In recent months, encouraged by the thoughtful questioning of a friend and coach called Mike Szczesniak who I first met at Lewis Howes’s Summit of Greatness event in Columbus, Ohio in the autumn of 2017, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the way I progress things.
I realised that celebration of any kind has never really been a part of my playbook.
My first instinct — whether it was after finding a new job, securing a good contract in my day-to-day digital communications consulting business, winning the local Gaelic football championship with my club, or just getting through a bad week — has always been relief.
Relief that I’d survived.
Relief that I hadn’t screwed up.
Relief that I hadn’t yet been found out.
The concept of celebrating successes, no matter how small, felt like an alien one.
I realised that this, and all that was negative in my life, including finding myself in workplaces that were complete anathema to my sensibilities, and all the extended spells of major depression when I struggled to get out of bed never mind consider doing anything constructive with the day, to my relationship with money, stemmed from one place.
That place was my self-worth.
Improving the worth I felt in myself feels like the one thing that will improve everything else. This is a work in progress. That work started a little over two years ago, when I decided to write and talk publicly about my experiences, from depression and life and navigating the challenges that it so routinely presents to all of us.
While my self-worth has grown steadily it was off a very low baseline. I still struggle every day, so I’ve resolved to continue focusing on self-worth in at least two ways. Firstly, the idea of self-worth itself at a conceptual level, and secondly the strategies and tactics to build it at a practical one.
In part because of this default of mine, Mike introduced me to the concept of win stacking and incremental celebrations.
So instead of just one big celebration for reaching one big milestone, and running the very real risk of never getting to the milestone and thus never getting to the celebration, a cycle which can quickly create the habit of self-recrimination and feelings of worthlessness, the concept is to introduce several levels of celebrations.
Because when we say we’re going to do something, even something small, and then we deliver on that commitment to ourselves without allowing ourselves to slip into inaction and rationalising that inaction with a range of excuses, and then we build this over time again and again and again, the compounding principle applies and our self-worth can grow and multiply quickly, particularly from a low base.
Some random examples:
- Micro celebrations, which might be nothing more than a warm bath or a new book as a reward for making it to work on time five days in a row.
- Mini celebrations, like setting up a small monthly donation to a favourite nonprofit as a reward for securing a small monthly recurring contract with a new client.
- Medium celebrations, which might be a family night out at a good local restaurant as a reward for being able to tax and insure the car for another year.
- Major celebrations, such as booking that once-in-a-lifetime trip you’ve been planning for years as a reward for the successful completion of a big project on time and as a win-win for everyone involved.
Identifying the micro, mini, medium and major wins that we’re aiming for in our day to day and week to week, and stacking them as we check them off, and celebrating them accordingly rather than putting a line through them and moving on immediately to the next job-to-be-done, feels like a good way to keep us focused on the things that matter, prevent overwhelm and help us to find balance, positive energy, productivity and fulfilment in our everyday lives.
And ultimately, as a way of building self-worth.
Because everyone — you, me, and everyone we meet — deserves to have a healthy level of self-worth and self-esteem.
* Addendum 1: For best results I’ve found it’s good to have done the self-exploration work to determine the areas of life that really matter most. There’s not much good to be gained, for instance, in setting a new 55-inch TV as a major celebration if somewhere deep down you feel that watching TV is a net negative for your core wellbeing. We’re all individuals and as such different things — experiences, investments or material objects — will appeal to different people.
Asking these two questions, and proactively prioritising the choices that are closer to 10 on both scales, is a great place to start.
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do I enjoy this thing I’m choosing to do/invest in/own?
- And on a scale of 1 to 10, how much is this thing I’m choosing to do/invest in/own good for me at a core spirit level?
Downloads of a version of these questions and an accompanying worksheet can be found over here on my happiness quadrant page.
* Addendum 2: While the flipside of self-worth — that a big ego can take over and we value ourselves too highly — is absolutely possible, I suspect even many of those who put forward into the world a version of themselves that is brash and hard-nosed and egotistic are doing it as a defence mechanism from a place of low opinion of self or low self-esteem, whether that’s a challenge they still face behind closed doors in their current daily lives or a set of behaviours and habits they first developed as a survival mechanism during their formative years.