Most of the time, we focus on the biggest problems of the moment. What's the biggest headache today? Who is causing me inconvenience? When will this pain and stress end?
It's no surprise that focusing on the negatives all the time leads to increased stress and burnout. It reduces motivation and engagement with our lives and the people in it. We forget the good things we have and wish everything was perfect all the time.
Recognising the positive events can be a big step towards a more enjoyable and meaningful life. And I think this is difficult to achieve alone - I think we need to celebrate with others.
Benefits of Celebrating Wins
Give people credit
A great joy is found in telling people "Well done" when they've achieved something. Their face lights up, they try to hide a smile or they shrug it off. But you can tell that they are really pleased with themselves and excited by your compliment. The biggest part of saying well done is that you are telling them "You should do more of this". So they go away and work hard to get another "Well done".
Get people on your side
People like you more when you give them compliments and celebrate their achievements. Celebrating produces positive emotions and so you become enjoyable to be around. Even if you're known for being hard on people, if you consistently give credit where it is due, they will forgive your faults. New opportunities come up too when people are on your side. You make more progress and people are more likely to help you achieve your goals.
Celebrating small wins shows progress. When we celebrate small wins, it shows we are on a journey towards a larger win. Ignoring small wins leaves people with a sense of "I haven't accomplished anything lately". For example, authors like to divide their books into smaller chunks so that they can feel a sense of accomplishment as they complete each chapter. So they're not creating a book - they're creating a collection of articles.
Give a positive outlook
Celebrating wins encourages us to celebrate more wins. There will always be nay-sayers who say things like "Well that's not very impressive". But we're not solely aiming to impress people when we celebrate - we're aiming to get credit. Amabile and Kramer's Progress Theory shows that celebrating and tracking small achievements leads to more a more creative, productive and engaged person. This gives everyone a positive outlook on the future where everyone is excited to see what will happen next.
Identify who should celebrate wins
Knowing who to celebrate with is important. Rather than an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to tell them what we achieved today, a better idea would be to send a report to our manager at the end of each week. When I start a new job or project, I keep my reporting manager up to date on every win each week for the first couple of months. This shows they are getting value from money from me straight away, rather than guessing if I was worth the hire.
The biggest dopamine hit is not when I send my manager an email each week, but when they reply back saying "Well done". That's the first group of people who should celebrate wins - leaders. If a leader gets into the habit of celebrating and showing off the people around them, they will find enormous gratitude coming from their people. People get excited when they are celebrated. They feel more creative and courageous to bring new ideas to the table. We all want that appreciation - more than money. This is the tip of Maslow's Hierarchy of needs - self-actualisation. We want to know we are creating something great.
While leaders should celebrate wins, it's not always clear to them what small wins happen during the day. A team sees every piece of progress each day. So they are in the best position to celebrate. Take a look at your team today - what small wins were accomplished? It could have been a code commit, a ticket closure, a bug breakthrough, a difficult conversation. Turn around to person in your team and say "Good job on closing that ticket this morning!". Imagine what multiple "well done"'s throughout the day can do for people. It drives them on to achieve more and do better things.
Identify your Wins
Focusing on your wins over your failures is a different mindset than we are used to. Whether this is on a personal level, a team level or a business level, we always find it easier to find fault. In contrast, we are glad when things work out and breakthroughs happen, but quickly go back to the next headache. This is called Negativity Bias. When presented with two things similar in kind and of equal intensity, we will focus on the more negative thing. This results in a short-term outlook on situations. By focusing on the negative, we are only concerned with getting over the pain and make rash decisions that affect long-term progress.
This isn't to say that we should never focus on the negative things that happen. But we shouldn't focus only on the negative things. Acknowledging wins brings a long-term, forward facing attitude to decision making. We can see what has been accomplished and, with a little effort, work to create a similar environment for more wins going forward. There are a couple of ways to identify wins.
Celebrate during daily reflections
I'm not a big fan of daily journaling - it never clicked with me. I prefer to write about ideas (hence this blog). So when I talk about daily reflections, I'm not saying anyone should buy a bullet-journal and start drawing pictures, though feel free to do so. A daily reflection can be a 5-minute intellectual exercise with yourself or your team. Ask yourself "What was 1 good thing that happened today?". Then ask yourself the most important questions: "How can I make similar good things happen again tomorrow?". This is a tactic I credit to Woody Zuill who asks his teams everyday "What went well today and how can we turn it up tomorrow?".
Celebrate wins as they happen
One of my biggest learning curves was as a Scrum Master a few years ago. I made the mistake to view our team retrospectives as yet another "pesky" meeting. One of our phrases was "We'll talk about this in our retro next week". Imagine that - we just achieved something and we said we would acknowledge it later. We could have done much better. We should have said "Let's get on a call so that John can show us what he's done - great work John!". John gets to show-off what he's accomplished, everyone else gets to learn and we all get to give him a big pat on the back.
Simple phrases like "Well done" or "Thank you for doing that" are huge boosts to morale in any scenario. My approach is: When in doubt, say good job.
How to Celebrate Wins
Wins require effective project management at both a macro and micro level. Setting clear goals, avoiding micromanagement, allowing time, providing support - these are all trademarks of a good leader. But many managers are effective in these skills, yet forget to celebrate the wins. So we need another ingredient. We need to record and advertise these wins.
Nothing gets celebrated if it is not written down. So the first step to celebrating wins is to write them down somewhere. This might be in a chat, an email, a dashboard or even a notebook. The simple act of writing it down is a win in itself. You are giving yourself and your team permission to celebrate by taking the time to write it down. As you build up a record of wins, you can start advertising them to others.
I'm not good at claiming credit for things. If someone pats me on the back, I prefer to say "Oh it was nothing really". So advertising our accomplishments and achievements can seem a bit cocky in contrast. But the simple fact is this: Nobody will ever know what you've accomplished if you don't tell them. And if nobody knows what you've accomplished, they will assume you haven't accomplished anything at all. So once you have your accomplishments and wins noted down, it's time to advertise them.
Pick your Celebrants
How you advertise your wins depends on your position, your stakeholders and your surroundings. If you are a manager, you probably don't need to advertise your wins to your sub-ordinates, especially if you're not in the habit of advertising their wins on their behalf. Or if you are on a team, it probably doesn't make sense to email your friend about all the great things your team are doing. So pick the right people - who are your main stakeholders? Who is charge of your raises? Who is charge of advocating on your behalf? Who are the people you work with daily? These are the people you should communicate to.
For example, if you are a software developer on a team, it makes sense that you advertise your personal wins to your team, your project manager and your line manager. Your team because they are who you work with everyday. Your project manager because they advocate on your behalf with other managers. And your line manager because they keep record of your achievements for performance reviews. Make sure to reciprocate the "good job"'s! When your manager and teammates achieve something great, say thank you and well done. They appreciate hearing it as much as you do!
You can communicate your achievements in many ways:
- Powerpoint dashboard
- Team Chat
- On a call
Pick the medium that best suits your stakeholders. If you are advertising to your manager, an email is the best way to ensure they see it. If you are showing-off your team's wins at a company update, a powerpoint dashboard is best. Choose the best medium for the situation.
Say Thank you if your win is celebrated
It's one thing to celebrate your own wins and the people around you. But what happens when somebody else calls you out and celebrates what you have achieved? It is just as important to accept praise as it is to give it. If we decline someone else's praise, we are saying that we don't want to hear those things in the future. It doesn't mean we need to jump up and down when someone says well done. All it takes is a simple "Thank you - I appreciate it", and move on. There is no need to make a big thing of it. But there is equally no need to make nothing of it (if you want people to say well done in the future anyway).