Illustration: Wenting Li
Maybe you shouldn't sweat the small stuff—but you can certainly celebrate it!
We, as a culture, tend to appreciate big wins and grand gestures. Our news feeds are filled with images of dramatic weather, indices of huge market gains and stories of biggest losers. The problem is we grow so accustomed to seeing life in large print that we grow blind to the subtext that underwrites the big plot twists of our lives.
Frequently, I've sat in my office with cherished clients who are confused about the seeming disconnect between how they see their progress and how I see it. They slouch in their seats, discouraged by setbacks, slip-ups and stalemates. "I'm not getting anywhere," I hear. "I want you to see what I see," I tell them and point out all of the small shifts and subtle gains that are invisible to them.
One of the most fundamental principles of physics is that only movement begets movement. What if we treated ourselves as triumphant every time we took a baby step toward a giant goal? What if we measured success with a teaspoon, not a ladle? What if we celebrated our small victories? In my experience, we would begin to regard ourselves with confidence rather than contempt. We would be encouraged rather than discouraged. We would begin to see ourselves as the author and protagonist of our lives.
Where to start:
Learn to see those small steps, the subtle shifts, the minute changes. Train yourself to appreciate psychic and emotional movement, which is often a precursor to big behavioural changes. (Hint: Look for wins not only in what you do but also in what you don't do.)
Acknowledge that small simple movement. Take a moment to breathe it in and credit yourself for the change. Celebrate the win.
Need some ideas? Here are some of the small successes my clients and I have celebrated recently. (Names have been changed.)
• Mila is in a toxic relationship with someone who criticizes and insults her until she loses her temper, then he blames their problems on her "anger issues." Ultimately, Mila will need to either get her partner into counselling or leave the relationship, but for now, she should celebrate that when she saw the pattern begin, she refused to be baited and excused herself from the room before she blew up.
• Angela is a workaholic. After an acrimonious divorce, she uses her high productivity at work to prove her self-worth and as insulation against loneliness. Our goal is for Angela to see her worth beyond the employee performance review. Last week, Angela joined a Facebook group for dog lovers. She's still on her laptop all evening, but now she's working at connecting with others.
• Barb battles anxiety. Her negative thoughts can cascade until she's in full panic mode. She has been working hard on controlling where her mind goes, but it's a process that takes time. At her last appointment, Barb told me a story: Driving home from work, she normally listens to the news, worrying about another financial crisis, but this time, she turned on some music. Then, when she spotted a rainbow over the rain-slicked road, she pulled the car over and took a moment to appreciate it. It was a simple and small pleasure that represented a sizable win for her.