The Power of Small Wins By Kate McCallum

It is tempting, during a time of significant industry restructuring for us to respond with frustration over what we can’t control and radical moves for what we can.

Yet, what I was reminded of with Natalie Cook’s fantastic keynote presentation at the recent AFA Conference is that success often relies upon many, many “small wins”. Less is often more.

What is a “small win”?

A small win is that “little step forward” that you achieve that gets you closer to your goal.

Let’s say, you set a goal in January to lose 10 kilos by the end of the year. The challenge? Goals — especially big ones — can be demotivating. Losing that much weight is a daunting task – and you’ll have to wait for 12 months to see if you’ve made it. Imagine instead if you set a goal to lose half a kilo a fortnight instead? Now you have a series of manageable milestones – which can give you regular motivation.

Why does it work?

You create momentum. On its own, one small win may seem unimportant, but a series of small wins begins to compound over time.

Change creates stress. While a certain amount of stress can be positive, too much is a bad thing. We want to feel charged up about moving forward without losing confidence in the face of setbacks.

Another benefit of small wins is that if things go off the rails, as they do, failure leads to minor disappointments rather than catastrophic setbacks. This can help you to avoid failing to act, rather than acting and failing. So, it’s easier to keep tracking towards your big goals.

How can you create your small wins?

The idea is to define the action steps that, if you follow them, will inevitably lead to achieving your big goal. Say your goal is to write a book, one key action step might be write 300 words a day. Or you want to be less stressed, so you commit to meditating for 5 minutes a day.

The best type of small wins needs little time or effort:

  • You want to achieve your win in under 10 minutes. Your wins need to be small to make sure you complete them. More than 10 minutes and you’ll lose the motivation to get started.
  • Your new habit needs to be so small that you think “anyone could do that”. In fact, if you miss a day, you’ll feel embarrassed. Small wins need to be too small to fail. This way, you’ve got no excuse to do your small win.

Once you have defined your small win, it’s helpful to put it into a statement like this: “I will (small win) every single day for at least (amount of time) minutes.”

Here are some good tips for practicing your small win every day:

  • Start Small: Once your new practice is part of your daily routine, you may want to ramp up. When you’re starting out make it so easy that you can’t say no.
  • Do It Daily: consistency is key. It’s much better to exercise every day for 10 minutes than a 2-hour session on Sundays.
  • Same time, same place: It helps to complete your small win at the same time and place every day. You’re already trying to form a new behaviour so keep the other variables constant
  • Insert It into a Routine: when trying to change behaviour, the less you change of the rest, the better. Inserting your small win into an existing routine is a simple way to ensure you’ll practice your new habit. Listen to a podcast while you walk. Write a few pages of your book before breakfast. It helps to piggyback your new habits with other habits or routines that you already have.

It’s important to set the bar for progress low enough, that you can be excited by your small steps. Aim to improve 1% every day until it becomes a part of who you are. As they say “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. And that’s okay – just change a little every day. And in time, you’ll be able to look back and marvel at the power of compounding small wins.

Sources: King, J. “The Big Power of Small Wins”, Medium 8 June 2019; Silvestre, D. “Focus on Small Wins for Massive Growth in your Life” Medium 6 November 2018; Taylor, B “To Solve Big Problems, Look for Small Wins” Harvard Business Review 5 June 2020.

By Kate McCallum

Director & Wealth Adviser, Multiforte Financial Services

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