Jun 302011
Happy Time by Lusi

Everyone is happy to attain large successes in life. This could be an important goal like having a happy family, getting a job promotion or closing a big business deal. These successes are obvious and worth celebrating. But in doing so, we should not forget the small successes that got us there. Like unsung heroes, small successes play a vital role as the foundation of our major success. They are as important as big successes even if they are not as satisfying. With that in mind, here are some reasons why small successes matter.

Milestone by Pete Reed

Important Milestones

Lao Tzu wisely pointed out that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. At the start, our goals are so far away that it seems impossible to reach. But as we press on towards our goal, we will pass certain milestones. These milestones remind us of how far we have come and how much further our goal lies.

Take for example the complain free challenge. If a person who complains habitually tries to stop complaining all at once, it might be impossible. But if he breaks it down into manageable periods, slowly he will be able to change his habit. At first, he might not be able to get through a day without complaining. Soon it is four days before he slips up. Now four days might not seem like a lot, but it is an important milestone compared to where he was before. From there he will be likely to go longer without complaining. Thus, milestones serve to keep track of our progress and to remind us of how much farther we have to go. Without small successes, we could never make it to our goals.

Chaos Sorcerer Screenshot from Dawn of War II

Turning Failure in Stepping Stones

Failure is a vital part of success. When we attempt something new, chances are we will make mistakes and face challenges. Yet these challenges are merely stepping-stones to attain our goals if we know how to use them. In truth, challenges are there to alert us to what we are doing right or wrong. We should not fear them but find a way to manage, for each challenge that we overcome is a small triumph. It is a testament that we have learned from our mistakes and adapted as needed. While these small triumphs are not the actual goal itself, they are the foundation for our major success. We need to get through them to reach our goal.

Lately, I have been having fun playing Dawn of War II’s Last Stand online. In the game, I team up with two other players in an arena to take on twenty waves of alien attackers. Each wave is more difficult than the last so working together is vital to survival. At first, I was not sure how to play so I ended up being a liability to my teammates. Each time the enemies knocked me out, they had to revive me and my team could not even make it past the tenth wave.

But I learned from my mistakes and slowly mastered the evil sorcerer I preferred. I just love the way he can teleport behind the enemies and strike them down with doom bolts haha! Bit by bit, the teams I joined made it further and further through the waves. Once we even made it to the final wave but ultimately failed to prevail. It is interesting how complete strangers can work together to survive. I won’t say that I am very good at the game, but I know enough to survive against overwhelming odds. This usually means trying to find a safe place to teleport to until I find a chance to use my favourite tactic above. It does not work all the time, but I survive longer than I used to. ;) More importantly, I can now save my teammates although I still fumble when I am the only one left against crazy odds.

Encouragement and Motivation

The journey towards our goal is rarely easy. The road is usually paved with obstacles. And in the face of adversity, it is a challenge to keep pressing on with no end in sight. Yet not all is bleak. If we plan, learn and adapt as needed, we are bound to have small successes. These will serve to encourage and motivate us when the going is tough. After all, each small success is a step closer to our ultimate goal.

When I was trying to find inner peace, I thought that I would never still the inner turmoil and pain I felt. The only thing I could do was to take each day at a time and give thanks for the small successes I had. Sometimes it was a new idea that was helpful. Other times, an experience changed my way of thinking. Slowly but surely, I learned how to manage the excess emotions and energy I had. Sure, I might lose my composure from time to time, but I was able to regain my balance quickly. Through it all, the small successes I had gave me hope and kept me going.

Footprints in Sand by JHF

Taking Action

Big successes do not happen overnight. A lot of hard work and small successes go into building that final success. As such, we should be thankful for these small successes and not overlook them.

Do you take note of your small successes? Are they important to you? Are there any other reasons you can think of that makes small successes important? Do share your thoughts and comments below! :)

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  22 Responses to “Why Small Successes Matter”

  1. I think small successes are practice or rehearsals that presage big successes. Success is a learned skill just like everything else.

