We all have lofty goals in life, whether it’s to get a promotion, lose weight, finish a degree, buy a certain type of house, run a half marathon or start our own business. Those are all major breakthroughs, and they’re relatively rare occurrences. However, all of those goals have progress points that can be celebrated along the journey.
These small wins can boost life in many ways. Yet, many of us don’t look for opportunities to celebrate our minor milestones. We deem them insignificant. Or, we’re so focused on the future, we don’t see what’s right in front of us. I invite you to train your brain to see, appreciate and celebrate them. When you shift your lens to focus on celebrating, winning and achieving rather than on preventing “what could go wrong,” you begin to lead yourself and others from a place of optimism.
Take a pause
Unfortunately, this is hard for a lot of my executive coaching clients to do. Some people have a twisted underlying belief system where they’re dissatisfied with themselves if they aren’t always pressing forward. They put themselves under constant pressure and don’t allow for any pauses. But it’s exactly those pauses that inspire creativity and innovation.
I also encounter superstition regularly with clients. People don’t want to get too excited about an accomplishment, because they don’t want to end up disappointed in the end. They don’t embrace the wins for fear that a loss is coming. Certainly, losses will come. Life is full of ups and downs. But a belief system that dampens the opportunities to celebrate wins and over-indexes on the losses isn’t a great strategy for your physiology or for your psychology.
Practice celebrating the wins — even small ones. Look for them. They’re there! Take as much joy as you can from the small stuff. Look at these small wins as an opportunity to play, to celebrate, to pause in life and to have gratitude moments.
Gratitude is great
Gratitude has both physical and psychological benefits. When we express or receive gratitude, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, which are the two neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions. As a result, we experience more happiness and less depression.
Studies also show that people who are grateful report fewer health issues such as headaches, gastrointestinal problems, respiratory infections and trouble sleeping. In multiple studies where participants kept a gratitude journal, they reported better physical health during that time.
By making an effort to practice gratitude every day, we strengthen our neural pathways, and over time, that creates a more permanent grateful and positive attitude.
Remember the progress principle
In a study reported in Harvard Business Review, researchers analyzed nearly 12,000 diary entries from more than 200 workers. They identified what they called the progress principle, which illustrates that the single most important thing during a workday is making progress in meaningful work. These small wins motivate workers, and the more often they experience that sense of progress, the more likely they will be productive.
The research shows that managers may have more influence than they realize over the motivation and output of their workers. Leaders, focus your efforts here. Understanding what sparks and continues this sense of progress — and what doesn’t — can be key in boosting morale and keeping employees engaged.
Lead from positivity
Executives should stay attuned to their team’s everyday activities and progress. Here are some ways to shift your interactions with your colleagues to help them recognize and celebrate small wins.
1. Break milestones down into manageable goals. Instead of always focusing on the big picture, break a project down into smaller achievable goals so that there are points to celebrate along the way. You don’t want to be the team that finally reaches their six-month goal only to disregard recognition because you’re already focused on the next goal.
2. Track your progress. Recording all of the small wins will illustrate just how far your team has come.
3. Give credit where it’s due. Send props to your team as achievements happen.
4. Have a way to celebrate wins as a team. Whether it’s recognition at a quarterly meeting or a spotlight in a weekly email, show your employees you appreciate their successes.
5. Stop downplaying achievements. If someone congratulates you, say thank you. And if someone on your team has something to celebrate, make a big deal out of it.
It’s okay to reward yourself with things that you enjoy when you complete a step of your journey. Last Sunday, I didn’t want to work all day, but I knew that I needed to in order to get ahead of the busy week. I told myself to just put my head down and finish the work, and I would have some time to play later. When I was done, my partner and I had a few hours of the weekend left to enjoy a lovely dinner out together.
I think this is something families can do especially well together. Grab those moments of time with your children and significant other. Start a Friday Funday tradition to celebrate the work and school week being done. Order your favorite pizza, and sit around the table and discuss your highlights of the week. Share what you accomplished, what makes you happy and what you’re grateful for, from the kids to the adults.
In order to better help you celebrate your tiny victories, think about one thing you accomplished today and revel in it, no matter how small. It’s time to start giving ourselves credit for things that may seem minor but are really bigger wins than we think. These small and significant steps help us get to the bigger goals and a happier life.
Do you need help identifying and celebrating your minor milestones? An executive coach can help you highlight these successes for future benefits.
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This article was originally published on Forbes.com as a Forbes Coaches Council post.