SUMMARY POINTS

  • Celebrating small wins improves happiness and productivity
  • Recognizing small wins triggers your brain to produce dopamine
  • Create an upward cycle of positivity with constant small wins 
It’s the same thing day-in and day-out at work.

The emails keep piling up, and the tasks, requests and to-do’s come in faster than you can get them done.

Your schedule is often filled with back-to-back meetings and conference calls with cross-functional teams. You’d be lucky to have a solid hour or two just for yourself to do the real work that you need to do.

You’re so heads down in all of your work that you rarely come up for air.

It gets even crazier when the shit hits the fan with emergency requests from up top.

During these times, all you’re doing is putting out fires all day at work.

Your workload ebbs and flows between just keeping up and running around with your hair on fire.

You’re checking things off your to-do list daily and executing critical tasks but you never feel you’re making any progress.

You feel like a hamster on a wheel burning all this energy and not getting anywhere. You’re constantly jumping from one task to another without even taking a little breather.

Truth is, you accomplish a lot on an average day. But since you don’t celebrate your efforts, every day is one huge drag. There’s no sense of achievement or fulfillment and you don’t feel motivated to keep doing it.

You get hung up on even the tiniest mistake and the asshole in your head keeps reminding you about it for days.

But you never apply the same focus to your victories. Since they barely register in your mind, it’s super hard to feel motivated or take pleasure in your work.

Making a big deal of your small victories is one of the best ways to start turning this shitty situation around.

It’s time to start recognizing your small wins and using them to your advantage.

That way, you don’t have to wait for the end of a big project to feel satisfied and proud of your efforts and you keep the good vibes going.

This is the "small wins principle" - lots of little victories that result in bigger results later on. 

Why It’s Important To Celebrate Small Wins

Celebrating small wins makes it a whole lot easier to feel like you’re making progress. And more simply, just to feel good about yourself.

It’s not just your productivity levels that can surge. It also brings tons of benefits for your mood and well-being too.

Research shows people are happier and more motivated to succeed if they feel proud of their work.

Celebrating small wins brings a little bit of happiness and positivity in life. It’s also one of the best ways to trigger happiness at work.

Plus, it’s great for managing work stress and maintaining a healthier work-life balance.

Often, we're so busy being wrapped up with and focused only on big achievements that we overlook the smaller ones and assume we haven't done anything worth celebrating.

Focusing on smaller wins switches this up and the science behind it makes it more likely that you'll keep on reaping the benefits.

Here's why.

When you nail a small win, say like fixing an Excel formula error or getting that alignment fixed on Powerpoint, you can feel good about what you’ve achieved. It triggers the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, the feel-good hormone.

You can quickly get addicted to the “hit” this brings, which motivates you to make it happen again.

And guess who has this psychological addiction perfected?

Social media.

It’s the Tweets, Instagrams, Likes, etc. Your scrolling efforts and clicks, bring you the visual rewards instantly. And, then the cycle repeats itself.

These are also the same reward pathways that come into play for drug addicts to keep them hooked.

Put more simply, this mental action-reward cycle works every time.

Action → Result → Feel good → More action → More result

But, when there’s no reward, the momentum just dies down.

Action → Result → No celebration, no good feeling → Less action → Fewer results

When you apply this same principle to celebrating small wins at work, you get hooked on mini dopamine hits of happiness.

You get addicted to these micro-moments of joy which in turn makes you want to do it again. So, you seek out more opportunities to spot little wins throughout the day which feeds back into stimulating more joy.

This creates an upward cycle of happiness through self-recognition of small wins and also leads you to getting in the zone at work, which supercharges your productivity.

This research from the Harvard Business School looked at almost 12,000 diary entries from over 238 employees across 7 companies to track their performance.

The results were compelling.

Writing down small wins helped people to really recognize their efforts and process them, which in turn, increased their creativity and confidence in their work.

It all goes back to the feel-good dopamine happiness cycle we mentioned above.

Celebrating small wins also helps your brain to move away from negativity bias.

