How do you celebrate your successes? Do you?
BJ Fogg, one of the main figures in behaviour change research and the author of the best-seller Tiny Habits, express his hope that if his reader is to take and apply just one thing from his book, it should be the art of celebrating oneself.
I often watch bits of NBA games on Youtube. I used to play basketball in my younger years, and I love the game. And it serves as a good example of ongoing celebrating. Sometimes an improbable basket in the last second turns the game over, which is a cause for a long, loud and crazy celebration of the winners and their supporters, but during the game there are lots of smaller celebrations, and this is what I want to look at.
Basketball is rapid and flowing, and there are lots of points gained very often on both sides, which means that scoring points is the norm. Yet, with each successful basket you can see some celebratory gesture from the player who scored, some gesture of recognition and praise from their teammates, and a loud cheer from the fans. The game goes on immediately, so it’s not long or elaborate. It’s a short and simple expression of joy. It can be an arm movement, a gesture, a word, a smile; some players have their signature gesture.
We may find it so normal that it seems redundant to talk about it. We are used to seeing these expressions of joy in competitive sports. But curiously enough, almost nowhere else.
BJ Fogg talks about celebration in the context of habit creation. While you are in the process of creating a new habit, he teaches you how to build the celebration into the process as a necessary ingredient. As a preparation, you are asked to explore different possibilities to express joy and find at least one that makes you feel good; raise a fist or do a fist pump, mark a V with your fingers or clasp both hands together; say a word of praise or appreciation: Yes! Well done! Yey! Or simply smile.
When you perform the habit you are trying to implement, you celebrate it. The habit is tiny, and the celebration is even tinier. It doesn’t need to take more than half a second. But if you take a moment to think about it, you may find out that you celebrate your small successes very rarely, or maybe never.
I used to leave the bed unmade more often than not, because when leaving the bedroom I simply forgot about it and didn’t care much. My wife used to complain about the messy bed. So at some point I decided to create the habit of making the bed when I get up. Family harmony reigned. Did I celebrate it every time I made the bed? No, I didn’t.
Do I celebrate my daughter when she goes into the kitchen and puts away the washed dishes (which is her duty) without being reminded to do it? No, I don’t.
Most of us are extremely good at beating ourselves up when we don’t do something we should be doing. Why, then, celebrating it when we do do it is so uncommon? It could be so natural, and so encouraging to keep doing it! It doesn’t have to be big; a small achievement followed by a tiny self-recognition. Or, as the case may be, recognition of the other.
These days I’m trying to pay attention to these tiny feel-good gestures that are so scarce in my daily life. Why should I take for granted the fact that today I did again something I want to do? Why not allow myself a millisecond of satisfaction? There’s no reason in the world why I should be so good at taking note and bickering the times I fail to do it, and let it pass without notice when I do it?
Here’s a challenge for you: Find your gesture, sound, word or movement of celebration. It shouldn’t feel awkward or make you uncomfortable; it should be something that comes naturally and makes you feel good in an instance. If you are a sports fan, ask yourself what you do when your team scores; that’s your celebration.
When you have it, close yourself in the bathroom and practice it in front of the mirror. Make sure there is a little satisfied feeling that comes with the gesture.
Now ask yourself where you could use it to celebrate yourself during the day. You’d probably find it silly to celebrate things that became completely automatic, like brushing your teeth or getting dressed. But there must be something that is not yet so ingrained that you don’t have to think about it at all. Find the small achievements that tend to pass unnoticed, notice them, and celebrate them. Celebrate yourself!
And for extra bonus, ask yourself when it would be appropriate to give a high five (or any form of celebration that comes naturally to you) to your daughter, your partner, your colleague… anything that would give them that momentary feel-good gift when a small achievement has been noticed and not taken for granted.
What if celebrating (like this: adequate, proportionate) were a common daily experience, and not reserved for weddings and graduations? Wouldn’t it make our daily life more satisfying?