Sometimes it isn’t any single big thing that brings us down but a series of smaller things that slowly build up. The garden that isn’t growing, the car that temporarily isn’t starting, the cat that puked a hairball on the floor. On their own, they are minor setbacks, a bump towards success (or your morning coffee, thanks cat). You feel sad about the first one but think of all the other things that are going right. Then the next one hits. Oh well you deal with it. But then another and another and another until a series of small problems cloud your ability to see all that is going right in your life. You can’t complain, because none of the problems are really big enough for sympathy, yet still you feel sad. You may feel like you need a big win that isn’t coming.
Well when to many small things pile up, it’s time to take control and create a series of small, tiny wins. And hopefully, all those tiny wins will add up to larger and large wins, until your low is a distant memory. Below is a continually growing list of tiny wins you might be able to achieve.
- Make your bed – So cliché but a made up bed can put the whole day on a positive note. It’s a perfect small win everyone can accomplish, gives you a clear flat surface, makes a room look instantly cleaner, and if nothing else, feels great falling into a bed that’s been made all day. This short video has a wonderful explanation (that basically says the same things I just said). Bonus points for making a bed with fresh sheets, leaving you with something clean for at least a week.
- Create lists of goals and weaknesses – Okay, so this one is a whole lot bigger and perhaps not a super win on the outset.
- Goals – Make a list of your goals, whether they are daily, weekly, yearly, or lifetime goals. Goals can be big, but you should have many small goals. They don’t have to become habits (in fact trying to build a habit and failing may be another setback) or have life altering implications. “Today I’ll drink one glass of water,” when normally you drink none. Perhaps sometimes you forget to brush your teeth or floss, make the effort to do so. Written goals can later be broken down into steps that can become small wins. This is my favorite website/app for dealing with my to-do list.
- Weaknesses – perhaps a much more depressing task is the list of weaknesses or problems in your life. These are the things truly driving you nuts. It could be the car needs work and has become unreliable, maybe an unbearable coworker, perhaps you feel unaccomplished, or lazy, or unhygienic, or ungrateful, or not affectionate enough, maybe the bathroom really really needs to be cleaned and you don’t want to do it. Figuring out spots that drive you nuts is a key step in solving those problems. Perhaps these weaknesses don’t need to be written down, but try to have a small list going in your head of things you want to improve.
- Bucket List – I’m going to put this here because it is a list but these are more life goals. Create a bucket list in a spiral notebook and review it regularly. My initial bucket list goal was 450 items. These are not your “to-do” items but special or once in a lifetime events (clean the bathroom shouldn’t be on there, replace bathroom tile could be). Make items big and small, done in a day, the adventures of a lifetime, places you want to visit, items you want to own, life goals you want to accomplish. Avoid vague language (see below) like “floss more”. Check them off with a date of when they were accomplished, add more items as you think of them, scour the internet, friends, and family for additional ideas, and revise once a year or so to take off impulse additions. Refer to this master list whenever you are feeling particularly low and see if there isn’t an easy win (a small thing) you can get from your list.
- Here are 15 examples from my bucket list; as you can see, they vary from done in a day or two, to lifetime achievements: 1) Get Married (check). 2) Visit Germany. 3) Get a fainting couch. 4) Watch Ben Hur. 5) Write 50,000 words in one story. 6) Read “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. 7) Get a kitten. 8) Line driveway with pinwheels. 9) Make fajitas using all home grown veggies. 10) Nap in a hammock. 11) See Vermont in the fall. 12) Have a conversation with a native speaker in another language. 13) Do a paint by numbers. 14) Hold plank for 5 minutes. 15) Make a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving or Christmas.
- Avoid vague Language – Try, might, more, less, someday, etc are all vague adjectives. Do use precise language. Don’t “try to lose weight”, Lose 5 pounds. Don’t “floss more”, floss once a day. Make your goals and actions into concrete measurable actions. Don’t “drink more water”, drink a glass of water a day. If you need some motivation on using precise language watch the speech on “very” from Dead Poet’s Society. If you can measure something you can tell how well you’re doing. (I had floss more on my list, but as I never flossed, did flossing once count? Did I need to floss once a week for it to count? How could I make that a win? Eventually I revised to floss once a week which is much more attainable.)
- Clean up your trash piles. Go around the house and throw away all of the trash and take out the recycling. It may not do a lot, but it will feel freer.
- Clean something – Sweep a floor, wipe a counter, put away the clean dishes, start a load of laundry, vacuum, take out the expired goods in the fridge, anything really. You don’t need to do it to perfection, you don’t need to sweep every floor in the house to count it as a win. Just clean something, one little thing. You’ll feel calmer in your space and it may motivate you to do more, resulting in more and more wins.