The Transformational Power of Small Wins

By Ellevest Team

At Ellevest, we love to celebrate our community’s wins, big and small. We’re definitely here for the milestones — if you just paid off all your debt, bought a house, started that business, or got the promotion, we’re going to be right there celebrating with you, because that’s amazing.

But the small wins — the ones that usually go unnoticed, that you don’t usually see people bragging about on social media? We love those even more. Because they have transformational power.

It turns out that we aren’t as productive when we see our goals as too big. It overstimulates our brain, and we can’t deal with our goals as rationally. But when we focus on the specific things we can do to solve smaller problems, we’re not only able to achieve them, but we’re better able to learn from them and build on their success. Or, as researcher Karl Weick puts it, “small wins are controllable opportunities that produce visible results.”

In other words, small wins are our best work.

Then there’s the idea that small wins are actually better for your well-being. Because while big wins (and big losses, actually) come and go, those minor mood boosts that come from your day-to-day activities can have a cumulative, long-lasting effect.

Here’s how to start looking for and celebrating small wins to mark your real-time progress and make your days happier. 

What small wins can look like

What is a small win? It’s a consistent achievement. Tbh, there’s nothing too small to count — any progress is progress worth celebrating. A small win for one person can be a big win for someone else, depending on your financial situation or where you are in your career or life. So, small wins are personal, and there’s no right or wrong “small win.” 

Because small wins are a little elusive, they can be easier to identify as smaller parts of a bigger goal. Think of it this way: You can’t achieve success without setting yourself up for success first. Small wins are exactly that. They’re the building blocks of your bigger goals. Go ahead and count any of these actions as small wins:

If your bigger goal is: Build up an emergency fund 

Celebrate these small wins first: Download an emergency fund calculator worksheet (free for Ellevest clients). Decide on a spending plan that makes room for saving. Examine your values to help make that spending plan easier. Organize your money into your plan (in fact, we broke that part into six microsteps for you). Every penny you save toward your goal. Every spending decision you make according to your plan. Every time you go back to your plan to adjust it so it better fits your life. Milestones along the way, like “one month into my plan” and “halfway there.”

If your bigger goal is: Debt freedom

Celebrate these small wins first: Sign up for a debt workshop. Download a debt payoff planner worksheet (free for Ellevest clients). Decide which debt repayment plan makes sense for you (the avalanche method saves you more interest, while the snowball method is all about small wins). Talk about money with your partner to stay on the same page about your debt. Make one tiny debt payment above the minimum. Every month you make a payment above the minimum. Every time you pay off one debt. Every time you move the budget for a debt you paid off to paying off the next one. 

If your bigger goal is: Get a promotion

Celebrate these small wins first: Set career intentions for the new year. Align your values with your career. Download a career checkup worksheet (free for Ellevest clients). Set goals for the year with your boss. Define success with your boss. Ask for feedback from trusted sources. Use your company’s professional development funds. Present in a companywide meeting. Each time you talk about salary with a peer, friend, or mentor. Each time you accomplish something at work. Each time you take a risk. Each time you document an achievement to demonstrate your value.

If your bigger goal is: Take care of Future You

Celebrate these small wins first: Sign up for a workshop about how to get started investing. Set up autodeposits. Give Future You a name to make retirement feel more real. Download a dream retirement journaling worksheet (free for Ellevest clients). Talk about retirement with friends. Talk about retirement with your partner. Calculate your retirement number. Increase your 401(k) contribution. Invest $10 every month. Every time you make a deposit (even the autodeposits). 

How to make the most of small wins

On their own, small wins might seem routine or mundane. But in order tap into the power of small wins, they need to have meaning and not just feel like busywork. With an adjustment to your money mindset, you can start to recognize that they matter way more than you give them credit for — and celebrate them as they happen. 

Some ways to do that:

  1. Keep a running to-do list for the small wins you want to achieve. Since small wins are cumulative, you can add little things to the list all the time to keep your momentum going.

  2. Keep a running “done” list, too. Reflecting on what you’ve done each day can help you learn from your small wins and keep that mood momentum going. (If you’ve got a gratitude journal going — which is also a great booster for your well-being — your “done” list can be part of that practice.)

  3. Make room to celebrate each one. No need for a champagne toast each time, but give yourself the pat on the back that you deserve. Don’t forget the evergreen wins — those things you do over and over. Each automatic deposit, each $0 day, each time you complete a weekly project at work, etc. 

  4. Remember why you’re checking off your small wins. Connect each of your money moves back to your core values to keep them feeling like real victories.

And a few things to avoid as you’re working on your small wins:

  1. Don’t compare your small projects to the big goals. In her TED talk, educator Mehrnaz Bassiri calls this “weighing ants” — aka “taking the tiniest wins and accomplishments of our lives and throwing them on these huge scales, expecting to see the needle move.” 

  2. Don’t compare your wins to others'. That imposter syndrome that we can feel at work, like we’re a fraud? It’s kind of the same with our wins. When we compare our small wins to what we see of others’ big milestones, it can make them feel tiny. Remember: Small wins are more important in many ways than the big ones.

  3. Don’t just look at your small wins as a series of baby steps along a straight line. They can be scattered. They can be about seeing an opportunity and taking it. They can be what you felt like doing that day. It all counts.

Just a list of small wins shared by the Ellevest community

To put all these ideas into action, here are a few recent small wins from our community. Congrats to all on your progress! 

“I was caught by surprise with a debt account that had been charged off without my knowing — but by moving a few things around and knowing my budget, I was able to take advantage of an amazing payment agreement and save THOUSANDS of dollars in resolving the original debt!” — Breanna, Philadelphia, PA

“Not overdrawing my checking account this pay period.” — Samantha, Quitman, GA

“Made my first payment on my student loans to start the journey of paying them off!” — Rachel, Austin, TX

“I recently adopted two kittens and the first exam fee at a local vet was supposed to be complimentary. When I saw the bill and saw I had to pay $60 dollars per kitten for the exam fee, I made sure to call it out and get that money taken off the bill! Always ask for what you want.” — Ali, Long Beach, NY

“I had a conversation with my mom to talk about my student debt (which is in forbearance since I just finished grad school before the pandemic) and laid out my plan to decide what to pay off first and how. My mom was really proud of me and said she wanted to keep this conversation going. I'm not open with many people about my student debt but it's so great to have my mom in my corner!” — Rachel, Los Angeles, CA

Do you have a small money or career win you’d like to share? Excellent work! We want to hear about it. You can share your wins here. Need help identifying which small wins can help you hit your big goals? Book a free 15-minute call with an Ellevest financial planner and make progress right away.


© 2023 Ellevest, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

All opinions and views expressed by Ellevest are current as of the date of this writing, are for informational purposes only, and do not constitute or imply an endorsement of any third party’s products or services.

Information was obtained from third-party sources, which we believe to be reliable but are not guaranteed for accuracy or completeness.

The information provided should not be relied upon as investment advice or recommendations, does not constitute a solicitation to buy or sell securities, and should not be considered specific legal, investment, or tax advice.

The information provided does not take into account the specific objectives, financial situation, or particular needs of any specific person.

Investing entails risk, including the possible loss of principal, and past performance is not predictive of future results.

Ellevest, Inc. is a SEC registered investment adviser. Ellevest fees and additional information can be found at

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Ellevest helps women build and manage their wealth through goal-based investing, financial planning, and wealth management. Our mission is to get more money in the hands of women.