Kate Stevens

Kate Stevens, Life Coach

Celebrating Small Wins: Making Meaningful Progress

Kate Stevens smiling, cutting a birthday cake

Feeling stuck and trying to get motivated?
Celebrating small wins can significantly impact our motivation, performance and perspective. Ideal if you’re asking yourself, ‘why am I procrastinating?’ and desperate to move forwards!
Yet small wins are often overlooked.

What are small wins?

Small wins are the bitesize and barely noticeable successes and achievements we experience on our way to bigger successes. While these accomplishments might seem trivial on their own, their cumulative effect is powerful.

Examples of small wins

  • Cooking a healthy meal rather than grabbing something convenient
  • Exercising when you don’t feel like it
  • Doing that thing that you’re putting off
  • 4 years in business and a special birthday (my recent small wins!)

A story

Years back I worked with my first Coach to get me out of my career rut and into something new, I could barely notice much good about myself: perimenopausal, on antidepressants, feeling stuck. To notice my small wins felt like a ridiculously simple yet difficult exercise.
One part of me saying: ‘You only have to notice when you’ve got something done!
The other part: ‘…but I don’t feel like I’m achieving anything!

Until I realised that now I had started to recognise these seemingly insignificant, daily moments of victory, I was actually feeling more positive. And I was actually getting things done. Moving towards my bigger goal of leaving my ‘career rut and into something new’ felt more achievable – though I didn’t know at that point yet, what I was moving towards! And reassuringly, this small wins strategy was nothing new: I’d just ‘forgotten’ that it was a thing.

A clue: the discomfort. This ‘simple’ challenge felt difficult. Change had to happen ‘inside me’ – my perspective, mindset.
Another clue; feeling more positive and getting things done felt like I was making progress: moving away from feeling stuck and towards something better.
The impact; I started my journey (again) out of the rut. But this time it was different – I was paying for life-coaching and had the ear of someone I trusted. I felt like I was ‘doing the work’ I had invested in, and it was working.

A table of words describing how small wins boost how we feel and perform

The psychology behind small wins

According to research on how people perceive their work in different organisations by Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer from Harvard Business School, people who tracked their small achievements every day enhanced their motivation.

Generally, any perceived accomplishment, no matter how small;

  • boosts our mood
  • increases motivation
  • reinforces positive behaviours

The most crucial factor in all of this? People need to feel like they’re making meaningful progress. And when they do, they’re more likely to be productive, a concept Amabile and Kramer call the Progress Principle.

Negativity bias – the takeover

It’s important to say – and highly likely you’ve experienced this too – that the opposite can also be true: setbacks can undermine it all. If you’re applying for jobs and not getting an interview it’s hugely discouraging. This is where negativity bias can not just kick in, but take over. Our brains are hard-wired to remember the negatives. An evolutionary adaptation, this helped our ancestors identify threats and increase their chances of survival. The performance review where one negative was raised amongst 10 positives? The chances are that you’ll remember that one negative the most.

Why small wins are important

A small win can make all the difference because it impacts how we feel and how we perform. They can be the stepping stones of success towards the bigger goal, or simple moments of joy and appreciation. The act of noticing these victories and regular and positive reinforcement fuels our wellbeing, whilst nurturing a positive mindset. It also builds resilience for when the going gets tough – a great tool to counterbalance the negativity bias (reframing). See also the Inner Critic, which I’ve previously written about.

So, not just small steps everyday, but small celebrations everyday to lift your mood and motivate your mojo!

5 benefits of small wins in life coaching


I also notice in my 1-2-1 life coaching work that;

  • Small wins are hugely personal: without an intrinsic interest, it has no meaning
  • Tracking wins is crucial, to measure and maintain progress and performance
  • Celebrating small wins acts as a catalyst for continued success

Read James Clear’s bestselling book, Atomic Habits for healthy habit creation and understanding more on motivation.

quote by author James Clear from his bestselling book, Atomic Habits

How to celebrate your small wins

  1. What did you achieve today that you might otherwise have not realised? What gave you joy today? Create a list and capture at least 3 each day – they have to be different. Either in the moment, or capture them at the end of the day.
  2. Create a list over at least a week
  3. Can you appreciate your wins each day?
  4. At the end of the week, review. How do you feel now, to before? What do you notice?
  5. Extra step – try this over a 3-4 week to period to create a new habit.

If it feels tricky to notice your own, notice them in others and apply the above approach. There’s an additional step here – to share what you notice with them. Be genuine and authentic. What’s the point in keeping it to yourself?!

Noticing and celebrating your small wins is GOOD for your wellbeing and mindset. By celebrating seemingly inconsequential achievements, we are better able to tune inwards to build ourselves back up. We cultivate a sense of accomplishment and purpose in ourselves and maybe in others too. Overlook no more! Get (small) winning!

Client agreement - ground rules.

1. Bring my whole self to this process; professionally and personally.

You cannot separate your professional and personal ‘lives’.

2. Be present in the moment and connected.

… to the coaching; what you’re thinking, feeling, experiencing. And…to nature if and where we are outdoors. If we’re on headphones, I’ll invite you to be descriptive of your environment too.

