Celebrate Before the Finish Line

January 18, 2024

As I’ve been building new habits over the years, I’ve noticed most people, myself included, forget about one important part of the process: celebrating the small wins. It becomes so easy to focus on the goal exclusively that the thousands of small victories required to get there are completely overlooked or pale in comparison to the big successes. 

That sucks the joy out of life faster than hearing the words, “You’ve been summoned for jury duty.” And those words kill joy pretty quickly. In my opinion, we all need to give ourselves infinitely more credit in the process. These early experiences and lessons come long before the finish line and are typically the most challenging part. Creating new pathways in the brain is difficult, and it takes time. Reaching the finish line feels great, but what about the days you feel proud because you chose to show up when you didn’t want to and maintained that momentum? 

Those days are the building blocks of the entire goal. That’s where the magic, the learning, and the transformation happen. Credit shouldn’t just be reserved for the sparkle. It’s not all about the medal, the award, the speech, the champagne, or the confetti. That moment is fleeting. That part is fun, but it comes and goes. The award and the metal wind up sitting on your shelf, collecting dust, serving as a reminder of what was. 

The process though, that’s where the internal transformation happens. That’s where you learn the lessons and gain the insights that help you reach the finish line. That’s where you become the person you must be so you CAN reach the finish line. This is where the caterpillar becomes the butterfly; where your mindset changes and your new self-talk is written; where fortitude is strengthened; where grit digs in; where the callouses are built; where the body shows the effects of the work the mind has been doing.

It all starts internally, in the process, in the day-to-day efforts of showing up even when you don’t want to, even when it’s not easy, even when old habits feel so much more comfortable than the new ones you’re building. No person becomes the version of themselves they want to become by doing nothing; by choosing the same thing they’ve always chosen. No person gets to say “I did it” by standing still. 

I’ve had a quote hanging in my office for years as a reminder of what matters most. The quote reads, “It is often audacity, not talent, that moves an artist to center stage.” I’ve always loved that idea since I first read it: to have the audacity to imagine it’s possible; to believe you’re capable of being THAT person you dream of being, simply by showing up and doing the work. It’s an empowering thought – and it’s not limited to artists. Athletes, entrepreneurs, scientists, educators, politicians, moms, and world-changers have all had the audacity to believe they could bring their dreams to fruition, and they did. Because they dared to do the work. To keep showing up. The body will want to give out before the mind, and the brain is wired to live in a state of pattern – to keep doing the thing it knows how to do without conscious thought. 

This is where you have to consciously, intentionally, do the thing that makes you feel uncomfortable. The thing that contributes to the new pathway in the brain. It’s not your fault you want to do what you’ve always done – your brain is wired that way. But, to be the person who lives the new life you’re dreaming of living? That person is built, one day at a time, through creating new pathways in the brain and allowing those old habits to die out – over time. It will not happen immediately or in the timeframe you likely have in mind. But, the day-to-day actions of creating that new habit will, ultimately, allow you to reach that goal. One tool that will help you see that progress is tracking your actions. 

I used to think tracking any progress was just an unhealthy obsession that would set any person up for failure. False – that was just my mindset as a perfectionist. As I’ve implemented tracking efforts toward my goals, I’ve learned how powerful it is to build confidence, feel pride, and take power away from shame. It’s not possible to feel shame for being imperfect when the proof of progress is right in front of my eyes. So what if I’m not perfect – the numbers are right there. The data shows progress, and THAT is what matters most. So, I am a goal-tracking proselyte. Track it – all of it. Get yourself a calendar or a blank sheet of paper and start making notes of the days you’re showing up for yourself. 

Next, practice forgiving yourself for the days you don’t show up. Building a new habit takes concerted effort and brain power. You are much more likely to “fall off the wagon”, quit, give up, and hate yourself if you’re not giving yourself grace while learning something new, building a new normal while learning to navigate all the challenges that pop up. Author Liz Gilbert says, “The person who learns to create while forgiving themselves is the person who will finish. It’s not the person who is disciplined because they’ll show up and write, but delete everything they wrote yesterday. The person who can keep those words, forgive themselves for not being Hemingway, and continue to write is the person that will finish.”

Being that it’s January, consider, for example, the data on how long a New Years Resolution typically lasts from Forbes Health:

Less than 1 month – 1%

1 month – 8%

2 months – 22%

3 months – 22%

4 months – 13%

5 months – 9%

6 months – 5%

7 months – 2%

8 months – 2%

9 months – 2%

11 months – 1% 

12 months – 1% 

Sticking with it – 6%

To narrow it even further, a study out of the University of Scranton found that 23% of people (out of 200 study participants) quit after just one week. I don’t have the exact answers for why, but I can speculate that it’s because systems aren’t in place to support success, the expectations are unrealistic, and the changes are too big happening all at once. In other words – people set themselves up to quit. And the shame spiral continues….

You are fully capable of reaching your goals. If you can envision it, it’s possible. It will take work, it will take time, it will take a new mindset, and, as Gilbert said, it will require you to forgive yourself for being imperfect. It will also require celebrating the small wins along the way and tracking your progress will only support your momentum. 

Goal-setting and life-changing efforts are not limited to the start of the new year. You get a new beginning every morning you wake up. It’s an opportunity to learn more about yourself, understand why you want what you want, and do the work to get you there. Keep showing up. 

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