through Portugal to Santiago de Compostela a few years back and it really did help, when I was footsore and weary, to see the distances on each actual milestone getting smaller each time.

Also knowing where I was due to spend the night, having broken the 240-kilometre hike into manageable daily chunks, enabled me to dig into my reserves of energy to reach the comfortable bed that was waiting for me at my destination.

I made a point of celebrating the end of each walking day with a cake or a cold beer.

Stay motivated with bite-sized chunks

You need to feel as though you are making progress in order to stay motivated so break down your mammoth endeavours into bite-sized chunks to stay on track.

Consider what you can realistically expect to get done within a week or month and what that bit of success looks like, e.g. shedding 4 pounds, doing yoga twice a week for a whole month, choosing a logo for a new business, sending out a newsletter or getting agreement from a key person.

Realistic is the key word here. Take into account your current situation, plus whatever is coming up for you in the next month or so and take external factors into consideration before deciding on your milestones.

Flexibility is also important. Unexpected events can knock you off course slightly but that doesn’t mean you have to abandon your goal if you don’t hit a milestone in the timeframe you anticipated.

Any progress you have made towards it is worthy of recognition and respect. So celebrate what you did do and use that excitement to build up your enthusiasm for continuing your journey towards whatever your desired final outcome might be.

This might require a shift in mindset, especially if you’re prone to negative self-talk when things don’t quite go according to plan. Instead of telling yourself that you’re a failure, focus on the progress you have made and feel good about it. You are already closer to your goal because of your actions.

If you weren’t able to progress as much as you had hoped, reflect on why this was. What challenged you? What can you learn from this? Do you need to change anything to set yourself up for success going forward?

What counts as a small win?

Your little achievements can literally be anything.

If you’ve been having a really tough time, getting out of bed or having a shower could be well worth celebrating.

If you’re trying to change your eating habits, eating a healthy meal instead of choosing junk food or drinking 2 litres of water in a day would count.

On the work front, clearing my inbox is a definite win for me, as is finally sending an email that I’ve been putting off for whatever reason.

How to celebrate your wins

There are many ways in which you can give yourself a pat on the back. These range from taking a moment to feel and share your joy and satisfaction to rewarding yourself with something enjoyable.

See this article for 36 ways to celebrate your small achievments

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