Insight 6

Small successes are the building blocks of bigger wins.

“Keystone habits offer what is known within academic literature as ‘small wins.’… Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.”

Bob Bowman, coach of Olympian Michael Phelps, used similar habits to make the naturally gifted swimmer a winner. He gave Phelps calming techniques to focus him before the race. A few small habits, such as visualizing his win before bed and first thing in the morning, allowed the rest of Phelps’ routine to fall into place.

This is because of the principle of “small wins.” Consistently achieving small accomplishments can convince people that a larger goal is possible. Take the reclassification about books on homosexuality in the library of congress from “Abnormal Sexual Relations, Including Sex Crimes” to “Homosexuality, Lesbianism – Gay Liberation Movement, Homophile Movement” in 1972. The change ushered along the gay rights movement’s bigger goal of getting the American Psychiatric Association to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness.

Yet “small wins do not combine in a neat, linear, serial form, with each step being a demonstrable step closer to some predetermined goal,” cautions organizational psychologist Karl Weick. “More common is the circumstance where small wins are scattered…like miniature experiments that test implicit theories about resistance and opportunity and uncover both resources and barriers that were invisible before the situation was stirred up.”

“When Bob Bowman started working with Phelps and his mother on the keystone habits of visualization and relaxation, neither Bowman nor Phelps had any idea what they were doing. ‘We’d experiment, try different things until we found stuff that worked,’ Bowman told me. ‘Eventually we figured out it was best to concentrate on these tiny moments of success and build them into mental triggers. We worked them into a routine. There’s a series of thing we do before every race that are designed to give Michael a sense of the building victory.’”


VIDEO 6: Watch Charles explain how the science of “small wins” can help you adopt an exercise habit.

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