We are often told to reach for the stars, that we are limited only by our imagination, but we forget the vital ingredient to achieving these seemingly insurmountable goals: setting small wins along the way.
Actor-turned-inspirational-pundit Will Smith explains this concept by using a real-life experience of his childhood as a metaphor: ‘you don’t set out to build a wall’ he says. ‘You don't say I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built. You don’t start there. You say, I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid. You do that every single day, and soon you have a wall’.
Professor Teresa Amabile (@TeresaAmabile) is a Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and the co-author of The Progress Principle. She has spent decades analysing the performance of individuals and teams in the workplace and identifies making progress as the most significant trigger of a ‘good day’. This has a positive influence on productivity for the day in question, as well as influencing the next day. Good days were linked to more joy, warmth, pride, and a more positive perception of challenges.
Many of us fail to acknowledge small wins throughout our day and week. We often go about our daily business without recognising the small steps we are making toward our ultimate medium-and-long-term goals (if we have any in the first place). In effect, we are robbing ourselves of this sense of accomplishment and subsequent boost in productivity. This can become more severe if you are a clock-watcher or autopilot worker, with a limited regard for how your actions contribute to the development of yourself and the teams you work in (not just in the workplace, but also in your personal life).
Small wins will vary from person to person, but there should be an underlying purpose beneath them, as well as an intrinsic or extrinsic reward. There is no limit to how minuscule or seemingly benign your small wins look to others. It could be as simple as having a To-Do List, checking off your daily tasks throughout the day. Check out the below video of US Navy Admiral William McRaven explaining the small win of making your bed in the morning: