How to Stay Motivated: Track Small Wins. Reward Yourself. Repeat.

How to Stay Motivated: Track Small Wins. Reward Yourself. Repeat.

how to stay motivated

Do you recognize the four people in the above picture?


Let me help you a bit.


Franz Kafka, Andy Warhol, Charles Darwin and Kurt Cobain.


What did all these people have in common?


They were all avid diarists.


They were all keeping track daily of the events in their lives.


To be honest with you, I had no idea that a journal was such a common denominator among highly successful and influential characters.


Famous 20th-century author Anaïs Nin once wrote:


“This diary is my kief, hashish, and opium pipe. This is my drug and my vice. Instead of writing a novel, I lie back with this book and a pen, and dream, and indulge in refractions and defractions.. I must relive my life in the dream.”


Well, although I loved Anais’ poetic reflection on the importance of a diary, I wouldn’t take it that far.


The reason a diary is so important, and so many significant figures tend to evangelize this importance, is because it actually works as a tool to help you monitor your progress on a daily basis.


Progress monitoring is an incredibly valuable habit when it comes to your discovering ways on how to stay motivated.


Without awareness and control over your progress, you tend to lose contact with your achievements and this is probably the strongest motivational inhibitor one can experience.


Teresa Amabile is a professor at Harvard Business School and mostly known for her research on the impact of progress on the performance of individuals.


By collecting diary entries from 238 people at seven companies, Amabile generated 12,000 person-days of data on moods and activities at work.


Her finding suggested that nothing contributed more to a positive inner work life (the mix of emotions, motivations, and perceptions that is critical to performance) than making progress in meaningful work. If a person is motivated and happy at the end of the workday, it’s a good bet that he or she achieved something, however small.


The striking conclusion is that a sense of incremental progress is vastly more important to happiness than either a grand mission or financial incentives.


In another recent research among US entrepreneurs by the business scholar Saras Sarasvathy, what he found out was that “whatever they tell you on TV’s Dragons’ Den, the successful entrepreneurs rarely made long-range business plans, and scorned market research. They went for quick wins – a few sales, then a few more – instead. Their philosophy was ‘ready, fire, aim.’”




Breaking big challenges down into chunks isn’t original advice, of course. What the above-mentioned studies try to emphasize on is that our perception of achievement is quite distorted in real life.


Our constant pursuit of achievements that will place us in a position of value in the eyes of others somehow disorients us from the idea of the achievement itself.


Since our early childhood, our acts were incentivized by the reward we would receive from our parents. These results could be tangible or intangible in a sense that they could be manifested in the form of an appraisal or a present.

how to stay motivated

Whatever we did, we did it because we wanted to experience a degree of praise and admiration from our caretakers – a praise which would eventually give us strength and motivation to keep doing what we were doing.


The degree to which this praise and admiration were received obviously varies from individual to individual.


The fact, however, is that the need for it was always there and will always be.


Our ability to recognize its importance incrementally affects our performance in our everyday endeavors.


Having big aspirations is paramount because it gives you a vision, but monitoring your progress and celebrating small goals and victories is what will eventually materialize this vision.




With all the pressures and distractions in our lives, it is all too easy to have our smaller achievements go unnoticed, even by ourselves.


I have personally managed to make “the progress principle” a huge aspect of my overall emotional satisfaction and intrinsic motivation levels.


More specifically, I have created a small 2-step system that helps me stay motivated and engaged with my work on a daily basis and also helps me respect my progress even if it isn’t as big as I was expecting.


The 2-step system goes as follows:


1st Step – Create a task list and write in your diary every day


The first step consists of two parts, which are actually equally important.


The first part is to have a task list ready for the day where I will have added all my work-related tasks. The task list needs to be well specified and it cannot exceed five tasks because I won’t be able to manage them efficiently.


I will give you an example of what a well-specified task list looks like by taking a random daily task list from my schedule:

how to stay motivated

The tasks here are quite random but also quite usual for my daily life because they all have to do with my main activity, which is blogging.


