Skip
Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

3 minute read

Work Smart

Why What Happens Every Day Means More Than Scoring A Big Success

Experiencing a lot of small successes each day is more important to your motivation than being recognized for a big accomplishment.

[Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images]

Small wins matter big. It’s that tinge of excitement that helps us move forward during that long, uphill battle. Small wins signal to our brain that progress is happening and big results are just around the corner.

Major accolades might be saved for big wins, but it’s the small, frequent wins that seem to matter most, says B.J. Fogg, director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University.

"In other words, don't wait until the end of the month to say, ‘Wow you did a good job,’" Fogg tells Fast Company. Instead, think of the ways that you can feel successful more frequently. To do this, think about the celebrations that seem to kick up your innovative powers. According to Fogg, the earlier you feel those tiny wins, the better.

"Success in the morning sets your day," he explains. "So, design your routine and your own work, or help your colleagues feel successful early in the day."

For instance, think about the last time you woke up early, completed your morning routine, and had a successful morning. There’s a good chance you were motivated to seek that kind of triumph for the rest of the day. On the other hand, if you overslept and weren’t able to get your morning cup of coffee on time, there’s a high chance the rest of your day felt a little off, much like you were trying to catch up.

To study the simple behaviors that surround success, Fogg has mentored close to 30,000 people through his Tiny Habits program, coaching them day-by-day on creating new habits. Every week, he evaluates the program and currently has over half a million data points on what works and what doesn’t work when it comes behavior change and motivation.

Small Successes As A Motivation Tool

Leveraging small wins is a powerful move for managers trying to motivate employees. As most of us know, one of the biggest concerns companies have is designing a structure that helps people feel successful and, consequently, boost morale and innovation.

Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School and Steven J. Kramer, an independent researcher and author, have conducted numerous research on the psychological experiences and business performance within organizations. In one research study that included 12,000 daily surveys, the researchers found that progress and setbacks influenced emotions (people felt more positive emotions on days when progress is apparent).

In other words, small wins are desperately needed for that long-term, big win.

The authors write in a Harvard Business Review article that while big wins are great, "they are relatively rare"—and if we waited around to only celebrate those wins, we’ll be feeling a lot of the frustration, fear, and sadness that often comes with setbacks. So, instead, the authors suggest:

The good news is that even small wins can boost inner work life tremendously. Many of the progress events our research participants reported represented only minor steps forward. Yet they often evoked outsize positive reactions. Consider this diary entry from a programmer in a high-tech company, which was accompanied by very positive self-ratings of her emotions, motivations, and perceptions that day: "I figured out why something was not working correctly. I felt relieved and happy because this was a minor milestone for me."

The bottom line: The central fuel that’s driving you to that big win are the psychological experiences you go through on a daily basis. How do you motivate yourself—and others—to view that long journey that’s going to include a lot of ups and downs positively? How do you prevent the intimidating big picture from dragging you down? Simply by finding ways to push yourself higher to more creative, more innovative levels that make you feel proud and give you the strength to make it through the tough days.

loading