There’s a temptation to always look for quantum leaps in progress. We tend to be hard on ourselves when we feel as though we haven’t reached the pinnacle of the tower we’re trying to climb or can’t see any ‘big wins’ on the horizon.
Yet, progress is rarely achieved in quantum leaps; actually, not even great leaps. Rather, progress is slow and consistent. Steve Jobs had a term for small wins – he called it “connecting the dots”. In his well-publicized Commencement address to the 2005 Stanford graduating class he said that “you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” Each dot is a small win and only looking back can you see how it all fits into a big win.
By focusing on small wins, we afford ourselves a number of advantages. Firstly, it’s easier to stay focused and motivated. If all we set are huge goals and we don’t hit them as quickly as planned, it can be incredibly de-motivating. When you break things into their smaller parts it’s far easier to see the progress you’re making, which is incredibly motivating.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it leaves room for iteration. While we may have a single goal in mind, there are likely multiple ways of getting there (some easier than others). In manageable parts, we can quickly tell what works and what doesn’t and proceed on that basis.
Therefore it’s the small wins we should be focused on to make the biggest difference. In order to do this better, Harvard Business Professor and author of The Progress Principle, Teresa Amabile, suggests keeping a professional journal in order to track and record the challenges, wins, and obstacles you come across in your daily career. By keeping a running record you can quickly look back and track the progress you’ve made as well as use past experiences to solve the new challenges ahead.