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the power of celebrating small wins

How Celebrating Small Wins Can Lead To Bigger Wins, Happiness

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Jul. 8 2016, Published 3:25 a.m. ET

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“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more in life there is to celebrate.” –Oprah Winfrey 

Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I’m a huge advocate of celebration.

That wasn’t always the case. Celebrating others? No problem, I’ll gladly be there to pop the bubbly. Celebrating my wins? Yeah, not so much.

It felt indulgent, conceited, like a waste of precious time, and quite honestly, a little too easy. (What is it about things that seem too easy that makes us want to gloss over them?)

It wasn’t until I put my skepticism aside and gave celebration a consistent try that I started to notice positive shifts in my life.

Celebration isn’t just fun and games. It’s got some seriously-positive side effects. Celebration can make us happier and set us up for future success.

Celebration isn’t just for the banner moments, the big wins, though those seem to be the events we’re most likely to celebrate.  Celebration is also for the small wins along the way.

You know that journey you hear about enjoying? Celebrating the small wins is one way to go about doing so. When we celebrate the small wins, we progress toward our goals more consistently.

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Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer’s The Progress Principle was born out of studies that showed that tracking small achievements daily enhanced workers creativity and motivation. Celebrating small wins boosts our sense of competence.  In an HBR article, they share: “Whether they are trying to solve a major scientific mystery or simply produce a high-quality product or service, everyday progress—even a small win—can make all the difference in how they feel and perform.”

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit explains, “a huge body of research has shown that small wins have enormous power and influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves.”

Big goals are important, they are what guide us, but it’s falling in love with the everyday hustle and the small wins that get us there.

As Greg McKeown says in his book Essentialism, “When we celebrate small and simple wins, we can use that momentum to work toward the next win, and the next one, and so on, until we have a significant breakthrough. And when we do, our progress will have become so frictionless and effortless that the breakthrough will seem like an overnight success.”

That’s not all, folks. Celebration is also form of gratitude. Gratitude comes up time and again as the key to unlocking our happiness.

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Dr. Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California (Davis) and the founding editor-in-chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology, shows that “those who celebrate life by practicing an attitude of gratitude tend to be more creative, bounce back more quickly from adversity, have a stronger immune system, and have stronger social relationships than those who don’t practice gratitude.”

But, this was the kicker for me: celebrating our wins can also rewire our brain to look for more positive aspects and opportunities in life!

We’re naturally wired to scan for negative events. Blame it on our hunter-gatherer days. It’s a self-protection, survival thing. For even the most sunny of us, “negative events still have a greater impact on everyone’s brains than positive events do,” as shared in this article.

While a negativity bias is a great way to avoid being attacked by a tiger, it’s not the best way to see new opportunities that present themselves, or to feel good about things.

That’s where celebration comes in. Our brains have the ability to structurally change.

Sounds a little X-Men-ish, but it’s the magic of brain plasticity, and we can harness this knowledge and use it for our benefit.

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As Shawn Achor says in The Happiness Advantage, “We can retrain the brain to scan for the good things in life—to help us see more possibility, to feel more energy, and to succeed at higher levels.”

Celebration is one of the many ways we can retrain our brain to start scanning for the positives in life.

Celebrating can also get us hooked on progress.

Progress sounds like a much healthier addiction than drugs, but celebrating actually activates the same part of our brain that gets us hooked on substances.

Productive Mag shares that when we celebrate, “…the neurotransmitter dopamine is released, which energizes us and gives us a feel-good aura. This chemical enables us not only to get that sweet feeling of reward, but also to take action to move toward what triggered its release in the first place.”

So, celebrating small wins can get us addicted or motivated to continue progressing towards our larger goals. Not too shabby.

Ready to break out your celebration dancing shoes? Here are some tips to get you started:

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  1. When we celebrate a win, we want to do it with intention, so that we’re getting all of the good stuff from celebrating.
  2. We can celebrate in any way, as long as it’s meaningful. This can be anything from getting a mani-pedi, to taking an hour to read, to treating yourself with a celebratory vacation. But, we want the way we are celebrating to match what we are celebrating. So, if you’re celebrating a week of going to the gym, pick something that matches the effort. A two-week vacation in the Bahamas might be celebration overkill (though, I wasn’t at the gym with you). You can’t trick yourself here.
  3. To get the most out of celebrating your win, recognize what you did to get there and why this win is important to you. Try journaling or talking it out with a loved one.

If you want a deep dive into this topic, join us next week on July 13th for a live chat with Kim. Click here for more information on joining the Her Agenda community and participating in this chat. 

Guest Chat about power of celebration - #theagenda Her Agenda membership community
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