Feeling creative and productive consistently is a struggle for most of us. The extrinsic motivation that often comes with promotions, delivered projects, or certifications certainly helps. Unfortunately, not every day can have a Big Win.
Recognition of smaller achievements, no matter how minor, can boost your creativity, productivity and morale.
Why Little Milestones Lead to Better Creative Work
It’s unlikely that you’ll face a major success or breakthrough every single day. It’s much more likely that you’ll take a few steps forward, achieve a small milestone, and maybe even take a couple of steps backwards. And these are all things worth celebrating. Here’s why.
The Positivity Progress Principle
Our brains are wired to respond positively to rewards. According to HBR’s “progress principle”, making progress in meaningful work is the leading motivator for many people. Authors Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer stated, “The more frequently people experience… [a] sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. ”
Recognizing achievements can boost emotions associated with the work, build confidence, and shift your perspective toward the positive. This is because it releases dopamine telling you to keep doing what you’re doing.
It’s hard to argue with the positive psychological impact of acknowledging one’s own achievements. The previously mentioned HBR study found that having a positive sense of well-being and a satisfied inner work life can lead to greater creativity and productivity.
One poll on the benefits of small wins found that we already know this to be true: 83% shared that they believe celebrating “small wins” can turn a negative day into a good one, and 87% think acknowledging your little milestones is a form of self-care.
So, while we get the idea, actioning it is another story. How many times have you looked at the clock only to see the day is almost done, and feel as if you’ve “accomplished nothing”? In reality, you’ve probably had plenty of “little wins” throughout the day that went unacknowledged.
Self-Compassion and The Creative Process
Why don’t we recognize the small wins? One of the biggest deterrents in identifying opportunities to celebrate small wins can be our sense of self-critique. It’s easy to get down when you see others achieving something (seemingly) faster and bigger. We don’t want to celebrate “small”. Self-compassion is required to celebrate and acknowledge the smaller milestones you hit along the way.
And it’s a vicious cycle. A lack of self-compassion can affect your creative output, too. A study published in the Creativity Research Journal found that critical self-judgement aligns with lower levels of creative originality, while individuals displaying self-compassion benefited from higher intrinsic motivation and better creativity.
Identifying and Recognizing Small Wins
“Small wins are essential, not just for the victories themselves, but because they give you more energy, self-confidence, and enthusiasm about your job, company, and yourself.”Lynda Brattan, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School
In our culture, we generally reserve celebrations for major milestones and achievements. We throw parties to celebrate these moments. It can be hard, therefore, to see our small everyday wins as celebration-worthy.
Shifting Your Perspective
Before celebrating we need to identify what’s worthy of celebration to you. Keeping track of wins is a great first step towards shifting your perspective. You can do this physically by writing them down, or simply mentally, at the end of your day.
By tracking what you get done, you’ll become more mindful of the smaller achievements throughout your day. Rather than feeling discouraged that you didn’t get your entire to-do list done, you’ll notice the little things you did achieve. This can help flip negative self-talk into positive affirmations.
Tracking every single task all day long isn’t a long-term strategy but rather one to experiment with when you are feeling down, or amidst a long project.
Nourishing Positivity as a Leader
Leaders are responsible for creating an environment that helps teams feel positive about milestones – big and small. Recognition, 78% of employees say, makes them work harder. But 82% of workers feel they aren’t recognized as often as they deserve.
A recognition-rich environment – which includes regular words of praise and mini celebrations – encourages higher rates of productivity.
Though you may not need to be throwing a party every time someone completes a task, you can try to show appreciation for the type of behavior you’d like to see repeated.
When it comes to bigger projects, the longer the process, the greater the probability of setbacks and failures along the way. This makes it all the more important to show appreciation for wins that push things in the right direction – no matter how small.
10 Small Victories You Should Be Celebrating
“Look for small victories and build on that. Each small victory, even if it is just getting up five minutes earlier, gives you confidence. “Arnold Schwarzenegger
There may be, of course, days where little wins just don’t happen. But at the end of the day, if you’ve achieved even incremental steps in the right direction, you’ve made progress. Here are some small victories you should celebrate:
1. Ticked something off your to-do list or tackled a tough task.
2. Your idea saved a colleague time, so they could achieve their goals.
3. Discovered a new tool, app, or platform that’ll be a gift that keeps giving.
4. Gave feedback (positive or constructive) that was well received.
5. Took a risk that worked out – way to trust your instincts!
6. Did something outside of your comfort zone.
7. Asked for (and hopefully received) help when you needed it – which is great for everyone’s productivity.
8. Completed a critical milestone – even though there’s a long way to go.
9. Overcame distractions and found focus – even if for a few minutes – when you might not have previously.
10. Cleared your inbox for the day.
Celebratory Rituals for Creative Productivity
Whether it’s self-recognition or from you to a colleague, there are plenty of ways to incorporate celebration into your workday routine. Once you’ve identified a small win make a point of celebrating it!
Here are a few ideas for ways you can celebrate those small wins.
Talk About It
Whether it’s a colleague or friend, share your small wins. It’s okay to feel proud of even the tiniest of achievements. Sharing them will help others feel comfortable doing so in return, creating a positive loop of both feedback and communication. And of course, tell others how much you appreciate their “small wins”. You can even build this into the beginning or end of a team meeting, whether you share your celebrations or acknowledge those of others.
Treat Yourself to Lunch
Maybe today’s small win doesn’t feel worthy of sharing with the group. You can still celebrate by treating yourself to your favorite lunch.
Make a Donation
Making a donation to a charity you care about can be a great way to reward yourself for a job well done with the feeling of giving back.
Keep a Smile File
A “smile file” can mean different things, depending on your field of work. Try dragging and dropping projects you’re proud of (even if they aren’t completed) into a folder. For example, try keeping a folder of testimonials from happy clients that you can refer to, reminding you of past successes.
Shifting Your Perception: Positivity and Progress
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”Lao Tzu
Major victories may not be an everyday occurrence. The significance of celebrating small wins becomes an important part of a productive creative process. Acknowledging even slight achievements can have an impact on confidence, motivation, and overall morale.
By redefining what constitutes a “win” and adopting a mindset that embraces smaller milestones, you can foster a more positive daily mindset. Whether you are a leader or any member of an organization, recognizing and appreciating efforts contributes to a more productive team.