Our brains are pre-programmed for negativity. It’s a survival mechanism that goes way back to our caveman days of assuming that anything and everything could potentially kill us.

We’re all hard-wired to zero in on this and bypass positive things.

This study from Ohio State University is perfect for demonstrating this.

Researchers showed people images that were likely to evoke positive feelings and followed it up with pictures that would encourage negative feelings. Electrical activity in the brain was recorded to show the level of reaction.

Guess which one provoked the strongest reaction?

Yep, you guessed it. The negative images had a much bigger effect on brain activity than the positive ones.

This negativity bias was great for our ancestors. It helped them to become fine-tuned to threats in their environment and increase their odds of staying alive.

But these days, it only makes you less likely to embrace small wins (and other positive parts of your life) and only dwell on the bad stuff.

Check out this 4-minute video from Robin Sharma with a few tips for training your brain to focus on the good things, rather than everything that didn’t work out.

VIDEO: The Small-Win Principle
YOUTUBE: Robin Sharma
LENGTH: 4:27
Summary points:
  • Your brain naturally wants to focus on negative
  • Recognize 3 small wins every day to retrain your brain
  • Celebrate progress, not perfection, to keep the good vibes going

Tips On Celebrating Small Wins At Work

Embracing small wins is a trained habit. And like all habits, it’s something you can learn. But, it takes practice and persistence.

It can feel weird at first, especially if you’re used to only celebrating big wins.

The key thing is to remember why you’re doing it.

You’re not just embracing the progress you’ve made. You’re also recognizing the fact you’re doing great in changing your habits. And you’re chasing the dopamine hit that it brings and the success that’s much more likely to occur when these smaller victories add up to bigger ones.

Switching up your mindset on small wins means they can quickly become second nature at work with a few easy shifts.

This is “sweating the small stuff” but not in terms of perfection, but in terms of highlighting and capturing the tiny wins.

Here’s how to make it happen. 

1) Score Small Quick Wins Early 

There’s nothing more motivating than getting a quick boost of confidence from doing something well or getting something done.

Take a look at all of your tasks for the day. Look for just one thing that you can do quickly and easily in 2 minutes or less.

It could be replying to one email where you know the answer and can reply quickly.

It could be listening to a voicemail.

It could be scheduling that one call or meeting.

Whatever it is, get that one small priority task done and then, stop for a few seconds and give yourself a mental high-five.

Do this right now and then, come back here.

Seriously.





...

Feels good right?

This little thing is what will get the momentum going. Making it a priority gives you the confidence and motivation to tackle the rest of your workload.

This tip is one that productivity guru, David Allen recommends in the Two Minute Rule.

The idea is super simple: anything that can be done in 2 minutes or less is a great place to start making progress and get the momentum going.

Plus, it helps start the day with a dopamine hit to spark some energy and increase productivity.

2) Keep Small Wins Small

Small wins don’t have to be spectacular. Anything goes, no matter how small. It all counts as progress.

Finishing a spell-check.

Resizing the piece of clipart.

Scanning the article.

Cleaning up the font formats.

Writing up a summary.

Achieving your expectations is vital when you’re celebrating small wins.

If you set the bar too high, it’s easy to feel like you’re still failing, purely because you’re not appreciating the power of even a super small win.

Shifting how you see your results is massive for recognizing your progress and turning things around.

Since your brain likes to default to finding negatives, it can take a bit of time to train your mind to find and embrace positives. This is where jumping on the tiniest of small wins can be a game-changer. 

3) Create A "Jar Of Awesome” For Your Desk

It’s hard to keep track of all the good things that happen in life during the day. And when you’re not used to finding and celebrating small victories, it’s smart to find habits that help make it second nature.

Tim Ferriss, author of the best-selling book “The 4-Hour Workweek”, has a cool way of reminding himself of all the small wins, positive outcomes or any general cool or awesome things that he comes across during his day.

It’s called the “Jar of Awesome”.

Now, he didn’t come up with the idea, but he did help popularize it. Watch the 2-minute video clip below.

