Slot machines are calibrated to celebrate small wins, while glossing over the small loses. If you have ever spent any time in a casino, you’ll understand what I mean. A buck or two added to the “credit pot” will unleash a whole series of music and bells, while a forfeiture of that same amount results in silence. Of course, there is a psychology to this, based on research into how the human mind reacts to taking chances.
And while I don’t gamble (I shop: it’s a sure thing), there is a lesson to be learned here. Our human brain seems to be programmed to think in an opposite way.
We often tend to focus on our missteps and stumbles as we make our way down the road of life, seeing them as major events, while failing to celebrate the small triumphs, the tiny moments of joy that we often overlook. Most people can recall, in vivid detail, an embarrassing scenario from the seventh grade, while dismissing the simple words of affirmation offered by a boss in passing. We focus on the annoying little family spats without looking for the days of positive interaction and shared laughter.
Is that human nature at work or cultural conditioning? We are admonished at every turn to “go big or go home.” And so we hang our heads when we fall short of the big goal, the major prize. Is walking that first mile after years of being sedentary less spectacular than running a marathon? Is planting one tomato less rewarding than cultivating a big garden? Maybe. But if all we are able to focus on is the big prize, we are unable to enjoy the fact that winning is still winning.
I gave this some thought as I embarked on my writing career. I had no idea if I would attract a readership and if I did, how my books would be received. Ultimately, I wondered, would my words have meaning and would my story lines and characters resonate? And what if I only sold a handful of books instead of thousands: would I be happy with that? Could I find fulfillment if positive reviews and accolades failed to materialize? And if the New York Times never came to call would I be satisfied? I gave some thought to these questions and others before I began. And in the end, my personal response freed me, giving me permission to attack my dreams with gusto, regardless of the outcome. I wanted to write because it brought me joy, fulfilling my need to create. I hoped to produce something to leave behind for generations who were yet to be born, those who might never know me. I had always thought that someday I would, and I finally had the time to do it. Removing the pressure to succeed made me successful.
And so, I encourage you to be kind to yourself as you embark on a project, big or small. Paint a room or even one wall instead of the whole house. Take photos for your Facebook page instead of a coffee table book. Celebrate the small victories. They are much bigger than you might think.