A Case for Small Wins
I noticed something funny recently. Something happened as we grew up and started working in big people’s jobs. Our focus started shifting. We started looking only towards the next big things: new promotions, more important jobs, higher salaries, larger teams. Powerful things no doubt. But with those gains also came the loss of the beauty of the process. Whatever happened to just enjoying the small wins? The things that perhaps go unnoticed by others but give you satisfaction, even joy, nonetheless.
I wanted to take the time to write this article because I often see designers (and colleagues, friends, etc.) burned out, defeated, and losing the love of their jobs because they feel depleted by an internal lack of success. They compare themselves to others and feel they are losing at climbing the career ladder. But what if we shifted our thinking? What if we started acknowledging the small wins, those accolades that remind you of why you do what you do? Those small wins that provide you with a sense of purpose and meaning and that feel far greater than updating your LinkedIn title?
I believe that taking the time to reflect on those achievements, regardless of their size will help to bridge the gaps between the start and finish line. Or at the least make it feel enjoyable and empowering. Below are three tools that can help you shift your focus on all of your wins — these tools are aimed at focusing on measuring the value of your work and using it to harness a deeper sense of purpose and eventually as evidence to gain that next big thing.
Start with micro-goals
Bill Burnett in Designing Your Work Life called this The Set the Bar Low method and is based on psychological studies and behaviour change models that suggest taking small actional steps is the best way to establish a new behaviour or habit.
Starting smaller can not only feel more doable you’re likelier to actually get it done vs. putting it off. In addition, the majority of our jobs are not linear. Having expectations or being experts at multiple skill sets can often feel daunting, perhaps even unachievable. But if we can think about breaking up these singular skills and learn each at a pace that feels doable. We will eventually feel less overwhelmed, and more empowered.
Carve our time to reflect
Carve out time to reflect on the things you were able to accomplish at the end of the week. More importantly, think about what you learned and how you added value to yourself, your team members, or the product you’re focusing on. Think about: what felt like a highlight of the week?
Use these highlights as a way to level up with reasoning and remember that it’s important to note milestones that are working towards a greater goal. In addition, when writing, use less vague and loose language. Using words that are tactical and with sound evidence. For example:
- Learned and utilized
In addition, when we start to think about our weekly patterns another very, very important thing starts to happen: we start to learn what we love and don’t love about the job. We no longer work on autopilot but instead are present about the tasks we have at hand. Now, are you happy with the things you are expected to achieve in your role? Or is there something that doesn’t feel quite right?
Practice speaking about yourself — positively.
How does the voice inside your head sound when you achieve something that you feel proud of? Now think of a time when perhaps you fell short. Compare the thoughts that arise during and after these events. My hunch is that your inner dialogue not only sounded very differently, but the effort you applied to work afterwards, and the way it felt to do that, was also very different
Now let’s take an even deeper look at those moments when something didn’t go as expected. You become your own bully. Next time feel present and acknowledge why it’s happening and consider why and what resulted in that annoying, mean, and persistent voice to show up today.
If we become present to our day-to-day internal chatter we can better understand ourselves and work through the internal dialogue that is stopping us from achieving all of the things we hope for.
Ethan Kross in his book titled Chatter: The Voice in our Head, Why it Matters, and How to Harness It writes “ Managing our inner voice has the potential not only to help us become more clearheaded but to strengthen the relationships we are share with our friends and loved ones, help us offer better support to people we care about, build more organizations and companies where people are insulated against burnout, design smarter environments that leverage nature and order, and rethink digital platforms to promote connections and empathy. In short, changing the conversations we have with ourselves has the potential to change our lives.”
We make about a million micro-decisions every single day that affect how and why we focus on the jobs to be done. But very rarely do we take the time to acknowledge the power of everyday achievements.Those moments that shape who we are as individuals and owners of our craft.
We should think about shifting the perspective or, at the bare minimum, reducing the emphasis on the next “big thing.”
I do however want to acknowledge a very important point: that by acknowledging these small wins we can focus on how they can be leveraged and laddered up to that next big thing. Are you aiming for a promotion, salary bump, new career opportunity? You’ll now have a bulk of evidence that reflects why you are eligible and capable to get there. More importantly, it feels more tangible and exciting because you’ve done the work (and you have evidence) that proves this.
Writing this article had me thinking about the definition of success. I believe it’s up to you to set that definition for yourself but I hope these tools spark an idea of what success means to you and only you.