Stairs and ramps are fundamentally different. If you are traveling up an impossibly high ramp, then progress can seem slow and tedious, however, if you are traveling up a staircase you can clearly see each step as a small accomplishment. This is not the perfect metaphor for ways to view progress, but it is an interesting way of thinking about milestones on a long journey. Stay-at-home orders during the pandemic can make days and weeks feel longer and more monotonous. However, the incorporation of small projects that yield opportunities for success and achievement can bring some positive disruption into the humdrum.
Humans must always move forward; progress is in our nature. In a longitudinal study conducted at Harvard Business School on the psychological experiences and the performance of people doing complex work inside organizations, researchers found that study participants commonly associated the “best days” with progress in work by the individual or the team. With the aid of daily surveys/ diary entries, the researchers were able to conclude that progress (steps forward) greatly contributed to feelings of happiness and motivation. The pandemic has altered our life in a variety of harmful and stressful ways. Without clear guidance about what the future will entail, many of us are having trouble planning ahead and our ability to make meaningful progress, at times, can seem inhibited.
When I was first confronted with the reality of lockdown, I became mentally resistant to the idea that I would be “trapped” at home and did not cope well because of my attitude. The acceptance of the situation has been liberating. Instead of resorting to anger and sadness, I came to terms with the reality and began to see the situation as an opportunity. This mental shift led me to accomplish many of my goals that I “couldn’t find the time for.” In the interim, I have developed a steady exercise routine, revamped my blog, sewed a few face masks (more here), baked a lot (more here), and have even completed 15 audiobooks on a variety of topics both fiction and non-. While the journey for most of these activities has been enjoyable, the feeling of ‘progress’ in the form of little achievements (like baking a cake or finishing a book) has given me a sense of accomplishment and joy.
While it may sound funny to ask yourself at the end of the day “what have I accomplished?” according to the Harvard study cited above, recognizing and celebrating a small win can do wonders for your motivation. Accomplishment activates the brain’s reward centers with the release of dopamine, the feel-good neurochemical. The dopamine spike is what I will call “low-key” addictive and makes you want to achieve even more. For me, something as small as hitting a certain step count or baking a semi-decent sweet bread boosts my mood. The days feel a little more unique and special when something is accomplished. For this reason, I have pretty much gone overboard with all of my little hobbies. Every time I finish reading a book, I feel good, want to share what I have learned, and immediately add another title to my collection (by the way, have you heard of OverDrive? It’s an app that allows you to borrow E-books through your public library). Similarly, with baking, being able to start and end a project in the same day has a satisfying feeling, which is further increased because I can share all of my creations with my boyfriend.
This pandemic is certainly bringing more harm than good into our lives. However, by celebrating the small wins like finishing a workout or even just completing, we are better able to find happiness and motivation despite the situation. At the end of the day, life is a large collection of all of the little things. So, if little accomplishments like baking a cake, completing a yoga routine, or folding the laundry bring us joy, then let’s find more ways to integrate these little activities into our lives.
Wishing you mountains of success in your smallest endeavors.