Landing a new client. Finishing up a landmark project. Getting a promotion. Big wins feel great — but when all you’re focused on are the big wins, it’s easy to forget to celebrate the small stuff. 

Our biggest achievements are the sum of all our parts. Every little win, no matter how small, guides us closer to where we need to go, and it’s important to acknowledge them to keep high levels of motivation at work

In her TED Talk, “To Achieve Success, Start Detecting Your Small Wins”, Mehrnaz Bassiri highlights just that, saying: “Small wins have a transformational power. Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion to favor another small win and another small win until the combination of these small wins lead to larger and greater accomplishments.”

We take a closer look at the power of small wins to deliver transformational results. 

The importance of small wins

Big goals are great. There’s no way around it: when you close a client you’ve been working on for months, that feeling of achievement is amazing. 

However, it’s important to keep in mind that big wins are big for a reason. They don’t happen every day. If you’re constantly chasing career-defining outcomes or trying to land that big break, it’s easy to get discouraged along the way. This is because our minds are wired to focus on the bad stuff, rather than the good. When you’re defining success only by the big wins, small setbacks can quickly ruin your day. They drain your energy, leave you feeling deflated, and increase your stress levels. 

On the flipside, the simple act of reframing your thinking can work wonders. By focusing on the little achievements you’ve made and acknowledging your successes — no matter in what form or scale — it can encourage better work habits, decrease stress, and boost your performance. 

And it also boosts our motivation at work. A study by Teresa and Steven Kramer revealed that the best way to motivate employees is to give them a sense of incremental progress. In fact, their research found this feeling of progress is more important to happiness than a grand mission, or even bonuses and pay rises.

How to focus on the small wins

It’s easy to say “focus on the small wins”. But in practice, it can be hard to know where to start — particularly if you’re facing a particularly tough period, working on business transformation, or navigating a challenging project. 

If you need help reframing your thinking, these tips will help you zoom in on the little achievements.

Track your achievements, no matter how small

Keep a journal every day. Use it to record the things you feel good about throughout the day — no matter how small. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a career win: it can be a personal achievement such as taking time to exercise every day, or not hitting the snooze button for a second time in the morning.

Another way to track achievements at work is to keep a “done” list as well as a “to-do” list. At the end of the day, or at the end of the week, take a look back over every task you’ve achieved — you’ll find it’s a lot more than you think.

Flip the self talk

When we encounter setbacks, many of us instantly gravitate to our failures. We’re constantly telling ourselves that we’re not good enough, because we’re measuring ourselves by a grand standard. 

Instead of this negative self talk, try to give yourself inner compliments throughout the day. Stop and proactively acknowledge your successes by internally saying things like, “Hey, I handled that pretty well” or “Workplace productivity was through the roof today!” These mental high-fives build self-confidence and add up to help boost your mood.

Change your idea of a ‘win’

Winning doesn’t always mean monumental career victories. When you only think of a win as a huge victory, you’re likely to overlook everything else along the way.

Stop and reflect about how you define a win. If you need help, take a look at a big personal development goal, and break down the little tasks you need to get there. It could be taking on an extra project at work, or having a one-on-one conversation with a senior leader. 

By defining the little wins, you’re more likely to acknowledge them and celebrate them.

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