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Celebrate Small Wins

celebrate small wins

❝The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.❞ -Lao Tzu

As I walk back to my desk with a cup of coffee, I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to get all this work done. It's January 2009, and that means that not only do I have my day-to-day job to do, I also have quarter-end work to do. On top of that, I have year-end stuff to do. Oh, and we're also in the middle of a significant market downturn, adding to the list of things to do.

I have so much work to do I don't even know where to start. My phone rings, and our marketing director is on the other end of the call asking if I've updated some of the data she needs to send her marketing reports to some of our largest partners. After telling her it's not done, she asks when she can expect it. I tell her I'll prioritize it and get to it as quickly as possible.

I hang up the phone with her and look up to see our compliance officer waiting for me. She asks when the compliance reports she needs for her filings will be ready. I don't know when they will be ready, but I tell her that I'll prioritize it and get to it as quickly as possible.

I get back to work but barely get my computer program open when my boss yells out to me, asking me to come into his office. He's disappointed that I haven't calculated performance numbers yet. He has a call with a client soon but doesn't have any numbers to give them. I tell him I'll prioritize it and get to it as quickly as possible.

I'm starting to prioritize so many things that I don't think I know what the word means anymore. I'm paralyzed. I can't figure out what to work on because I can't see past all the work I have to do.

Then the marketing director talks to me again, this time stopping by my desk, and I finally come clean. I tell her I don't know how I can possibly get all this work done.

She tells me, "One thing at a time." She helps me understand that I don't have to think about getting everything done at once. All I can do is put one foot in front of the other and be happy with my progress. My boss overhears and offers his support, as well.

I'm encouraged to celebrate small wins and not be intimidated by trying to do everything at once.

your reality is what you pay attention to


Your genes were passed to you from your parents, who got their genes from their parents, and so on. If you follow this chain back long enough, you'll get to your ancestors whose primary focus was on survival. Things were different when survival was our main focus. We were hypersensitive to threats.

For example, if you saw a stick but thought it was a snake and ran away, the worst that would happen to you was that you might get embarrassed. But you would survive so that you could be embarrassed again tomorrow. That's a win when survival is your aim. On the other hand, if you saw a snake but thought it was a stick, you might not survive.

If we think something's positive and we're right, that's good. If we think something is negative and we're right, we can do something about it. The problem is that we can't be right all the time. And if we're going to be wrong, from a survival perspective, we need to err on the side of being overly cautious.

This condition is what author and psychologist Rick Hansen calls our negativity bias. And since our brains can't keep up with how quickly our world changes, this is the brain we inherited.

negativity bias


It's easy to think that people would change if they had enough information. Upon further inspection, though, we realize that people can have all the information they need to make a change and still not do it. It turns out that in addition to having enough data, people need to feel ready to change, have confidence in their ability to make a change, and think it's important to change.

In fact, there are various stages of being ready to change, and if we're not ready to change, our aim should be to move to the next stage of change rather than try to tackle the whole process of change in one big step.