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The Amazing Power of "Small Wins"

Achieving small goals floods your brain with refreshing dopamine spritzes.

Image by Pixabay, PublicDomain Pictures/18043
Source: Image by Pixabay, PublicDomain Pictures/18043

In his book, The Power of Habits, Charles Duhigg uses the term “small wins” to refer to modest behavior changes that can set off a chain reaction of more and better changes.

I love the “small wins” idea! You can “do one thing different,” as counselor Bill O’Hanlon says, and reap outsized rewards. Even better, every small win gives you a spritz of dopamine, that feel-good brain chemical that is linked with motivation. Better still, a series of small wins “…guarantees a constant supply of dopamine, which is released during goal—oriented behavior and upon achieving a goal,” says PT blogger Chistopher Bergland.

Here are 5 “small wins” that could lead to a cascade of positive changes:

1. For deeper love, meditate for 2 minutes a day. Did you know that meditation can improve your relationships? I’d always viewed meditation as a technique for stress reduction, personal growth, and insight. But according to fellow PT blogger Marsha Lucas in Rewire Your Brain for Love, daily meditation can lead to “better, healthier, juicier romantic relationships.” Meditation, in her view, can help you respond to your partner with more flexibility and develop your capacity for empathy, among other benefits. Start with 2 minutes; work your way up to 20 if you find it helpful.

2. Make your bed before you leave home in the morning. Accomplishing this small goal gives your brain a nice, refreshing spritz of dopamine. Don’t you love the feeling of dopamine in the morning?

3. If it will take less than 2 minutes, do it now! David Allen, productivity guru, recommends this "Two Minute Rule" in his book, Getting Things Done. Crossing a few little tasks off your work list first thing in the morning or in random windows of time, can create momentum to carry you through the bigger tasks, not to mention feeling a pleasant surge of dopamine for each task completed.

4. Daydream. What did you say? Oh, sorry, I was lost in a daydream. But that can be a good thing (although some of my nearest and dearest might disagree). A recent article, “Rest Is Not Idleness,” explored all the research on daydreaming—also known as “constructive internal reflection”—and concluded that daydreaming helps us reflect on and learn from past experiences, come up with creative ideas, and maybe consolidate memories. Plus, say the study’s authors, daydreaming is “linked with overall socioemotional wellbeing.” Hey, now I can feel smug instead of guilty about my incessant daydreaming! (Or maybe I can't--see this article about when daydreaming turns into unproductive rumination.)

5. Improve your posture in one easy motion. I can’t believe how effective, and how pleasurable, this simple technique is! So as not to steal thunder from any other blogger, I’ll refer you directly to the source. Thanks, Sara Calabro.

Some of these small wins could lead to bigger transformations. But even if these 5 easy wins just make your day a bit better, that’s a good thing, too.

(c) Meg Selig

Image by Meg Selig
Source: Image by Meg Selig

I'm the author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success (Routledge, 2009). For short takes on habit change, motivation, and willpower, follow me on Twitter or like my Facebook page.


“Small wins.” Duhigg, C. The Power of Habit (2012). NY: Random House, p. 109 ff.

O’Hanlon, B. Do One Thing Different (1999). NY: HarperCollins.

Bergland, C. The Athlete's Way, NY: St. Martin's Press, p. 149.

“Juicier romantic relationships.” Lucas, M. Rewire Your Brain for Love: Creating Vibrant Relationships Using the Science of Mindfulness (2012). NY: Hay House, p. xvi.

“2 Minutes.” Allen, D. Getting Things Done (2002). NY: Penguin Group.

“Day Dreaming Good for You? Reflection Is Critical for Development and Well-Being,”

“Improve Your Posture in One Simple Step"