There is no denying that accomplishing a major long-term goal feels fantastic. But, unless you’re superhuman, that kind of thing doesn’t usually happen on a daily basis. What happens more frequently are small successes which, if we stop to acknowledge them, can actually be great sources of happiness.
However, sometimes recognizing little, daily victories can be harder than it seems. In some cases, this is because we’re simply not in the habit of noticing them. Other times, it’s because we deliberately downplay them, which happens for a couple of reasons:
1. Having a big goal, such as getting a promotion or losing a significant amount of weight, can lead to a fear of getting excited too soon, and being let down later. We think that if we allow ourselves to do a little victory dance when our boss gives us a compliment or the number on the scale goes down, we set ourselves up for disappointment. We worry that the compliment was only a one-time thing, and remind ourselves that our weight loss could easily plateau the next day.
The best thing to say to these concerns is, “So what?!” If our success doesn’t last, we will still be disappointed, whether or not we let ourselves be happy about it first. So we might as well get some joy in the meantime. A more effective safeguard against disappointment might be to just make sure we don’t kid ourselves ( i.e., “The boss complimented me … I bet I will be vice president of this company by lunch!”). Not only that, it is always possible our success will continue and we actually won’t be disappointed. So, why not get even more mileage out of a big achievement by celebrating along the way?
2. Another thing that can stand in the way of enjoying small victories is the feeling that we aren’t pushing ourselves hard enough if we celebrate anything short of complete success. Those little milestones might seem so far below our ultimate goal that we think we don’t deserve congratulations. We also might fear losing motivation by building a small accomplishment up too much (e.g., “Hmm, I guess 5 pounds is a lot of weight. Now I can EAT ALL THE COOKIES!!!!”).
Those kinds of thoughts are actually fairly unproductive. Even if an accomplishment is way smaller than whatever we ultimately plan to achieve, giving ourselves an internal high-five can be the encouragement we need to keep working hard. If we never stop to admire our progress, it’s much easier to burn out. Building up an accomplishment is good for our confidence, and it is in our power to prevent any potentially negative effects (e.g., “Five pounds is a lot of weight, good job self! I guess turning down those cookies is worth it!”).
Once we commit to letting ourselves enjoy small victories, we just have to figure out where to find them. A lot of the time, these victories do come in the form of progress toward a long-term goal. They might also come from achieving small goals, like finishing up some repairs around the house or making a successful attempt at a new recipe. Small victories can even come from unexpected successes that aren’t related to any predetermined goal. Maybe you managed to bring all the groceries inside in one trip, or maybe you caught a dish that fell off the table before it hit the ground.
Whatever form they take, little victories happen all the time. Go ahead and cheer for yourself the next time you climb a flight of stairs without keeling over. No accomplishment is too small to smile about!