Picture from Comuna 13, Medellin, Colombia
(7 min read)
I’m currently nestled in a café in Medellin, Colombia, still in awe at how much this city and country have fascinated me. It’s not just about the famous dance Salsa, or the warmth and hospitality of the Colombians. It’s also not just about the astoundingly aromatic coffee (yums), or the notorious drug ring. Heck, it’s not even about how much this country has progressed in the last 10 years, making her violent past almost impossible to fathom.
The thing that deeply fascinates me about this country is the spirit and dedication of her people to happiness.
The commitment to hope and optimism, the focus on the good things that are happening and will come. The reminder that we are all empowered with choices that dictate how we live our lives day after day.
Just earlier this year, Colombia was revealed to be the happiest country in the world based on a survey done by WIN/Gallup International. Just about 10 years ago, this same country was largely shrouded in violence, bloodshed and social unrest. People were living in fear, trepidation and a bottomless pit of uncertainty. Fast forward to today, this country has miraculously turned herself around. According to my tour guide, Carolina, whom I did a city tour of Medellin with, the country saw about 40,000 tourists in total in the Year 2002. In the Year 2012, she welcomed around 4 million tourists. That’s almost a 10000% increment. That is some incredible statistics.
If you are as curious (and nosy) as me, you must wonder how she manages to flip herself around so quickly, considering the fact that the total population of this country is around 50 million people. Other than the many socio-political and economic factors at play, I noticed a distinct yet consistent trend in the mentality and spirit of her people – they were determined and relentless in choosing the path of happiness.
While on the city tour, Carolina gave us a wonderful analogy of how the Colombians function. She said that because Colombia had lived through her past enveloped in fear, tragedy and extreme violence, Colombians are always unsure when the next tidal wave will come and devour them. More often than not, they feel the need to constantly find ways to prevent themselves from drowning. And when they find something positive that symbolises and gives them hope, they embrace the moment and celebrate wholeheartedly. In fact, they keep seeing every little joy in life and take every chance to celebrate each of these small wins.
And this is how they became the world’s happiest country, Carolina concluded with a cheeky beam on her face.
Other than being in awe, I am deeply moved by the spirit of the Colombians. They have very humbly reminded me once again, how happiness is truly an everyday choice.
I was reading an interesting book titled “The Genius in All of Us” by David Shenk some time back. While I love the concept that he presented – that we should not allow ourselves to be limited by genetic makeups and we can technically achieve anything we desire with time, commitment and effort, there was a theory he presented that didn’t resonate with me. He mentioned that we should always delay celebrating successes because that would promote complacency. Thus, celebrating wins hampers progress and reduces the possibility of reaching the next milestone of success.
While there’s no wrong in Shenk’s theory, I strongly believe that being constantly driven by the conviction that we are still not good enough and don’t deserve celebrations as a result does nothing positive for our emotional, mental and even physical health. In fact, I wonder if this stance will ever bring someone fulfillment and joy in what they do at all.
Shenk’s deduction was based on the assumption that feeling a sense of joy from achieving a milestone in a bigger goal would dilute the person’s motivation to achieve more. However, I think that celebrating what we have achieved today and the desire to be better tomorrow are two separate issues. There is no co-relation between them.
Just like how the Colombians function. They choose to celebrate every small win but continue striving to make this country better every day. I can’t even imagine how much more this country will achieve in the next 5 years with increasing market liberation.
In addition, there is also this assumption that people who only focus on celebrations are in denial, since they choose to pretend that difficult times never existed. On the contrary, this is not what I believe or advocate. We should always embrace both the good and bad experiences in order to appreciate life in totality and choose what we want for our next steps.
Once again, take Colombia for example. This country had been shrouded in years of violence but you don’t see her citizens removing these pages from their history books. Buildings and plazas that reminded them of brutalities remain intact right in middle of the city centre. In fact, the country keeps all these as reminders of what they had gone through, so that they can make active choices not to let history repeat itself again. These preserved areas are now symbols of peace for them - they have radically converted buildings with gory pasts to places that boldly promote development. For example, in Medellin, a famous building where violence used to transpire is now a centre for education. Also, the main plaza which was infamously regarded to be the most dangerous spot in the city is now filled with LED lights and labelled as the plaza of hope. A cemetery in the notorious Comuna 13 (Colombia’s most dangerous district in the past) where many have died due to unspeakable violence now has projects of hope right outside its gates – new plants are grown in pots and bottles, and family members of the deceased can write the name of the latter on them to symbolise life and new beginnings. The cemetery is also controversially, located right next to a school.
Have they forgotten their past? Definitely not. But have they learnt to co-exist with it yet keep their eyes focused on building joys and dreams? Absolutely. Their constant celebration of all things good creates a constant buzz of good energies and keeps things moving forward at a fantastically fast pace.
It only reminds me that constant celebrations of small wins is crucial in helping us achieve long-term success. More importantly, they help to motivate us and the people we work with achieve the big goals we have always wanted in effective, practical manners.
Here’s presenting to you, 4 reasons why celebrating small wins is undoubtedly, the way to achieve long-term success.
1. We avoid mental, emotional and physical burnouts
If we keep telling ourselves that we aren’t good enough until we achieve that gigantic dream we have, chances are we probably will experience massive burnouts before even getting anywhere near the end. Why? Because constantly putting ourselves down and believing we aren’t good enough do nothing positive to motivate us towards our end goals. In fact, we may even begin to dread our dreams and eventually convince ourselves that we will never get there. Instead of being inspired and energised, we become jaded, upset and bitter. We really deserve to be kinder and gentler to ourselves.
2. It makes the big goals seem more attainable
Breaking big goals into smaller, more achievable chunks gives us more conviction that it is possible to achieve them.
For example, dreaming of being a CEO of your own company with an annual turnover of $1,000,000 sounds like a big, daunting task. But breaking it into milestones of $5,000, $10,000, $30,000, $100,000 and $250,000 turnovers spread over a certain time period definitely sounds more achievable.
3. Small wins fuel and motivate us
With every milestone we reach, we celebrate the moment to remind ourselves that we have done well. More importantly, we reinforce to ourselves that we are indeed, capable of achieving our goals. This gives us the excitement, energy and motivation to go further.
4. We constantly nourish our self-belief and confidence
This is the overriding reason to me: celebrating small wins affirms the belief that we have in ourselves and continuously gives us renewed confidence to keep going for what we want. As life is a constant journey and working towards our dreams requires patience, conviction and an unfaltering belief in our visions, celebrating small wins allow us to see the possibilities of bigger things to come. This eventually leads us closer to our dreams, which in turn translate to long-term fulfillment and success in what we have initially set out to achieve.
So go on, kick your shoes off and go celebrate the things you have achieved today! You definitely deserve a mighty good time for your little wins today :)
Can I support you to celebrate your life with no remorse or guilt? Let's connect.