Why celebrating small things can change the big things
When you celebrate something you did, you fire positive emotions that teach your pliable, sweet brain: I can trust myself to keep my commitments! It feels good to take action! I did my scary sh*t and nothing ate me!
And when you don’t acknowledge what you did, when you don’t say “Yay! I wrote my 750 words” or “Sweet! I walked 10,000 steps,” it’s easy to plunge into a deep hole where your story is “I never do enough” and “Why bother?” or “I did it, but it wasn’t perfect, so it doesn’t count.”
And that hole? It can feel impossible to climb out of.
But guess what? It’s not! All you have to do is notice what you did and celebrate it!
In other words, it is never too late to celebrate.
So many of us work on and create things that aren’t tangible and it can take months, if not years, to complete our projects. Research shows that we need the “power of small wins” to get through the inevitable dips and dead-ends. We need to be nourishers if we manage people and practice nourishing ourselves through celebrating our small wins.
Celebration is a fantastic self-trust builder, which then motivates you to take more action and try more new things. Think about it: if you don’t acknowledge what you did, there is nothing to trust because it feels like you did zip. And zip is not a place you can build from; it’s a hole you keep having to climb out of.
So… make celebration a habit and watch your mood and productivity soar.
Okay, Jen, but what exactly do you mean by celebration? Throw a party? Ride an elephant down Main Street? Treat myself to a massage?
As fun as all those sound, those are rewards. What I’m talking about is way smaller than an elephant and doesn’t cost any money or take more than 5 to 10 seconds. Although, if you want to go crazy, you might celebrate for a whole minute.
This kind of celebration is about focusing on what you did, but not how you did it and acknowledging that in a positive way.
My most common way to celebrate? Stretching my arms overhead, giving myself a big smile, and declaring out loud “Yay me!”
Finish your writing for the day? Give yourself a thumbs up and a “Way to go sweetheart.”
Get to yoga class when you wanted to head home and veg? Celebrate walking out the door of the studio by hugging yourself and taking a moment to feel your gratitude toward yourself.
Floss your teeth? Celebrate by declaring in the mirror, “You are so awesome!”
Wait, is that squirming I hear?
You may be thinking, “I would never, ever in a million years do this. It’s way too jazz hands, happy dance for cynical me.” Or maybe you hear the voice of a parent warning, “Don’t you go getting a big head.” Or you could be worrying that acknowledging yourself will make you lazy. Or the idea of celebrating is a snore because as soon as you’re done with one thing, you are on the next so why look back?
I get it. I can relate. Plus, it’s hard to remember to celebrate. (Tip: you can do it anytime you do remember!)
IT’S A TRULY POWERFUL PRACTICE
Where else are you going to do something for 5-10 seconds that costs nothing but can change how you see yourself? That can rewire your brain? That can build your self-confidence? That can remind you of how much you can do?
I have seen the power of celebration – or as one student calls it “the pause that builds self-trust” – change lives. Profoundly. So, why not commit to giving it a try for just one week? Simply:
1: Name what you will do sans outcome
Otherwise, you don’t have anything to celebrate. And sans outcome is crucial because when we focus solely on the outcome instead of clear commitments to ourselves, we fall into compare and despair syndrome or perfectionism.
Contrary to what your inner naysayer whines, perfectionism doesn’t spur you to grow and learn; perfectionism trains you to put the focus on what others think and want, which we all know is an impossible way to live our lives.
Detach from the story that everything you do has to work out the exactly the way you wanted, or it doesn’t count, by celebrating the actions you took.
2: Celebrate with a natural expression of “Yay I did it!” and do that as soon as you can after you did what you said you would do
The immediacy helps your brain associate taking action with feeling good. And if you can’t think of any natural expression of “Yay!” then copy mine, make one up, or read about some here. It’s helpful to involve the body in some way (stretching, wiggling, smiling) and the voice (positive words), but anything that says “Good on me!” is great.
3: Create some reminders to yourself
I make Post-it notes with a stick person with her stick arms overhead. Students of mine at The Weekly Oasis write CELEBRATE in their writing files, by their easels, or their running shoes so it’s the first thing they see when they start their work or workout.
4: Don’t skip it just because you don’t feel like it
Most of the time you won’t because you’re accustomed to celebrating only if you think you did a good job. And you’re breaking that unhelpful loop. Celebrating is NOT about how you did or what outcome you produced, EVER. It is about doing what you said you would do.
I hope you find this practice as positive and motivating as I have and that the writers and creatives I work with do, too.