In the business world, employers are always looking for ways to keep their employees motivated and engaged for a more productive work environment. The most popular technique is the small-wins approach, popularized by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer in their work on progress theory.
I was always aware of this concept, having read about it in various self-help books to get myself out of a bad place and into a healthy state of mind.
When you move out of your parent’s house, and are looking for your place in the world, an obnoxious load of anxiety can settle in your mind: self-doubt, fear of letting people down, finding no point in doing basic things, and the most annoying one for me: questioning whether you deserve any happy moment you experience.
This is how I felt only a few months ago, and it is safe to say I wasn’t in a good place at all. Then came my first small win, and it felt hopeful and satisfyingly good. I instantly knew that it was through this feeling that I would get myself into a positive state.
The Power Little Wins Can Have on Your Mind
“The simple practice of recording your progress helps you to appreciate your small wins, which in turn boosts your sense of confidence. Why? Any accomplishment, no matter how small, releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which boosts your mood, motivation, and attention,” say authors Lori Rothstein and Denise Stromme.
The striatum is a region of the brain associated with reward learning and processing. This part of the brain links motivation to movement and behavior.
When something is rewarding, your brain wants to replicate that feeling. There is a supernatural power to achieving something, no matter how small or insignificant.
Jordan Peterson, PhD, described this feeling in the first chapter of his book 12 Rules For Life, where he compares the posture of lobsters who always win (best territory, best females) versus those on the losing side of the battle.
The lobsters who win are most likely to win again and again. Peterson believes the same is true for humans. This is because the power these wins have on your posture, which in turn affects the physiology of the brain and your mood and confidence, is immense.
After reading this, I decided to finally act on it. I attempted to unlock my first win with a very small gesture: Call my family.
How It Helped Me
If you ever moved out and doubted every choice you made, then you know that calling your family is no easy task. It may even sound silly, but I decided to give it a try.
And it went well!
My family was happy that I called them first, and I felt good about how I made them feel. That’s all it took to start that meaningful chain.
I started integrating small tasks into my days: making my bed, reading more, calling my friends and family. The list would then get bigger: writing a list of things I’m grateful for, short YouTube learning videos, cold plunging. Eventually, these wins became daily achievements, which turned into a routine.
In my long and painful experience with anxiety and depression, I always knew that being in a routine was the one thing that seemed to ease everything up. The tricky part was sticking to the routine every day. But when filled with small, achievable wins, routine becomes easier, almost desirable.
My past routines were filled with tasks that felt important and meaningful but were pushed on me by either social media or other people’s expectations and opinions. This one was different. It was filled with things I wanted to do and, most importantly, that were easy for me.
And it became something I did regularly. Sure, my self-doubt and anxiety did not go away—it’s never as easy as that. But I finally had something of value going on in my life: I was a little more organized, and I felt proud about it.
Even on those days when I didn’t feel like completing my routine, doubting everything I did, and wondering how these “small wins” were going to make those recurring feelings go away, and how it’s only a matter of time before this fantasy goes away and I relapsed—I simply gathered the determination to do them anyway.
And it turned out to be a great decision.
Protect These Achievements at All Costs
To this day, I practice these routines, and they have evolved. I am proud of this achievement. The first hopeful feeling when I first started the journey of small wins is something I can’t forget.
I thought long and hard about whether to call my parents, finally deciding to do it just to feel that I achieved something. I valued the feeling of reward so much that I decided to keep my routines going for as long as possible.
On the days when I felt like breaking the routine, I forced myself to keep at it. I would simply say: “today is not the day for a relapse.”
I placed all my focus on these wins. It sometimes took everything I had to keep the chain alive. It became part of my identity. In a world where people are valued for their big achievements, I knew my daily small achievements were no match, but they were just as valuable to me.
I finally understood the value of my small wins when I was on the plane back to my parents’ house. I was thinking about everything I did during my absence, and the first thing that came to mind was not whether I made the right decision to leave or the days when I would overthink everything and wonder why I was doing all of this. It was a feeling of unmatched pride in everything I have accomplished.
Because small wins, over time, become big wins.
My goal in writing this article is to provide an alternative for people who experience mental health problems. I have been there (and still am), and I know sometimes it might feel hopeless and pointless. And by miracle, I saw a light. But that doesn’t happen for everybody.
In Poland, where I lived, I would tell myself that seeking help from a professional was out of the question. At first, I assumed they didn’t speak English. Then I told myself, “I don’t need it.” I guess I was raised in an environment where seeking help was considered an admission of defeat, which is the biggest lie I have ever told myself.
The small-wins approach is simply a way, and it worked for me, and I sincerely hope it does for you, too.
Although I am not close to being an expert on the matter, I do believe that there is a light for everyone. You simply need to find it. I will always recommend seeking professional help to find your way to this light. I consider it the biggest win that beats all others.
About the Author: Rayen Monzer is a soccer player and passionate health writer who aims to inspire people to live their best lives physically, mentally, and spiritually. He is the owner of Ray’s Lifestyle Field, a blog about improving one’s health through physical exercise and activities.
Lori Rothstein and Denise Stromme. (n.d.). Celebrate the small stuff. Positive Psychology | UMN Extension. https://extension.umn.edu/two-you-video-series/celebrate-small-stuff
Peterson, J. B., Sciver, V. E., & Doidge, N. (2020). 12 rules for Life: An antidote to chaos. Vintage Canada.
This article was reviewed by psychologist Fouad Monzer.
The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.
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