Lately I’ve been questioning the “sharing of wins.” It sometimes feels frivolous, like it sets a tone that coaching should be all about the positive. What if you just had a stinky week? What if the energy you bring to the session flows out of a string of disappointments? And then you have me, asking a cheerful, “What wins have you had since we last spoke?” You might want to reach right through the phone and strangle me.

I decided to tweak my opening question slightly to “What’s a win or highlight since we last spoke?” Even when a client feels they don’t have a clear win, there’s usually a bright spot in their week that they can name. It also probably releases any pressure they might have felt to come up with a suitable win worth sharing (even though I emphasize that it’s about any kind of win, large or small, public or private… we still can think only certain wins are worthy of sharing!).

After trying the altered question a few times, it still felt a bit forced. I wasn’t sure if it was going to survive future coaching sessions.

Just as I was on the edge of jettisoning the win question, a client reminded me of why it’s important. He came to his session wanting to focus on reaffirming his commitment to a few habits that he knew were crucial to his entrepreneurial success. The first habit: patience.

We started by defining what patience meant to him, what it felt like, and where he already had practices in place to support it. He noted that patience meant he left time to ruminate, to deeply reflect on questions and situations without rushing to solutions or answers. It also meant holding the tension between acceptance of his current state (“everything’s happening as it should, in its own time, in its own way”) while having a growth mindset (“I can do more and want to keep growing and challenging myself”).

What enables you to hold that paradoxical state of “it’s all good” and “it can be better”? First, we have to truly believe that it is “all good.” That’s where acknowledging our wins becomes powerful. When we take the time and energy to really sink into our wins, to completely own them, they become evidence that all is, indeed, good. The more evidence we have, the more energy we have to keep moving forward.

“Celebrate what you’ve accomplished, but raise the bar a little higher each time you succeed.” – Mia Hamm

Dr. Rick Hanson has a wonderful TEDx Talk titled “Hardwiring Happiness.” My summary of the key point: most of us, in an average day, have good and bad things happen. Maybe ten good things happen, one bad thing happens. We go to sleep that night with a single thought: that one bad thing. We dwell on the losses and forget the wins, the happy moments. Hanson invites us to center ourselves in those happy moments. We need to savor them more and embed them in our memory, instead of letting them breeze right past us.

In the talk, Hanson leads the audience through a short visualization exercise, which I went along with when I watched the video. My mental movie conjured up a group of colleagues for whom I felt great affection, and who I know cared for me. They were a source of happiness for me. I recalled each of them, smiling at me, in my mind’s eye. The entire exercise only took about 30 seconds. But those 30 seconds caused a profound shift in my mood. I had chosen to watch that talk because I was feeling less than happy, less than winning. By the end, I felt enormous gratitude and a sense that not only were things going to get better… they were already okay as they were.

See what I did there?

By grounding the “win” of having these wonderful, supportive people in my life, I reminded myself that I wasn’t alone. Their presence meant something was going right. And with such amazing people in my corner, something was going to get better.

Let’s try the visualization exercise right now. This is a variation on what Hanson did during this TEDx Talk.

Get into a comfortable position and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. Bring to heart and mind someone that you knows cares about you, or take yourself back to a recent happy moment or win. Hold the image of that person or event. Now notice the feeling you have as you sit with that image. You’re trying to help that image become a feeling that becomes part of you. Take a few deep breaths. Continue to be aware of the feeling. Open your eyes when you’re ready.

As Hanson says in his talk, “…once you get it going – you’re moving out of concept to experience – stay with it. It’s kind of a critical mass of time, a threshold. Things have to last long enough in our experience to transfer from short-term memory buffers to long-term storage, including emotional learning. And meanwhile, you could sense that this experience is going into you, you’re absorbing it. It’s sinking into you, feeling loved, as you sink into it.

“A simple moment – 10, 20 seconds usually won’t change our life. But bit by bit, it can really make an enormous difference.”

So, to return to my client, what does this have to do with his quest for patience?

Think about when you’re feeling impatient. You probably are stressed that things are moving too slowly. You’re restless. It feels like nothing is going the way it should. All you notice are the bumps in the road, the detours, the gaping potholes that stifle your progress.

One way to restore balance and serenity is by—you guessed it—being able to draw on a body of evidence of wins that says “remember that time you did this, and it worked out?”

The only way we have that evidence to draw on is if we remember the wins in the first place. And we remember them by grounding them… naming… sharing… making them part of our DNA.

“Remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead.” – Nelson Mandel

There is no win too small to acknowledge. Let me give you a simple example. I walk my dog every day, and I have a choice about where to take her. I turn right out of our driveway, and we end up walking around the high school. I turn left, and we’re walking towards a fantastic local bakery. The bakery is a longer walk, but the lure of a Bavarian creme donut is compelling. And some days, it feels downright magnetic. When I choose to turn right, away from the bakery, I mark that as a win for my intention to consume less sugar.

Sure, I didn’t turn down the donut when it was right under my nose. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I made a conscious choice. What makes it evidence is that I actively acknowledge and give myself credit for turning right. I take a moment to notice and name what it feels like in my body to do it. Telling myself, “I have willpower,” helps me the next time I need it.

Evidence will now tell me that when I feel impatient with my progress with weight loss (throwing my hands up and saying, “What the heck, it’s just a donut!“) or when I feel a sugar craving, I can “turn right” and choose something different. The past wins and positive feelings have been cemented in my psyche, so it’s easier to fall back on them when needed.

Another client described his process of absorbing wins so that they become part of him: he mentally puts on a jacket that has velcro on the outside, and when something good comes along—a compliment, expression of gratitude, an acknowledgment—he pictures that feedback sticking to the velcro! Then he’s wearing all of those positive thoughts, like a garment. In the fast-paced and stressful work environment that’s part of his everyday, this visualization technique keeps him cloaked in good energy, and that helps him to be a stronger leader for his team.

This is all a very long way of saying that acknowledging and celebrating wins contributes to your resilience. It’s not just a feel-good exercise. It’s water in the desert that keeps you fueled for the journey. And if you’re a solopreneur or small business owner, there’s likely no one who’s going to tell you, “Way to go!” when something good happens. You have to do that for yourself.

By starting a session with “What’s a win or highlight?”, I’m encouraging my clients to get in the habit of noticing, feeling into, and sharing their wins and happy moments. They are strengthening their capacity to weather the ups and downs of life. There’s nothing frivolous about that!

We’ve all heard about gratitude journals; what about victory journals? What if you took a moment at the end of each day to reflect on any and all wins you experienced? What went well, and what was your role in making it happen? That last part is important; it helps you to remember for the next time you’re feeling discouraged. And if you start to say, “I got lucky,” stop. There might be a bit of luck involved, but we make our own luck. We make it by being persistent. Having patience. Being open to possibility. Being curious. Picking up the phone, sending the email, asking for help, supporting others. Cement your win by considering what made it possible.

Celebrate your life, you are your own light,” says Lailah Gifty Akita, founder of Smart Youth Volunteers Foundation. By regularly taking even just 30 short seconds to fully absorb your wins and bright spots, you shine your light that much stronger.

That benefits not only you; it’s one simple way you can make the world a brighter and better place.

What’s true for you? How do you celebrate and acknowledge your wins? Why is it important to you? And if you want, please share a win here in the comments! Let us celebrate with you!