Turn Setbacks into Setups

The Power of Mini-Wins, and Why You Should Celebrate Them

January 5, 2019

Ever noticed how easy it is to start feeling down about yourself? After a piece of constructive criticism, a small misstep, or a perceived lack of progress, we suddenly become guilty and restless.


With bigger goals and projects, especially, it’s easy to be fixated on the end result, imagining how great that final success will feel while overlooking all the positivity around us. But it’s important for us to recognize that even small “mini-wins” can considerably boost our motivation and perspectives.


Ultimately, mini-wins matter a lot, because focusing on outcomes without celebrating minor milestones can affect our mental health and decrease motivation, making it harder to seize the long-term success we’re working for.


It’s high time we all learned to stop and smell the roses, celebrate the small things, and bask in all the goodness and positivity these mini-wins can bring.


Why mini-wins offer huge motivational boosts


One study by Harvard Business Review found that simply recognizing small wins is enough to boost an individual’s motivation. Researchers analyzed nearly 12,000 diary entries from 26 project teams across multiple companies—238 people in all. And the results showed that detailing minor progress in a diary entry was associated with positive self-ratings of the participant’s daily emotions and motivations. Plus, even ordinary, steady progress increased engagement and workplace happiness.


In other words? Simply recording your progress, no matter how small, can enhance your self-confidence and boost your motivation, paving the way toward your next mini-win—and your ultimate long-term success.


But what’s going on in your brain?


If you’re a regular to-do lister, you’ve probably noticed that your mood gets a significant boost when you’re crossing off items one by one throughout the day. That’s because accomplishing a task, even a minor one, causes an instant reaction in our brains.


More specifically, the reward center in our brain is triggered by dopamine, which is connected to feelings of pleasure and motivation. Dopamine is what trains us to stick to habits, to do better and to do more, all to repeat the actions that led to those initial feelings of pleasure. Essentially, mini-wins can energize us, fueling us to accomplish bigger and better things down the line in a happy, hormone-induced chain reaction.


Think small to start celebrating your mini-wins


Basking in minor milestones isn’t hard to do. All you need is a few simple tricks, like the ones below, to get started on the right foot.


  • Be positive. You don’t need to save your celebrations just for the big things! If you’ve secured a little win, you’re closer to your goal—so, some unashamed dancing, happy hour cheers, or light bragging may be in order!  
  • Write it down. Just like in the study above, write about your progress as it happens. There’s a reason gratitude journals and “what went well” lists work: they keep you mindful about the positive things in your life.
  • Do small tasks right away. All that dopamine in your brain is waiting for you to do something, and even a small task like making your bed or answering that email can be enough to boost your momentum for larger challenges later on.


From now on, make it a point to collect and celebrate your mini-wins. After all, each minor milestone may seem small on its own, but stacking those tiny tasks over time will help you reach the larger goals you’ve set out for yourself.


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