Additionally, they are listed by level of importance, which suggests that I am not allowed to move to the next task if I haven’t completed the previous one.


This rule helps me become more disciplined and focused.


Most of the time, I manage to complete all the tasks and that gives me extreme pleasure and fulfillment.


But even if I don’t and let’s say I didn’t manage to complete two or three of the least important tasks, I can easily move them to the task list for the next day without feeling bad because I managed to complete the most important ones.


The feeling I experience whenever I manage to strike out the completed tasks is priceless. It fills me with a sense of immense pleasure and enjoyment to know that I managed to finish hard work and that is needed more than anything after a stressful day.


The second part is the journal part.


A journal for me is probably one of the most effective and impactful ways of individualistic expression.


The words that you write down reflect your emotional state throughout the day and help you release your anger and pain or elevate your happiness and excitement.

how to stay motivated

By logging your daily experiences and achievements, you create a sense of purpose within yourself.


Even if you didn’t accomplish anything important during your day, the way you express it in your journal reframe your whole reality.


Never assume that your life is boring. You are the hero of your own story and everything you do, even if you consider it simple or mundane, should be expressed through appreciation and grandeur.


This is probably the most powerful mind hack I have ever learned.


2nd Step – Reward yourself on a monthly basis


Now, understanding and being aware of your progress is good and all but there is also something very important when it comes to lasting motivation that we shouldn’t ignore – the power of rewards.


Rewards or “treats” may sound like a self-indulgent, frivolous strategy, but it’s not. Because forming good habits can be draining, treats can play an important role.


When we give ourselves treats, we feel energized, cared for, and contented, which boosts our self-command and self-command helps us maintain our healthy habits.


Studies show that people who got a little treat, in the form of receiving a surprise gift or watching a funny video, gained in self-control. It’s a secret of adulthood:


If I give more to myself, I can ask more from myself. Self-regard isn’t selfish.


When we don’t get any treats, we begin to feel burned-out, depleted, and resentful.


Like I said before it brings us back to our childhood when we were usually expecting gifts from our parents. Whether we got those gifts or not doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the need was always there and will always be.


However, you can’t still expect your parents to reward you, but now you are the one who can reward yourself.


The best timeframe to reward yourself is on a monthly basis because if you do it more often the crave won’t be that strong and also you can’t invest money on something that has value and you can appreciate more.


With regards to the nature of the present, this is a personal thing. I like having dinners in expensive restaurants or buying tickets for football games or even have a gift delivered to me.


If I choose a gift delivery, I also tend to accompany the gift with a personal note to myself. Something along the lines of:

how to stay motivated

Even if I didn’t reach all the milestones or didn’t work as hard as I expected to, the reward keeps me in a state of constant mental arousal, helping me to keep on going.


And this is probably what matters the most.




To sum up, I wrote this article mainly to help you understand that while you grow up it will become more apparent to you that your life will constantly be an attempt to balance between your inner child and your adult self.


Both characters are equally powerful and equally important to your emotional and social well-being.


Neglecting one of them or failing to understand its place in your life will only cause confusion and regret.


I know that we are constantly trying to propose ways to evolve your adult self and that’s what mainly this blog is all about. But we also understand that the inner child will always be there, trying to justify its place in your reality.


Don’t suppress your inner child. It was a huge part of your life and it will always be. Back then it was your caretakers who were responsible for it. Now it’s you and only you.


Use the above suggested methods to “treat” your inner child and appreciate all the hard work and effort you put in evolving your adult self.


You might find people that will appreciate this attempt of yours along the way but until then it’s only you who is responsible for this.


Work hard, read a lot, monitor your progress and reward yourself.


Till next time.


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Adrian Iliopoulos

I am the founder and main contributor at "The Quintessential Mind" - A unique personal blog that offers a holistic approach to self-development. I am striving to create high-quality content by investing in a reality-based form of self-help, informed by a deep understanding of psychology, philosophy and my own personal experiences and social adventures.
Adrian Iliopoulos