The Power of Small Wins

good dayThere’s nothing clever about what I’m about to write. It seems obvious in a way. But it’s not something most of us routinely do. It’s certainly not something I used to do until I knew about it! It’s the power of small wins!

Making progress is an important thing. The Harvard Business Review reports on research that shows that on days where people make progress they report having a good day but on days when people have a setback they report that as a bad day. We already know that people who are motivated intrinsically (from inside themselves) rather than extrinsically (motivated by external motivators) are happier in the workplace. So it’s not the stress of deadlines or performance or a top-down approach to being told what to do that motivates people but rather internal mechanisms that drive people to achieve goals that they value themselves. Someone needs to ‘own’ the end date of an assessment for themselves for what it means to them rather than being motivated by some external performance measure.  So, it’s the inner work life that’s crucial when we think about best days.

The Harvard Business Review goes on to say:

Two other types of inner work life triggers also occur frequently on best days: Catalysts, actions that directly support work, including help from a person or group, and nourishers, events such as shows of respect and words of encouragement. Each has an opposite: Inhibitors, actions that fail to support or actively hinder work, and toxins, discouraging or undermining events. Whereas catalysts and inhibitors are directed at the project, nourishers and toxins are directed at the person. Like setbacks, inhibitors and toxins are rare on days of great inner work life.

good day 2So to get the best out of people we need to be encouraging and helpful with our team or colleagues. Obvious really, but often not how it works in reality with unrealistic demands and a job done at any cost approach supersedes a job done while maintaining a positive psychological position for the worker.

I’d suggest that ignoring the inner work life of social workers is why we see so many professionals in social work and other professions experiencing poor mental health in the work place.

One easy to execute approach that helps is the ‘power of small wins’

We frequently set ourselves goals that are the long term and define what the completed project or action will look like. So one goal for you as a social worker would be completing as assessment. Routinely you will psychologically set this as the goal when you receive the allocation so you don’t get the ‘win’ of the completed task until the assessment report is passed for sign off. But, in reality, you will make incremental progress towards this final goal. The secret is to set yourself each of these steps as a goal in themselves.good day 4

Personally I would do two things with such a task. I’d start by listing all of the steps I need to achieve to get to the end goal and then I would put all of those steps into my diary on dates and at times when I will do them. I prefer this to a ‘to do’ list because I don’t feel they work. They are never up to date and never capture everything going on in your world. You also tend to make a to do list based on the bigger goals you want to achieve, tick a few of them off on your paperwork day (when you’ve probably made the list) and then find the list under a pile of things a week later when it’s out of date. The beauty of breaking a task down into smaller tasks and putting them in your diary (electronic works best for this) is that if you don’t get a chance to do one of the tasks you can move it into tomorrow – so you don’t lose the fact it needs to be done and you will sense the urgency of undertaking the next step when you are moving into the same day as the following step!.Using your diary like this helps you have a good overview of what’s to do and how urgent things are. Knowing what to do is more about knowing what it’s ok not to do!

good day 3The other advantage of this approach is the psychological impact of the Power of Small Wins! Each time you check off a diary entry (I turn it from the usual blue colour in my electronic calendar to grey to signify completion) you get a psychological boast from achieving that small win. The goal now isn’t the final end of the project or assessment – the goal is now each small step – with the feeling of having completed something that goes with it! And that will lead to you feeling like you’ve had a good day! Result!

Try it! It really works.

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