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The importance of small wins: the gold is in the process


‘Go big, or go home‘ – they way we motivate ourselves is often aimed at the end-game, the result. In fact, the result almost always needs to be significant or ‘big’. Instead of looking back, identifying our small wins, failures and lessons learned we focus on the outcome.

We all have moments in our lives where we radically want to change our approach. Looking to pull our lives into a different direction we make a quick and big decision like quitting our job or ending a long relationship. This might bring you the desired result (change) in the short term, but when we only focus on the result we often lose sight of the process and ignore the importance of the small win.

What we forget is that the gold is not in the admiration of the result or our achievement, the real gold is in the process. In what we learn and how we grow, but in fact what we rather like to do is skip ahead.

Skipping ahead 

A good example of skipping ahead was when I met this guy – let’s call him Peter – at a birthday party a couple of weeks back. ‘I am a photographer’, is what Peter said when I asked him what he did for a living. I love talking to people about their passion, so I engaged in conversation. What happend next was very interesting. Peter started a monologue about what he was going to do in the future as a photographer and how he was going to go places and take the world by storm.

Now, there is nothing wrong with a healthy dose of ambition, but after asking him about any recent projects he could give me nothing other than: ‘I’m very busy, working on other projects/things, at the moment.’ Normally, I would leave it at that, but something about the way he said it – with arrogance – intrigued me. Was this guy for real? ‘So, to be a photographer is a dream you are going to pursue?’ I asked. On which he replied, ‘No! I am a photographer’ and stormed off. 

Through a friend of Peter I found out later that night that he had purchased an expensive camera about a month earlier and started calling himself a photographer ever since, even though he had never started or finished a project.

Why was Peter so eager to tell me that he was a photographer? When in fact he was only getting started. The better story – in my opinion – would have been the one about his challenges, next steps and if he felt particularly brave that night, his fears and insecurities chasing his dream.

Being a photographer was apparently more important to him than becoming one

Being a photographer was apparently more important to him than becoming one by putting in the hours to get there. This is something that happens more often than not, we love the admiration when we tell people who we are (or who we want to be), when in fact we are nothing close to the person we are selling (yet). Why are we so eager to skip ahead to the moment of success?

Destination focus 

We skip ahead because the result has become the most important part of the journey in everything that we do. In our work, our families and in sports we focus on outcomes. From a young age we learn to navigate the pass/fail flowchart at school. Achievement is met with acceptance, whereas failure is met with rejection.

At work we strive to do good so that we make promotion and on the field we want to score that winning goal to bring home the win. If we fail, we are stimulated to work harder and do better next time, instead of looking back and learn what led us to failure in the first place. We only tend to focus on the process or journey at the moment of success.

We only tend to focus on the process at the moment of success

Let’s talk journey

While researching my upcoming trip to Australia and New Zealand I stumbled upon this webpage that opened with the quote: ‘It’s about the journey, not the destination’. A statement often repeated by (aspiring) travellers when talking about their recent or upcoming trips. But what does that actually mean? To be in the moment? To not have a destination or outcome? Or to be more aware of experiences that come your way?

What strikes me as odd, is that when we talk about travel we do focus on the process or journey, making it the most important element of our trip. Why is it then when working towards our goals we often only focus on the outcome and success and not on the journey or the process?

Working towards your goals

When you are setting a goal, you need to have your eyes on the prize, right? The result or outcome is important, but the real gold is in the process. The lessons learned, the stress and how we coped with the challenges on the road towards result are often quickly forgotten once we achieve our desired outcome. We celebrate shortly and move on to our next goal, possibly leaving valuable lessons to be learned behind.

What if you would treat the process as the most important part of your journey, like you would do when traveling? What if you would recognize a small step forward for its importance and celebrate?

Look at your last (successful) project and reflect:

  • Can you deduct and identify the small wins you had along the way?
  • How did you define success/failure?
  • What were the two most important lessons you learned from this project?


  • What do you focus on when setting a goal? The result or the process? Why?
  • What would your process/journey look like if you were to set up one for your next goal?

The gold in the process 

As I said before, the gold is in the process. To reflect on something can be less than fun, especially if you reflect on a project or activity you failed at.

These moments of reflection however, provide you with valuable insights on how you can set yourself up to win in the future. Even if you only do it for less than a few minutes you can gain valuable insights that for example will prevent you from making the same mistakes again or give you an edge, becoming even better at something you already excel in.

Consider this.. 

To help you set yourself up to win, consider this: What if you would not look at the process and the result als two different perspectives within the same journey, but see them both as an essential part of your journey on the road towards your goals. The process is lost without a goal or defined outcome and without the insights we obtain in our journey and process there will be result, but only limited progress.

The process is for yourself, the result is for everybody else

I use this quick reminder if I get stuck or too focused on either the process or the goal: The process is for myself, the result is for everybody else. Think about it. We get celebrated and admired for the results we achieve by everybody else. it is in the process where we actually learn and grow for ourselves. How we cope with the challenges and setbacks, how we celebrate the small wins and how we gain insight into our own behavior are all lessons we learn that come straight from the process or our journey.

Everybody else only focuses on your process at the moment of succes, but if you realize that the process is something for yourself and the result is for everybody else, you are on your way to set yourself up to win. You will not only get results, but grow and make real progress in the process.  


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