Celebrating your small wins is great for your mental health

Celebrating your small wins is great for your mental health

Any activity you do (successfully) will give you happiness, if you allow yourself to address your victory. To test this theory, Shona Hendley celebrated her small wins for a week  and this is what she discovered…

As I admired my healthy-looking cactus on the ledge of my home office window sill, I remarked to my husband “I’m surprised I haven’t killed it yet,” (because, yes it can be done. Believe me). “That’s great,” he replied, legitimately happy for me.

And then, just as I was about to reply one of my critical, self-mocking comments I heard it – my psychologist’s voice in my head. “Celebrate the small wins Shona, don’t be so hard on yourself.” So instead, I replied without even the slightest bit of cynicism, “Yeah, go me!”

This was the first time, in memory, where instead of brushing off something positive like keeping a cactus alive, that I chose to give myself the kudos I deserved.

And by celebrating my small win (any activity which you do successfully – but weren’t sure you could actually pull off), I began to notice how often I didn’t do it.

I also noticed how often I would turn these wins around and make them seem insignificant. But possibly the most important element that I observed, was that after I celebrated the living status of my cactus, I actually felt good. Yep – rather than the ‘hmph’, the ‘blah’, the ‘whatever’ that I usually experienced when I did the opposite, by celebrating my small win I felt legitimately good.

Then like the metaphorical light bulb turning on, I asked myself: So, is this what my psychologist is talking about?

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“Celebrating the small wins can actually make a big difference”

That was the moment that I decided that for one week, I would consciously celebrate every small win I had, to see if this outcome was a one off or if it continue.

And that is exactly what I did.

Over one week I celebrated the following small wins: not chipping my nail polish (first time ever), not having that second glass of wine (I even fist pumped that win), keeping up to date with my emails, remembering to take my bins out, replying to text messages the day I received them, washing my hair (because come on we’ve all been letting this one lapse), brushing my hair (ditto), not pressing snooze on my alarm, putting my washing away and making my bed. Every. Single. Day.

And you know what? It was like a literal avalanche of positivity (well, maybe not literal) because once I started doing it, the celebrations began snowballing – one on top of the other – and as it got bigger and bigger, doing it became more unconscious and I became more positive, giving myself more “good jobs” and “well dones” and less “as if it’s going to lasts.”

It’s the small things… but why?

But how can doing something so small make such a big difference on mood and a person’s general outlook? I asked psychologist, Meredith Fuller to explain.

“We need to have some sense of sovereignty over our lives. By recognising and appreciating our small wins, we feel viable, useful, and see a point! Without celebrating small wins, we may become overwhelmed, depressed, and lose motivation when the future is unknowable, because we can’t see how we can exert any influence,” she told body+ soul. “Happiness requires small moments of joy, satisfaction, and reflection. Celebrating small wins helps us to see that we are going somewhere in life where we can interact with our Self, Others, Community, Society, and the World.”

In a 2018 TED Talk, Vancouver-based educator Mehrnaz Bassiri, summed-up the power of celebrating small wins by saying:

“Small wins have a transformational power. Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion to favour another small win and another small win until the combination of these small wins lead to larger and greater accomplishments.”

She argues that our current society favours big wins over small wins, and many of us don’t see small achievements as wins purely because if their size.

“We’ve started to measure our progress on an oversized scale. By changing our perspective and appreciating human-size, human-scale achievements, we can move toward our goals,” Bassirir says.

While celebrating our wins can be a powerful tool at any time, within our current climate it can be particularly helpful, (just as found as I conducted my experiment at home) in iso. By accepting the conditions, I was within and that I couldn’t control and celebrating the wins that were in my control, I did just as Fuller explained:

“By celebrating small wins, we allow ourselves the pleasure of living. We learn to appreciate what matters, and to understand our values, beliefs, and attitudes to life.”

And the power of that cannot be underestimated.

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