Checking off the small victories

Chloe Arciero, Co-features editor

Every morning, I start my day by making a list.

It may sound simple, and that’s because it is.

It’s a checklist, typed into my phone’s Notes app, of everything I want to accomplish that day. Most of the objectives are incredibly mundane tasks, like doing my laundry or cleaning my desk. Throughout the day, I revisit my list, checking things off when they’re done. It provides a moment of self-satisfaction, and it gives me an achievement to celebrate.

To some people, this probably seems almost comical – why would I need to celebrate such small actions?

The not-quite-short answer is that when the world was thrown into a state of flux, I realized my perspective on achievements needed a serious reevaluation.

Before Covid-19, my sense of self-worth was derived almost entirely from larger achievements, like my performance in school, to the point where I would cut corners on basic aspects of taking care of myself so I could work on things that I deemed more important.

It took a toll, and by the time the world was put on hold, I was more burnt out than I’d ever been before. I wasn’t sleeping or eating enough, and I was far too stressed toput full effort into any as- pect of my life. So, I took a small step back, and I made the choice to actual- ly take care of myself; I needed to focus onmuch smaller goals. Hence, I started making checklists.

My checklists are less of a traditional to-do list and more of a series of small wins that I want to accomplish throughout the day. They’re goals that drive me to spend my time productively, and give me something to look forward to. For example, the items on my checklist for today include starting a new book, drinking enough water, and giv ing my cat a bath.

Celebrating small victories helps to improve motivation, reports, and creates a sense of pride. Physically, it makes your brain release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that impacts the reward path- way and stimulates positive emotions. This reward sensation creates a chain reaction in the brain, which motivates you to repeat the behavior. So, acknowledging minor wins helps build healthier patterns and better life habits.

There are an infinite number of ways to appreciate yourself for your progress.

Making a checklist isn’t the only way to celebrate small victories. Setting goals can be much more informal, and it can just involve acknowledging your progress so far and figuring out where you want to go from there.

It’s also important to remember that ac- complishing goals can take a lot of effort, so rewarding yourself for achievements can help motivate you. A reward can be a favorite food, watching a good movie, or anything you enjoy.

It’s important to not put too much pressure on yourself to check off all your goals immediately, though. If you feel overwhelmed, sometimes it’s okay to take a break and leave things for the next day. Small checklists have helped me feel organized and accomplished, and I’ve never made them with the intention of intensifying any stress that I’m already feeling.

Of course, mental health is an incredibly complex topic, and small checklists aren’t enough for everyone. However, at least for me, they can make a busy day seem more manageable.

Various healthy coping strategies work differently for different people. For me, goal setting smaller objectives provide a more manageable target to aim for when I’m struggling with motivation. It helps me keep myself organized, and I get to have that moment of pride when I have ticked off another box or made another bit of progress.

A larger goal may seem completely unattainable, but breaking it into small chunks makes the process of following through with it much easier to swallow.

Set goals that are attainable for you, and make sure to have a quantifiable measurement of how you can achieve them. Even if the tiny achievement doesn’t seem particularly significant, the act of completing it helps me show myself that I have the power to make positive change in my life.

What seems effortless to some may be a major victory for others, and that disparity doesn’t diminish the accomplishment. That doesn’t make the achievement any less important.

Find moment in your day to celebrate your small victories, or at least appreciate all that you have managed to accomplish, even if it may seem not seem huge.

Figure out what achievable goals you can work towards each day, and celebrate every time you check them off. Meet yourself where you are.