The importance of celebrating big and small wins

Last night I attended my university graduation ceremony. I was awarded a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) and the university strongly encouraged me to attend the ceremony.

You see, I never bothered to go to my undergraduate graduation ceremony.

I remember thinking, Yeah, big deal! Lots of people get law and psychology degrees. I’ll go to my PhD graduation.

Looking back, I can’t help but think, What on earth was I thinking at that time?!

The decision not to attend my undergraduate ceremony was crazy for several reasons:

1) There was no guarantee I would finish my PhD (on a number of occasions I nearly dropped out).
2) Even if I did finish my PhD, there was no guarantee my parents would still be around to see me graduate with a PhD!
3) I had gone from getting 1 out of 20 on my first test at university to achieving a double degree with first class Honours. How was that not worth celebrating?

It was as if I had said, I’ve finished those degrees. Tick! Onto the next thing!

Somehow I had missed the stage where you take a moment to pause, let the achievement sink in and give yourself a pat on the back for all the effort you had put in. So this is why I made sure I didn’t miss my chance to attend last night’s ceremony and celebrate with my friends and family.

Celebrating with my friend Dr Simon Teoh

The dangers of not pausing to celebrate

What happens when you don’t celebrate your wins? Life becomes like one massive, never ending to-do list. And you begin to feel sad and unfulfilled.

In his brilliant book ‘Your life can be better’ Dr Douglas Puryear states that when we move from one task to another in a rush, it doesn’t take long before we start to feel demoralised and tired.

He recommends that we develop the habit of taking a break after we complete something. We need to pause and feel good about what we’ve just done.

How to hit the pause button and celebrate the small wins

A few years ago, I was going through a challenging period with my PhD project. I decided that in order to get through it, I needed to celebrate any small success I had.

When I finished a draft chapter, I would reward myself by going to see a movie.

When I finished conducting an interview with a participant, I’d allow myself to get my favourite Mexican takeaway.

The day I finished all my draft chapters, I put them together in one file, printed them off and had it bound so it would look like a finished thesis. It was still a long way off being complete, but it didn’t matter. It was super satisfying to hold a rough draft in my hands. I poured myself a cold drink as a reward. I performed this little ritual for every draft version of my thesis (and there were many).

The evolution of my thesis (draft versions and final version).

This strategy worked a treat.

Rewarding myself in these small ways kept my motivation levels up. It made me feel good about the work I was doing.

How to celebrate the big wins

But what about the big successes? The big accomplishments? What do you do then? Well, that’s easy. You throw a party!

When I handed in my PhD thesis I threw a party. When I got my examination reports back, I threw another party. When the letter arrived from the university saying I was officially a doctor, what did I do? You guessed it, I threw a party.

The reality is everyone loves a good party and free food. No one ever complained.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t throwing extravagant parties and often I didn’t even tell people what the party was for. I was having a party because I wanted to celebrate! The parties were always simple and involved two things: 1) good food and 2) good company.

The parties helped me to realise that I was one step closer to completing this beast of a thesis. They gave me the strength to keep going. They helped me stay positive.

A recent win

I recently finished my latest book, ‘Study Hacks: Your Survival Guide for High School’. As I finish writing this blog, I realise I haven’t properly celebrated the fact I’ve finished this book (it took 9 months to create!).

So guess what is happening? That’s right, we’re having a party!

So my message to you is simple: celebrate all your wins in life. Even the small ones!

4 thoughts on “The importance of celebrating big and small wins

  1. I have been remembering to celebrate too. After all, even in the Genesis account we are told that (OK I will paraphrase a bit with apologies for irreverence) on the 7th day God stood back, had a long look and said, “Not bad for a first week, I could do with a day off, how about I sit here and enjoy the view!” So when I get to the end of a project in the garden, I make a point of standing still and looking! At the end of washing dishes for the evening, I pause to look at the clean kitchen before I head to bed. And I am getting better at pausing mis task to anticipate the enjoyment of the pause for pleasure and appreciation of the completed task. I am still able to imagine a lot more than I actually complete (I will never be stuck for ideas!) but maybe that is not such a bad thing. I do stop to enjoy, I think it is part of accesing and appreciating the abundance that is all around us!

    1. Wonderful Kath!
      I love the idea of pausing to take notice of completing simple tasks like a clean kitchen or a made bed.
      As you said, it’s so important to stop and “enjoy the view”.
      Like you, this is a skill I am working at.
      With time (as long as I keep practising), it will become a habit 🙂


  2. Congratulations, Jane on getting your PhD! My hats off to you. That is hugely impressive 🙂 I’m not doing a PhD but sometimes in my job as a recording secretary for a busy non-profit, I feel like I’m writing a thesis every week. I have a gnarly set of minutes to work on this weekend, so I am going to practice celebrating even small advances in their completion.


    1. Thank you so much Kim! 🙂

      Yes, when the task is particularly painful, then you must break it down and celebrate every step of the way!
      All the best with getting through the gnarly set of minutes.

      It’s a glorious day outside but I have a talk I need to work on. I’m going to do 15 minutes of mind mapping and then I’ll reward myself by picking some blueberries in the garden 🙂


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