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Lofty goals are great.
Big dreams give you something to work toward, something to look forward to, and a reason to wake up and put your best foot forward each day. Goals can be highly motivating and highly rewarding.
But it’s easy to get discouraged.
When you aim your sights high, it might take weeks, months, years, or even decades to achieve your goals. Some people dream and save their entire lives to build that cabin on the lake or publish their first book. And when you claw your way to your goal day after day, year after year — you can begin to feel deflated.
You can feel tempted to stop working toward your goal.
It might even feel a little like failure.
That’s why making progress tangible along the way is so crucial.
To help you, I’m going to share the steps I’ve learned along my own journey to fulfillment and happiness. These steps can help you recognize and celebrate all your small wins, validating your hard work and fulfilling your soul while you put blood, sweat, and tears into the end result.
Step 1: Make Sure You’re Making Progress
Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between making slow progress and making no progress at all. Step one is to make sure you’re truly making progress toward your goal. You can’t move on to celebrate small wins (step two), if you aren’t experiencing small wins.
How do you ensure you’re moving forward when life is busy? Here are a few tips to keep you moving toward the light at the end of the tunnel:
- If it will take less than two minutes, just do it. Let’s say your end goal is becoming a doctor. Your first step might be applying for your undergraduate program, but that could take hours (or weeks by the time you get all the information you need) and you’re busy. So, what one step can you take right this moment to move toward your goal? Perhaps you can simply request your high school transcript. That would be progress.
- Use a daily tool to touch on the things that matter most to you. You can do a quick search for “Leader Standard Work” — a lean management tool — that can make it easy to stay focused and give your biggest goals at least a touch every day without dropping the ball on urgent household tasks like dishes and laundry.
- Establish a timeline. Let’s go back to becoming a doctor: which milestones will you need to meet along the way in order to stay on task and make progress? A Gantt chart (see image below) or Excel spreadsheet can help you determine whether you’re on schedule and keep you motivated to accomplish the little steps it takes to reach the prize at the end.
Step 2: Recognize Your Small Wins
In order to stay motivated and energized, it’s important to recognize and celebrate small wins along the way. According to counselor Bill O’Hanlon, these micro-accomplishments result in a quick surge of dopamine, a chemical linked directly with both happiness and motivation.
There are a variety of ways you celebrate small wins, but the easiest way is to treat yourself to something a little out of the ordinary or some self-care, like a manicure or massage. Think of experiences and luxuries you desire, determine the reward for each small win, and then work toward you goals so you can celebrate.
Step 3: Fall in Love with the Journey
Wins are satisfying, but it’s important to remember there is joy in the journey itself. There is joy in the work. Joy even in the suffering — in the lessons you learn, the strength you gain, and the self-confidence that builds as you gain experiences, wins, and even losses.
Falling in love with the journey requires you to truly experience the journey. To take a moment to recognize all the elements your senses are experiencing as you work toward your goals: the smells, the feeling on your skin, the sounds, the sights, and the feelings.
Love the journey to the top. During times of grueling labor or discouragement, ask yourself, “What am I meant to learn from this?” When you find yourself feeling impatient and restless, ask yourself, “What will I miss most about these days?” Remember it is the struggle that builds the character you’ll need to succeed when you reach the top of the mountain.
Step 4: Track Your Progress Visually
There are as many ways to track progress visually as there are people in the world, and there are no rules to tracking at all. You can add a marble to a bowl, drop a quarter in a jar, make a journal entry, or use a life-sized Gantt chart to keep a visual reminder of your goals and a visual celebration of your wins nearby as you walk through the routine of daily life.
Whatever method you choose to bring life to your goals and progress toward those goals, stay committed to it. Put that marble in the jar. Keep the jar in a place you spend a lot of time, like your office. Let it serve as a constant reminder to keep fighting the good fight — because the wins feel good and the end result is going to feel even better.
Step 5: Journal and Write About Your Small Wins
Journaling is a great way to increase your mindfulness and appreciation of wins throughout your journey. Take five minutes at the beginning of each day to set a mission statement and establish direction for the day, and then take five minutes at the conclusion of each day to reflect on your progress, your wins, the lessons, and how each of those made you feel in reflection.
During your journaling, don’t forget to use your senses to describe, recall, and relive each win — the dopamine release that results allows you to experience the happiness and relief over again.
You can use any platform you want to keep your journal — a Word document or a sketchpad can work just fine. But if you want a tool that has all the prompts you need to keep winning in life, the Happier Mind Journal is developed with you in mind and available for download now.