    • Hi Riley,

      Looking at small successes as practice that presages big successes is indeed a prudent perception. As you rightly point out, success is a learned skill just like everything else. As such, the more practice we have at it, whether it is small or big successes, the better we will become.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  2. Hi Irving,

    This has lots of really good points in it.

    I personally benefit a lot from the ideas in your Encouragement and Motivation section.

    With so many go-getters “out there”, it’s easy to feel like I’m behind, or not successful, or failing, or whatever. But every single day — if I’m alert to it — brings a small success. It feels so good to notice it, it halts the temptation to complain (like you mentioned but in a different context), and it keeps me going with a joyful spirit, which to me is the most important benefit of all.

    Thanks so much. This is so useful.
    Patti Foy | Lightspirited Being recently posted..Timely Tidbits: Unleash the Power of the StormMy Profile

    • Hi Patti,

      It is always nice to see you here! :)

      Yeah with all the go-getters out there, it is easy to feel left behind or like we are underachieving. But we are all at different stages of our lives anyway and it is pointless to compare. What matters is that we keep on progressing forward in our own lives and become better than we were yesterday. Here, being aware of small successes helps and it does indeed bring out a joyful spirit within us when we notice them.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  3. Small successes build confidence where it may have been lacking. You can even find success in failure, really: suppose you’d been turned down or ignored for job after job, and then a fantastic job came along and you were one of two final candidates, both equally wanted but, you weren’t chosen. Would that not be a success?

    I like what you said about a quicker recovery – that’s exactly how I’ve felt as I work on myself. Sometimes we succumb to anger or frustration, but if we stop ourselves early on and recover more quickly, it’s real progress.
    Julie | A Clear Sign recently posted..It’s One Free Intuitive Question and Answer Week!My Profile

    • Hi Julie,

      Your job interview analogy is a good example of progress and small successes. No doubt not getting the job in the end can be discouraging, but if it was a better performance than the previous times, not all is lost. It would only be a matter of time before we get a job if we keep on getting better.

      We are bound to suffer all kinds of knocks in life. This is inevitable. But the most important thing here is to be able to recover quickly and bounce back. It is this resilience that will see us through life and one of the things that strengths our resilience is awareness of the small successes we achieve.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  4. I’m so happy I tuned in here and read this beautiful post Irving. I love to experience genuineness and that is what you offer in this post and always. The incremental approach is the way of Nature, isn’t it, no one ever saw a tree bloom overnight into a 200-foot redwood. Even a blade of grass grows in tiny steps.

    I enjoyed reading the other comments too. Love and blessings to all.
    Christopher Foster recently posted..How to live with no regretsMy Profile

    • Hi Christopher,

      It’s good to see you again! :)

      I love what you shared about the incremental approach of Nature. Nature has been around much longer than we have and is infinitely wiser in its ways of getting things done. Success that is truly lasting has to be done in stages and this is where small successes play a vital role.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  5. Small successes is what leads to bigger success indeed. How can one person write a novel if they don’t first write a sentence? You have to take bite size steps towards your success and allow it to build over time. Even if you have the BIGGEST DREAM IN THE WORLD, you have to still take baby steps and allow everything to unfold right before your eyes!!!

    • Hi Jonathan,

      It’s good to see you again! :)

      You’re perfectly right. We have to take an incremental approach towards the fulfillment of our goals and dreams. There is no way around it. We have to have small successes before we can have bigger successes. In truth, small successes pave the way, giving us the needed wisdom and experience to manage bigger successes. That is how we achieve the biggest dream in the world.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  6. Hi Irving,

    This is the second time I’ve seen reference to the “complaint free challenge” today. I think I’m going to have to check that one out! The universe may be speaking to me. I thoroughly agree with the point that you make with this example. It’s so much easier to succeed when we break our challenges into small tasks. I always suggest people start out with short sessions in meditation like 5-10 minutes and gradually build up. This gentle approach makes it so much easier.

