Why it is important to celebrate small wins

In our two-month routine checkup with the oncologist, we had all my blood tests done and were quietly waiting for him to give us some good news. Rather the whole discussion went into probably going more aggressive with the treatment plan… starting Chemotherapy.

So far, I had been on hormonal treatment which pretty much lets me enjoy my normal day with no side effects. Now with Chemo, well.. just the word scared me. I had heard of a myriad different reactions to the drugs, some long term as well.

This reminded me of a cartoon I had recently seen (below). Resonates with you too? Haha. I guess if things were that simple, wouldn’t it be just too mundane.

So I came out of the doctor’s cabin, let out a sigh… and thought of my Mantra WHATEVER IT TAKES!!!

I realized, it’s so easy for me to just start overthinking this change of plan – the reaction it would have on my body, what if this too doesn’t work.. and so on..

But I actually was relieved and sort of happy. It’s strange but I just thought of this change in treatment as a way to get better faster. So maybe it takes chemo to get a few things sorted inside quicker.. well bring it on!

After the first chemo session, we actually saw some progress in the skin lesions I was suffering. I was ecstatic. My husband and I actually did a small victory dance.

Most often than not, our life doesn’t exactly follow one rhythm. There are so many curveballs that come our way, some that we plan for and some a complete surprise.

As per science, our wins (no matter how small), activate the reward circuitry of our brains. This enables release of dopamine which energises us and fills us with a sense of achievement. Basically we love the feel of dopamine.. since it gets us “high”. So being ‘high’ on our small wins is not such a bad deal is it?

Yet always, our victory dance is kept for last. But do we have to? In the picture, can you see those little flags? Those are small wins which we often forget to celebrate due to our constant myopic focus on the end goal.

Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer explored the concept of small wins in their book The Progress Principle. In it, they analyzed 12,000 diary entries from 238 subjects to get a picture of the subjects’ inner work lives. They concluded that the common trait of highly successful subjects is that they are focused on achieving “small wins” — those tiny, daily progressions that  don’t seem like much but which add up, over time, to big things.

So apart from the chemical reaction in the brain, here are 3 compelling reasons why we should always focus on the smaller incremental things that matter:

You feel good about yourself:

It’s about being in the moment and being happy. Take the time to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment. Only you know how tough it has been to get where you are, and even this milestone counts towards the final one.

Don’t you always look out for the rainbow in a storm? And doesn’t it make you happy? So why not celebrate this rainbow?

If something has happened to make you smile, why not grab that chance? It completely changes the way you see your final goal. While you might harbour some negative emotions like fear, disappointment, they pretty much get balanced by the feeling of positivity.

You get more confident:

As the winding roads and uphill battle gets to you, it’s ok to feel demoralised. “And it’s in these darkest moments that we must focus to see the light” Aristotle Onassis.

When you celebrate small wins, it just gives you back some of the lost confidence which can propel you forward. Revisit all the efforts and hard work you had to put in to make this much happen. Don’t forget, these are baby steps. No one expects giant leaps.

Strengthens you for what comes next

Looking at small wins helps build a strong perspective. It’s after all a mind game. How your mind decides to see the situation will determine how you move forward. It’s very easy to let go and cry. I have got plenty of opportunities to do that. But just the perspective that IN THE END I’m going to overcome by cancer and acknowledge each milestone is enough to keep me going.

Lastly, I can’t stress enough on the importance of practicing gratitude during your journey.

Gratitude: Practicing gratitude along the way helps you see all the good that is happening to you during the process.

Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami divided a group into 3. One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives.

Sometimes, when the climb is steep, take time out to count your blessings. I know it sounds cliché, but trust me it works. Everyday I express gratitude to 10 people and send blessings to 5 people. Anyone can be happy, positive and grateful when everything is going well. But when nothing is going well, it is gratitude that will often help you see the silver lining.