3. Bring the agenda to each session and keep your overall objective alive.

You can do this in several ways:

  • Be goal and action orientated – bring what you want to discuss and achieve to the session; OR
  • Talk and see what lands – exploratory and intentional.

I will bring the process, tools, ideas, resources and best practice to best support you towards your goal/intention/objective. More in your pre-coaching questionnaire. 

4. Give feedback and be responsive.

Coaching is collaborative. Neither of us should guess where we stand. I ask you to give me feedback and respond – you can rely on me to give and do the same.

I aim to get back to you within 24 hours of you emailing me, even if it’s just to say ‘I received your message’ before I respond properly. If it’s over the weekend or holiday, this may take longer.

5. Do the work in the session and in between sessions.

…so that you get the best value, even when it’s challenging. I might suggest a piece of work based on what you brought to the session. Mainly you will decide your course of action.

Whichever way, I’ll invite you to:

  • Reflect more; through walking, writing and whatever else fires you up, to help you achieve your objective.
  • Explore more; be curious and follow those trails of thought, intentionally
    Practice more; habits? Actions? Keep trying/tweaking.
  • Note what’s coming up that’s important or interesting to you in the session. I may share a few bullet points with you after, via Google Docs.

6. Session duration and timescale.

Generally a session is an hour but happy to shorten or increase session lengths, as and when we both can, that day. Where either of us thinks it appropriate, let’s say in the session. Timescale – let’s keep to the timescale agreed in the contract.

Additional information...

  • Coaching is a relationship designed to facilitate the development of personal or professional goals and develop a plan/strategy for achieving those goals.
  • It is comprehensive; it may involve other areas of your life beyond what you may have originally intended. It is your responsibility to choose and decide how to handle this, or even whether to.
  • It can be challenging; digging deep, creating better habits, becoming more self-aware, changing unhelpful beliefs you hold about yourself to something more helpful. There will be ups and downs. You will gain new insights, learnings and perspectives to help you achieve your goal.
  • You – the Client, are solely responsible for creating and implementing your own physical, mental and emotional well-being, decisions, choices, actions and results arising out of or resulting from the coaching relationship and your coaching calls and interactions with me – the Coach. As such, you agree that the Coach is not and will not be liable or responsible for any actions or inaction, or for any direct or indirect result of any services provided by me – the Coach. 
  • You – the Client, understand that in order to enhance the coaching relationship, you agree to communicate honestly, be open to feedback and assistance and to create the time and energy to participate fully in the program. I will do the same.
  • Coaching is not a substitute for counselling, mental health care or substance abuse treatment.  If you are in any kind of therapy, please tell me.  Tell your practitioner (medical or therapeutic) of you working with me.
  • I ask you to agree to commit to the coaching sessions to facilitate the required change.
  • I will treat you as the expert regarding the subject matter, which is…YOU.
  • I will allow time and space for you to explore your thoughts and think for yourself, no interruptions. There may be long pauses or silence sometimes to elicit more.
  • What goes on in your sessions is confidential. I do not discuss it with anyone. There may be occasion when it is my duty to break confidentiality:
    > If I feel you or I are at risk of harm.
    > Criminal / illegal activity.
    > A safeguarding concern or something else so serious that warrants concern.
  • I may talk to my coach or supervisor about issues arising in our sessions without ever naming or giving away you as the client. This is to ensure I am following professional and ethical guidelines and delivering my best. I subscribe to these by the ICF; https://coachfederation.org/code-of-ethics
  • Qualifications and CPD; I am an accredited coach. This means I have trained, practiced and qualified with Animas Centre for Coaching (Nov 2020). I hold a ‘Diploma in Transformational Coaching’. This is accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF).
    > I have my own coach and group supervision
    > My CPD includes –  Outdoor Intelligence for Online Coaching (Oct 2020) -Positive Psychology (Feb 2021

My accreditations


My story

I’d been trying to work out ‘what else’ I could do with my career and life.

After 20 years in HR and with the children getting older, I wanted to change careers, but into ‘what?’ And ‘how’ was that even possible? And…’who would take on a mid-40’s apprentice?’!

I took small steps to boost my confidence and mindset; a regular ‘walk and whinge’ with friends to offload, short courses to up-skill, more running, more netball.
I asked my workplace ‘what else’ they needed that I could help with – ‘job crafting’. 

I was trying to make changes but it wasn’t really working. I was still frustrated and now, more miserable. I needed a different approach to find a way forward and release the building pressure I felt.

Hiring an accredited coach with whom I knew I could work with, enabled me to take a good look at myself – at times, uncomfortably.

To be listened to without any interruption, or judgement was empowering and I started to recognise what made me, me – my personality, strengths, what energised me and made me happy. What if these things amounted to a job I would…love…?

I followed my curiosity and dabbled with ideas about potential jobs, tasks and environments that would suit me, with a new, growth mindset.

I started to shift perspective. When I finally realised the ‘what’, I felt an energy and sense of knowing that was powerful. And I laughed, because it had been right in front of me!

Coaching undoubtedly helped me get to know myself, to see my potential and what was possible. I wholeheartedly decided through those sessions, on what and how I wanted things to be.

It had taken me two years of feeling stuck and miserable and a number of hours to be liberated.

This is what I now do with my clients. I help them rediscover themselves so that they can play to their strengths and thrive.