The Small Wins Theory to Boost Your Self-Esteem

The Small Wins Theory to Boost Your Self-Esteem
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

The small wins theory says that life is better if you learn to simplify. The biggest and hardest-to-solve problems are easier to tackle if you break them into bite-sized pieces.

There’s nothing better for your self-esteem than racking up lots of small victories. These daily triumphs can motivate you to keep going. Anthropologists say that the ability to make progress comes naturally to humans.

Technological, social, and cultural advancement is almost unstoppable. So much so that, before long, we’ll have new generations visiting unexplored planets. They’ll eradicate illnesses that are incurable today.

“I walk slowly, but I never walk backward.”

-Abraham Lincoln-

The main idea is this: you’ll find it difficult to achieve small wins if you don’t stimulate your motivation to make them happen. You have to believe in your possibilities. Otherwise, men and women who are confident in their abilities and have a high-self esteem and self-worth will pass you by.

The small wins theory in action

James Watson, co-discoverer of the molecular structure of DNA, explains in his memoir that, in school, no one explains how motivation works. No one tells you how to deal with dark moments and personal defeatism.

Dr. Watson and Francis Crick failed several times in their attempt to decipher DNA. What’s more, for many years they thought their model would fail and that they’d become the laughingstock of the world.

Nevertheless, both scientists decided to mentally and emotionally re-focus and apply what we know today as the theory of small wins. After all, there’s nothing better than building up your confidence little by little. Each right answer and each small boost will eventually lead to triumph.

A lightbulb.

Using the small wins theory to improve your self-image

We all know that you can’t make a child run if they haven’t learned how to walk first. You have to finish a house’s foundation before you build the roof. It’s important to take one step at a time. You need to know what to do and when. Above all, you need the intelligence to nurture your patience. Unfortunately, in our day-to-day lives there often isn’t much space for those who want to go slow. We don’t value people who take their time and look before they leap.

Most of us, in fact, are stuck in the other extreme. We have big dreams and desires. We also have big problems. Everything overwhelms us and slips through our fingers. We start to think that there’s no escape from this failure and that we’ve used up all our options. These kinds of ideas eat away at our self-esteem and ruin any motivation we have to succeed.

There’s a name that deserves recognition in the psychological world for her contributions to the field of human motivation. Teresa Amabile is a Harvard professor who specializes in creativity, productivity, and workplace contentment. She highlights what the small wins theory has to offer. To achieve important goals and solve complex problems, the best thing is to divide the journey into small stages.

A guy sitting on a toy plane.

Small, everyday revolutions

Karl Weick is a well-known social psychologist and another expert in the field of motivation. According to Weick, most modern societies aren’t effective in dealing with serious problems. These are chronic issues like unemployment and crime. What politicians and non-profits do is invest a lot of money in “big solutions”.

However, these big solutions always seem to fail. The grand schemes and good intentions quickly go up in smoke. Talking about them is one thing, but making them a reality is another. The real solution lies in the theory of small wins. The way to truly fix these problems is with little revolutions every day. To find the things that are wrong, you have to be a skilled and patient micro-surgeon who can find the source of the problem.

The best thing to do is create simple and modest plans on a local level. Countries like Norway and Finland do this very well. They know how to get close to real people and design accessible structures to provoke change little by little.

“If you want to change big things, pay attention to the small things.”

-Rudolph Giuliani-

A guy with a star balloon using the small wins theory.

Improve your self-esteem with small goals

It doesn’t matter how big your challenge or problem is. If you divide it up into feasible goals, everything will become manageable. The small wins theory says that, to maintain your emotional health, you need daily wins. The way to do that is by setting simple, daily goals.

Little by little, your self-esteem will improve. As you progress, you can make bigger changes and take bigger and more confident steps. You’ll see your goal a little closer on the horizon. Invest your effort in this simple and humble technique and watch your limitations vanish.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.