VIDEO: The Jar of Awesome
YOUTUBE: CreativeLive
LENGTH: 1:41
Summary points:
  • Celebrating small wins can quickly become a habit
  • Write down every small win and put it in the jar
  • Look back on your notes regularly to give yourself a boost
Look through your cupboards and find any kind of jar. It could be a glass mason jar, a near-empty coffee can, a no longer used small cookie jar, etc. and bring it to work.

Every time you experience something awesome during the day, jot it down on a small piece of paper and put it in the jar.

Note every compliment you receive too. 😉

Seeing the jar fill up is a visible reminder of how much good stuff is around you and all the good vibes you’re generating. It’s a great way to create positivity when work sucks.

And when you’re dragging ass at work or when you’re in a shitty mood, digging back into the jar and reminding yourself about all the small wins is the ultimate motivation booster. 

4) Ritualize The Process By Pairing It With Something Else

Small wins are super powerful when they form part of a habit. If you only celebrate them every so often, you’re losing the opportunity to make them count.

The trick is to make sure they’re happening consistently. Preferably multiple times a day. Or at the very least, once a day.

A key way to do this is to pair it with a task or activity that you always do every day.

It could be something you do right when you get back to your desk after lunch. Just take a few minutes to jot down a couple of little wins from the morning.

Or, maybe, at the end of the workday, as part of your wind-down process, you write down three small wins from the day in your notebook before you leave the office. This could be a great way to not only disconnect from work but leave the office on a high note.

Taking a few seconds to think about it and giving yourself some recognition for micro-achievements will go a long way to keeping this habit going. 

5) Reward Your Small Wins

Remember when you were a kid and your mom promised you an ice cream or candy as a reward?

You can do the same with your small wins.

Promise yourself a little reward every time you score a small victory.

It’ll make the dopamine hit even stronger and keep your motivation high.

You don’t need to focus on physical or monetary rewards for this. You can also use things like desk breaks or one-minute meditations to offer your well-being a boost after small victories.

Positive self-recognition can also work great.

Maybe, after each time you hit send, file-save, or whatever mini-task you complete, you give yourself a self high-five.

VIDEO: Times You Deserve A Self High Five
YOUTUBE: As/Is
LENGTH: 1:45
Summary points:
  • Sometimes, the best wins in life go unnoticed
  • Don’t cut yourself short, go ahead and give yourself a high-five
  • Eating donuts at work can be a nice little reward once in awhile
If giving yourself high-fives draws too much attention, then at least you’ve gotta give yourself a mental “atta-boy” or fist-pump and say to yourself...

“Yeah, baby!”

“Homerun!”

“Way to go!”

“Nicely done!”

“Kickin’ ass!”

You get the picture.

According to studies, receiving compliments triggers dopamine production. Why not give yourself compliments when you can?

This study from Vanderbilt University also suggests that the dopamine boost can make you more productive too.

Embrace Small Wins For More Success And Happiness

Don’t wait until you finish big projects before you give yourself a pat on the back and some rewards. There are a ton of little wins that happen all along the way that you need to point out to yourself.

Celebrating small victories is a game-changer for helping you to feel proud and in control of your work. It’s a big mindset shift that can bring even bigger benefits.

Even the folks at The Office know about celebrating small wins.

VIDEO: The DVD Logo
YOUTUBE: The Office
LENGTH: 1:58
Summary points:
  • Quarterly reports are definitely boring and bland
  • DVD logo screensaver reminds us of pong and breakout
  • Some of the smallest of things in life are worth celebrating
You might feel like a hamster on a wheel right now but that’s just temporary.

Once you start finding ways to celebrate small wins, you’ll create an upward cycle of positivity and progress, which will ultimately result in happiness and enthusiasm about your work.

Pretty much everything is fair game when it comes to small wins.

Reward yourself for every single one you accomplish to maximize the benefits.

Here’s one that you can celebrate right now - finishing this article.

Way to go!

Virtual high-five right at ya’!

Now, go find two more for the day. 😉

Feel Better,
[Cubicle|Therapy]

more on cubicle life