I’m a big fan of setting small, attainable goals. This isn’t just because it’s a good way to work towards larger, more complex goals; it’s really because short-term goals give me more occasions to celebrate successes.

Seriously. Everything.

Seriously. Everything.

An important thing to recognize is the distinction between celebrating and rewarding. If I bought myself a cupcake every time I crossed something off of my To Do list, that would be a reward, and that would be counter-productive for a few reasons. First, extrinsic rewards have been shown to sometimes weaken intrinsic motivation. If I’m just doing it for the cupcake, I’m not getting the real value out of whatever goal I set for myself. Second, I would actually enjoy the cupcake more if I had worked harder for it and had more time to anticipate it (see #5 here). Eating too many cupcakes goes directly against my “No wasted cupcakes” rule. Finally, I’m pretty sure if I ate that many cupcakes I would turn into a cupcake and would find it harder to complete my other goals (no citation needed; self-evident).

So, how do you celebrate small successes without rewarding yourself? Here’s what I do:

  • Simply take a moment to acknowledge it. Give yourself that proverbial pat on the back. Smile quietly to yourself.

  • Cross it off the list. Any list-makers out there will recognize the good feeling that comes with physically crossing something off the list (even if it’s digitally, you still get to see the strike-through happen). Do it with some panache. Make a star chart and hang it by your desk.

  • Share it with someone else. In The How of Happiness Sonja Lyubomirsky writes, “Sharing successes and accomplishments with others has been shown to be associated with elevated pleasant emotions and well-being.” Who doesn’t want elevated pleasant emotions and well-being?!

Do you have any special ways you celebrate your mini-successes?

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