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Appreciating The Small Wins

By Katlyn Hasbrouck, MusicWorx Intern

This quote helped motivate and encourage me through my first month of internship by reminding me to seek out the good in every day. As I was preparing to start my internship, several people told me to soak in each day, explaining that the 6 months fly by. Their advice encouraged me to commit daily to looking for small wins. As we all have experienced, some weeks are notorious for dragging us down. By focusing on the small wins, I realized that even when my week was not as successful and productive as I would have liked, I could still find the good in it.

What is a small win?

Karl Weick (1984) states that characteristics of small wins include “a concrete, complete, implemented outcome of moderate importance”. When reflecting on my first month of internship, I determined that these small wins have stuck with me the most; observing patients moving their feet and smiling for the first time after having a stroke, mouthing words after being sedated for a while, and remembering the music therapist as they step foot into a patient’s room. While seemingly minor in the grand scheme of things, these moments mark great progress for a patient, especially in the ICU, and are special to witness.

One patient had been connected to a variety of tubes for a few months and we followed up with them each week. Throughout their treatment, we witnessed their health improve and decline. I will never forget seeing this patient mouth the words “THANK YOU” at the end of a session when they had just recently been extubated. Each time the patient mouthed words, their spouse repeated them out loud, got excited, and proceeded to become emotional. The small action of seeing this patient communicate not only touched my heart but also created so much joy. Acknowledging the significance of these behaviors to the patient and their loved ones is one way to validate progress. Recognizing these small wins encourages and motivates everyone who is involved in the treatment.

Why are small wins important?

In a TED talk (linked here), Mehrnaz Bassiri (2018) summarized theorist and psychologist Karl Weick, “Small wins have a transformational power. Once a small win has been accomplished, force is set in motion to favor another small win and another small win until the combination of these small wins lead to larger and greater accomplishments”. This shows us that celebrating small wins have emotional benefits, especially for a music therapist. For example, it produces dopamine which is known as the ‘feel-good brain chemical’ linked to motivation (Boogaard, 2020). Firing up this chemical not only helps you to enjoy rewards, but also seeks them out. You can read more about this in Kat Boogaard’s (2020) blog called “How to Boost Your Brain’s Motivation with a Dose of Dopamine”.

Amabile and Kramer (2011) discuss how small wins boost emotions and positively shapes our mental and emotional perspective during the workday. They go on to say that experiencing this sense of progress can help push people to become creatively productive in the long run. Motivation is unique to everyone, so do not be alarmed if your sense of progress appears differently than others.

At first, this thought process of using someone else’s win to assess personal growth, felt as if I was robbing the patient’s success. However, as a pursuing music therapist, identifying these moments instills confidence and encourages oneself. Acknowledging small wins can be another way to fill our cups and decrease the process of burnout, while validating patient progress.

Celebrating the small moments is a great way to see personal growth as a music therapist. Observing a patient’s small wins affirms that our treatment plan and presentation of interventions are effective and beneficial for them. Umbrella posted a blog in 2020 outlining some great ways to celebrate:

  • Reward yourself with a treat or special activity
  • Share your experiences with a colleague, friend or family member
  • Use self-talk when affirming actions (i.e. “I handled that tricky situation well!”)
  • Take a moment to soak in the success
  • Keep positive feedback (e.g. journaling)

Journaling

Journaling is a great way to document wins. Kate Maria Pennell (2020) presents the idea that “Winners write 3 wins”. These are the three wins she writes down at the end of each day:

  1. Something you did towards a project or a goal
  2. Something that you are thankful for
  3. Something that you achieved

I love this journaling method because it guides you to focus on the good aspects of your day when it may be hard to find them. If you find yourself struggling to observe any wins, write down at least one thing that you are proud of doing that day, even if it is getting up and making a meal.

“When we scan and identify positive wins on a daily basis, the brain’s neural pathways that identify positive events actually become stronger – we are, in effect, rewiring our brains.” Kate Maria Pennell (2020)

Keeping a physical collection of these moments in either a paper journal or on a document online allows you to revisit the journal entry whenever you would like. Personally, I love revisiting journal entries to boost my mood, seek out encouragement, or provide motivation for myself.  As music therapists, journaling is a good method to practice self-care and provide space for processing. Journaling looks different for everyone, which means there is no incorrect way to journal. It is simply your safe space to reflect about yourself internally and externally.

Recognizing these moments has helped me gain confidence, decrease burnout, and has encouraged me to keep working hard. Karl E. Weick’s definition of small wins is vital to keep in mind when pondering the day when journaling. Wins do not have to be grand. Any event that had a significant impact on you and sticks with you, counts as a win.

In closing, let me emphasize one more time, “There is something good in every day.”

What is your small win for today and how are you going to celebrate it?

Sources

Amabile, T. & Kramer, S. J. (2011, May). The Power of Small Wins. Harvard Business Review.

https://hbr.org/2011/05/the-power-of-small-wins

Boogaard, K. (2020, May 18). How to Boost Your Brain’s Motivation with a Dose of Dopamine.

Trello, Inc. https://blog.trello.com/how-to-boost-brain-motivation

Pennell, K. M. (2020, September 29). How Writing Daily Wins Can Help Rewire Your Brain for Confidence and Energy. BetterHumans. https://betterhumans.pub/how-writing-daily-wins-can-help-rewire-your-brain-for-confidence-and-energy-e829536ec222

TEDx Talks (2018, May 4). To Achieve Success, Start Detecting Your Small Wins | Mehrnaz Bassiri |

TEDxChilliwack. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxGapZbbI38

Umbrella. (2020, November 27). The Power of Celebrating Small Successes. https://umbrella.org.nz/the-power-of-celebrating-small-successes/

Weick, K. (1986). Small wins. Redefining Social Problems, 29–48. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4899-2236-6_3

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