lot of us are good at celebrating big events. Milestones like birthdays, graduations, new jobs and anniversaries are undeniably celebration-worthy. They often symbolize happy progress and can serve as tangible indicators that we’re making progress toward our goals or even that we are succeeding in life.But it may surprise you to learn that celebrating everyday achievements – no matter how small – can help boost our mood, increase our self-confidence, and propel us toward new goals of all kinds.
BJ Fogg, a social scientist and founder of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford, says behavior change occurs between the milestones when we are taking one small step at a time. The author of Tiny Habits, Fogg says an essential piece of his behavior change theory is that we should celebrate small wins so that our brain links our efforts with positive feelings.
Here’s the thing: Our brains recognize and respond to rewards of any size. According to research published in Harvard Business Review, people who kept diaries to track their small achievements during their work day felt more motivated.
Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer analyzed nearly 12,000 diary entries from 238 employees across seven companies. They learned the simple act of recording progress in some way helps to boost self-confidence and facilitates future successes.
“At least in the realm of knowledge work, people are more creative and productive when their inner work lives are positive – when they feel happy, are motivated by the work itself, and have positive perceptions of their colleagues and the organization,” the researchers learned.
Celebrating small wins outside of our job works the same way.
When we celebrate our accomplishments, it activates the reward center in our brains. Specifically, a little surge of dopamine is released, which gives us a burst of feel-good emotions. This chemical helps us experience the feeling of satisfaction, and can motivate us to want to achieve even more.
Not sure where to find little things to celebrate? You can start by congratulating yourself! You’re doing something productive right now. You could be doom-scrolling, but you’re here creating brighter days. Think about a task you wanted to check off your to-do list. Maybe you wanted to clear emails from your inbox. Then you do that. It’s time for a pat on the back.
If you have a tendency to procrastinate, the small stuff can feel too insignificant to care about. But celebrating the small stuff is about reminding yourself that progress can be made in increments. That’s very helpful when life is busy and your to-do list feels insurmountable.
Psychologist Timothy Pychyl specializes in the study of procrastination. He says noticing little actions can create forward momentum and is something you can practice.
“Progress on our goals makes us feel happier and more satisfied with life,” says Pychyl in Psychology Today. It boosts well-being. Those positive feelings contribute to the motivation to act, creating a positive chain reaction, and lead to bigger developments later on.
Small wins stack up. Pychyl says, “This is a win-win situation if we can just get started.”