I asked people to share with me one thing they were proud of having done differently the day before. Most folks struggled to identify even one small success, overlooking the single, most effective action they could take in building positive momentum.
What triggered me to ask this question? Before the road trip, a dear friend wanted me to take him through one of my "reinvention exercises". We're talking about a highly accomplished man with more "success peaks" in his past than a mountain-climbing Sherpa, So, I really thought that "Richard" would home in on his success patterns by the time I returned with our lattes.
But as it turned out, my goal-oriented pal had trouble deconstructing his past successes because he had rushed past them while they were happening.
Cultivating the Art of Celebration
High achievers often suffer from a "celebration complex". Overlooking opportunities that serve as motivation touch points for the long haul, they focus on reaching their end goal and then going on to the next challenge. The thought of celebrating non-milestone achievements may seem like a waste of time.
I learned the importance of celebrating small achievements when I worked for a company that valued results over efforts. When taken too far in one direction, this emphasis results in workers judging themselves harshly for not being good enough--not receiving "enough" recognition and financial rewards--in comparison to others. As a leader, I found it difficult keeping members of my staff motivated when their achievements were incremental instead of Type A style wiz bang results. Even more challenging were annual performance reviews, along with the ranking and rating of individuals, in a culture that rewarded results over continuous improvement efforts.
What were the key takeaways for me from this experience? High achievers who were not driven by external rewards and recognition were more likely to self-pace their work and use small celebrations as an intrinsic reward system. They were also more likely to discover the "gems", i.e., innovative opportunities, lying by the side of the road that others missed by driving too fast.
Without the small self-acknowledgments along the way, we risk rushing ahead to the next thing on our list without truly valuing our contributions and appreciating our unique skills and abilities.There is an art to cultivating every day celebrations. A high achiever myself, it took me years to learn how to integrate incremental celebration into my life. Thanks to a goal-oriented mentor who had discovered the same thing for himself years earlier, I began acknowledging one thing that I did differently each day. You'll note that the emphasis is not on what I did well, but what I did differently. So, it became less of a good/bad thing and more about recognizing a creative shift or a stepping stone improvement.
This is why Richard had so much difficulty identifying his past incremental successes, because he only noticed the external peaks and missed the nuances of his personal development and career evolution. He discovered that success comes in different flavors and that the only way to recognize this over time is by acknowledging your daily dose of "nice job".
Try it for Yourself
There's no need to make a big production out of your daily recognitions. It could be as simple as stopping for a moment and giving yourself a pat on the back for trying something different that day, e.g., different messaging in your PowerPoint slide deck or communicating differently with others.
Over the course of a few days or weeks, you might decide to "celebrate cumulatively" by doing something special for yourself. For me, a cumulative celebration means heading over the hill mid-week to Santa Cruz or Monterey--solo or inviting a pal--walking along the beach, reading a non-business book at a seaside cafe, or just people watching. This serves two purposes--a celebration and a means of refilling my "creative well".
For the next 30 days try keeping a log of your stepping stone successes. Connect the dots after a month and look for the common threads: did you find yourself working a "new muscle" or strengthening one you've been using for a while, but decided to use in a different way? Maybe you took a chance in mixing things up a bit by adding a new "flavor" to your repertoire.
Building (or rebuilding) your confidence is as much about the everyday recognition as it is about the milestone achievement.