Like a lot of teen girls–and perhaps most of the human population right now–my daughter hit a quarantine roadblock this week. “I was doing pretty well with a daily schedule and making healthy food choices and stuff,” she told me. “But now, I’m staying up too late, procrastinating on my homework, and eating too much because I’m bored.” Yep, that sounds about right, I told her, and she gets major celebratory points for recognizing that she’s not making great choices. That’s a win!
She looked at me like I was a little crazy. “Um,” I just told you that things are falling apart over here.” I nodded and let her know that my week was similar – I was skipping showers, also stress-eating and not checking in with people as much I had planned on. But instead of punishing ourselves, we should appreciate that we recognize things are off track because it means we can adjust and try again with new intentions and a realistic game plan.
My mom taught me the valuable lesson of learning to take stock of my wins on a daily basis. I’m not talking about clearing enormous hurdles, winning awards, and getting huge promotions. I’m talking about the little invisible wins that quietly propel us forward.
It’s about momentum…
When I started my nonprofit, for example, I was overwhelmed those first few months. My background was making media. What did I know about incorporating as a nonprofit, setting up payroll, establishing a board, etc.? Who did I think I was? Even thinking about all the things I didn’t know made me want to call my boss some days and quit. Except I was my boss, and I’d started this whole thing. I would not be able to endure the ride of establishing a new business if I remained panicky.
So I followed my mom’s advice and jotted down a few bullet points each day in a journal of things I’d accomplished. Again, we’re talking small things: I called the bank to figure out how to set up an account; I researched the phrase “fiscal sponsor”; I cried only once from frustration. These bullet points created a sense of momentum. Maybe I wasn’t “crushing it,” but I was trying, learning and being brave. Every few weeks I would look back at this journal and see how far I’d come. Writing down the tiny wins made my progress undeniable and often gave me the courage to keep going.
We are a culture obsessed with comparing ourselves to others (Instagram, anyone?) and hyper-focusing on our flaws. Girls’ confidence drops by 30% between the ages 8 and 14 (The Confidence Code, 2019). It is a huge and necessary service to teach our girls, and model for them, how to boost our own confidence. This strategy works because it is internal, in our control, and requires no outside validation.
Making “weekly wins” a policy
As MEDIAGIRLS started to grow and I got to hire people, I instituted a policy for staff members that every Friday we celebrate our “weekly wins.” What did we get right? What did we learn? What moved us forward? The rule is that we can’t mention at this time what went wrong or how it could have been better. This is important but for a separate discussion. Some days are much harder than others to find the wins but there’s always at least one.
Back to my daughter…
We appreciated the small – yet pivotal – win of realizing she was struggling and needed to adjust some habits. We talked out a few realistic changes she could try this week, not more than two or three, with a plan to check back in a week to see what went well. Then we’d celebrate those and tweak some more. I’m hoping this way of living will stay with her, long after quarantine has ended and become part of our family legacy.
On today’s list of wins: In addition to writing this blog, I showered before 9 AM. I remembered how to spell “accommodate” (okay, I had to look it up on Google but I’ve now memorized it). I put my reading glasses where they actually belong so I wouldn’t spend an hour hunting for them later. It’s unlikely anyone will hear this new and fling confetti around me. But I’ll enjoy quietly cheering on my victories.
Michelle Cove is the Executive Director of MEDIAGIRLS, a nonprofit organization that teaches girls how to critique the way girls and women are portrayed in pop culture with an emphasis on creating empowering content. She is also an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and author whose projects have been featured on numerous national platforms including “The Today Show,” The Washington Post, and The New York Times.