We’re so good at seeing all of the places we’ve fallen short, the work that didn’t get done and the things that went wrong in our day. We’re far less good at noticing what did work. We’re sometimes even downright afraid to take stock of our wins for fear that appreciating them might in itself make them vanish.
Science has shown that humans tend to notice the negative more than the positive. It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective, doesn’t it? If you’re constantly looking for potential problems then you might notice that lion lurking in the bushes or stock up on food before a storm hits.
However, much like the resistance monster, this evolution-mediated response is regularly misplaced in our modern world. The ability to focus on the negative is not much help when you are trying to dive into a new area of interest or get work done on a project. Negativity slows us down, makes us worry unnecessarily about what we didn’t get done today and makes us feel bad about our progress and ourselves. It also prevents us from appreciating and enjoying our work.
One of the most powerful tools I’ve used to combat this natural tendency toward negativity is tracking my small wins.
Tracking your small wins is especially important at the very beginning of a new project or when you start learning about a new area. This is when you’re dealing with the frustration of being a beginner, you might be feeling really incompetent or you might see all of the work ahead of you and wish you were further along. At this early stage, some small wins can really help keep your spirits up so that you can move forward.
Step 1: Get yourself an aesthetically pleasing tracking tool
If you’re “analogically minded,” go out and buy yourself a beautiful notebook, something special that you will feel a sort of textile enjoyment from writing in. That might sound silly, but aesthetically pleasing work tools really make a difference. For instance, I used to hate keeping receipts from all of my business expenses until I bought this overpriced but gorgeous pencil case:
Now I feel good every time I slip my receipts into it, which in turn makes me save my receipts more often. Aesthetics isn’t superfluous, especially when it yields functional results. So buy yourself a notebook you love.
If you are not a “tactile person” and you get more jazzed about technological tools, then get yourself an awesome app that you really like using. Evernote is a popular option.
Step 2: Start tracking your wins and prioritize actions over results
Once you have your tracking tool of choice, start writing down your small wins at the end of every work session. Make sure to focus on actions that YOU take, not on responses or results you get. For instance, it’s better to write “submitted a guest post pitch,” than “got a guest post pitch accepted” because it gets you noticing your action and seeing that as the important factor. You can’t control other people’s reactions but you can control what you do, and if your action alone is a win, then you will take more action and hence get more results.
Of course, you can also track the wins that are a result of other people’s responses. It’s just that you shouldn’t wait for them before logging a win. So write “launched my first product!” first and then you can add “Made $1,000” later.
No win is too small
And on that note, this is called a Small Wins journal for a reason. No win is too small. If you feel like you didn’t accomplish anything that day, challenge yourself by saying the following sentence out loud:
“Okay, so I feel like I didn’t get anything done today… But if I HAD to come up with 3 small wins, what would they be?”
It’s really okay if your wins are minuscule at first or don’t really feel like wins to you at all. Track them anyway. Eventually they will start getting bigger and then you’ll be able to look back and see how far you’ve come. The more you learn to notice what went right, the faster you’ll be able to come up with your wins and the easier this whole process will become.
Step 3: Pull out your small wins log when you need a confidence boost
As someone with many projects on the go, it’s important to do reviews from time to time. You can also use your small wins journal to lift you up on days when you’re feeling down or have maybe received a harsh piece of criticism.
You might also want to keep unofficial testimonials or feedback from people you’ve helped or inspired for the days when you can’t remember why you’re doing what you’re doing or you feel like you’re not making a difference. My friend Abe refers to this practice of logging nice feedback as keeping a “Woo File.” It’s a similar idea as tracking your small wins, and I actually do both.
Why tracking your small wins is important
Tracking your small wins keep you calm, helps you enjoy your work more, and keeps you moving forward. It also conditions your mind to start thinking more positively and that will carry over into other areas of your life and make you a happier person. It’s amazing how one tiny practice can really transform your outlook on life.
Do you track your small wins? How has this practice transformed your work and life?