I have a confession to make. Sometimes when I’m working on improving my wellness, it feels like it’s just a slog. It seems like I’m not making any progress at all. Have you ever been there? Does it ever seem like even though you’re doing all the things you’re “supposed” to do, nothing seems to be changing? That’s extremely common when we’re making wellness changes. That’s one reason celebrating small wins all along the way is so important.
When we’re trying to improve any area of our wellness, it can seem that it takes forever to see any results. That’s partly because we’re looking for big results. Realistically though, the big results usually only come after we’ve had a whole bunch of little wins that we may not have even noticed.
It’s important to celebrate our small wins, not just because it makes us feel good, but because it can help us with our wellness improvement plans. Let’s look at some of the benefits of honoring those small wins on a consistent basis.
3 Reasons You Should Celebrate Your Small Wins:
1. Celebrating small victories can help you build healthy habits.
When we’re starting to build healthy habits, celebrating our wins, no matter how small, is key to our success. When we reinforce our healthy behaviors with a little celebration, we tell our brains that this particular behavior is something we want to do again and again.
Timing is important too – when we perform our desired behavior, we need to celebrate it right then. As James Clear says in his book Atomic Habits (1), the cardinal rule of behavior change is: “What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.”
Our brains are basically wired to respond to pleasure, so when we celebrate the desired behavior immediately, that tells our brain that the behavior is, as Clear says, “worth remembering and repeating.” As BJ Fogg writes in his book, Tiny Habits (2), “Emotions create habits…. The speed of habit formation is directly related to the immediacy and intensity of emotions you feel.”
And speaking of emotions and habits….
2. Celebrating small wins can help you build self-efficacy.
In my years of working with clients to improve their health and wellness, one of the things I concentrated on was helping them learn to have faith in their own abilities. Having self-efficacy — the belief that you have the ability to do the things you need to do — is often one of the biggest obstacles people face when they’re working to improve their wellness.
We all need guidance to begin with; after all, if you haven’t done something before, you’re going to need some help. But as you become more knowledgeable or more in tune with your body, it’s important to recognize that you do have the ability to be successful.
When we celebrate those small wins, that cements the event in our brains and lets us know that, “yes, I can do this!” So if you did that lunge with great form, or you ate all your vegetables today, or skipped your morning latte so you could put an extra $5 in savings, celebrate! Right now! Whether it’s a fist pump, a happy dance, or a quiet “well done” to yourself, congratulate yourself for having done it. This helps reinforce your belief in yourself and your capabilities.
Even as we build self-efficacy, we might still feel we’re not progressing as quickly as we should, and that’s where the third benefit of celebrating small wins comes in.
3. It can keep you from feeling discouraged when visible progress is slow.
Cultivating a healthy lifestyle can be hard. Sometimes we have a long way to go in order to get to our end goal. And sometimes, our progress can be excruciatingly slow. We know we’re doing the right things, and that we must be making some kind of progress, but it just doesn’t feel like it. It can be easy to get discouraged.
Celebrating and keeping track of our small wins can help us avoid that feeling of discouragement. I highly encourage you, if you don’t already, to take a little time each week to write down some of your wins, no matter how small.
If you start to feel you’re not making any progress, pull out your list of wins and spend some time reading through them. It will help you see that you’ve made more progress than you thought.
Celebrating small wins is our secret weapon in building healthy habits, improving our self-belief, and avoiding discouragement. It’s simple and easy, but has a huge return on investment.
Do you celebrate the small things? Do you keep track of your little “wins”? How have you used this “secret weapon”? Please share!
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(1) Atomic Habits, 2018; James Clear; Penguin Random House UK; London
(2) Tiny Habits, 2020; BJ Fogg, PhD; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing; New York