    I like your emphasis on the way small successes can give us hope and keep us going. But we have to notice them for this to happen. So I also like your question as to whether we take note of our small successes! That’s an excellent reminder for me. Thank you for this helpful guidance.
    Sandra / Always Well Within recently posted..Is Meditation a Magic Bullet for Overwhelm and Stress?My Profile

    • Hi Sandra,

      It’s nice of you to drop by! :)

      I always used to take on too much at once and hence tended to get overwhelmed easily. As a result, I wasn’t very productive. Learning to break things down has made a great difference in my life. Like you I fully agree that a gentle and natural approach makes it easier to get things done compared with a more forceful and impatient approach. But it depends on the situation, naturally.

      Yes we have to notice and be aware of small successes to gain hope from them and to keep going. Otherwise, we will be missing an important source of motivation right under our very noses.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  7. Irving: I think this is such a great post and point. We really do need to understand that our success happens step by step. It really allows us to stay continually motivated and put all that we have into each step that we are taking. I love that quote by Lao Tzu. It is one of my favorites. Thanks for bringing it top of mind this morning. Great post.

    • Hi Sibyl,

      It is often when the going is toughest for me that I realize how important the small successes are. Were it not for this awareness and realization, I might not have had the perseverance to hold on till the end and succeed.

      I am glad you enjoyed that quote by Lao Tzu. It does much for me by putting things in perspective, reminding me that I must allow the process time to unfold.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  8. Irving,

    The journey of a thousands miles starts with one step. The faster we understand that life is a process the faster we will get to a point where we are comfortable with the progressions of life. I am learning to value to slow and steady approach than the do it fast and end up doing it again type of lifestyle. A house isn’t solidified with one nail but by thousands and each one has to be hammered in one at a time. That is small success in action. Great post.

    • Hi Frank,

      It can be hard to adopt the slow and steady approach when we see everyone else rushing ahead of us. But then again, we are all at different stages of our lives and development. If we do not lay the proper foundations for our success, things may just come crashing down on us when we can least afford it in the future. Thus, every small success is more important than it seems in laying the foundation for our big success.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  9. Great example using the complaint free challenge. I’m now on day 12 without a complaint. That was preceeded by much shorter periods. At the beginning (I have done this before, but I started this round on June 1), I didn’t make it through one whole day. Then I made it a couple of days, then 4 days. And now 12. When I offered this challenge to the discussion group I lead, I said it was important to celebrate the successes, no matter how short, just as you say.

    One of my favorite stories is about Father Keating, who wrote about the practice of centering prayer, which uses a word to bring wandering attention back to God during meditative prayer. A nun, expressing frustration, complained to Keating after a prayer period, that she had to use her centering word 1000 times! Keating responded, “That’s wonderful! That’s a 1000 times you were connected to God!”

    Each small success builds a foundation, develops a new habit, moves us in a new direction. Thanks for an excellent and encouraging article!
    Galen Pearl recently posted..So GenerousMy Profile

    • Hi Galen,

      I got the idea to use the complaint free challenge as an example from seeing your reply to Bob Lowry after he said he had failed it. The step by step progression of the challenge makes it perfect to illustrate the point I am trying to make.

      I couldn’t help but smile when I read your story of Father Keating and the nun. Indeed, life is a matter of perspective. We can choose to focus on our mistakes or on the small successes we make. Which choice we choose makes a world of difference to the goals we are trying to achieve.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  10. Nicely written post. Taking time to congratulate ones self for the small success leads to the big one. It is simply a process that is very worthwhile and enjoyable indeed.

    • Hi Baker,

      Indeed congratulating ourselves for each small success that we achieve is worthwhile and enjoyable. By doing so, we gain the motivation we need to persevere towards our goals.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  11. Thanks for the excellent reminder! I find it so easy to forget the little successes. However, when I practice saying gratitude for consecutive days in a row, it becomes easier to remember them because I need to rack my brains for fresh items. Small successes certainly do matter. They help to lay the foundation for the big ones too!
    Evelyn Lim recently posted..Call My Dial-A-Life-Coach HotlineMy Profile

    • Hi Evelyn,

      Yeah, the same goes for me. I too find it easy to overlook small successes when I am focused on the big one. But when things do not turn out as I wish, I realize that awareness of small successes is necessary to keep me going. Because they are vital and lay the foundation for bigger successes, it would not do to overlook them.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

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