“If it’s not big it doesn’t count”. Do you think like that? Do you dismiss the hundreds of small accomplishments that you manage to complete every single day? Perhaps the simplest and most classic of these daily small accomplishments is to make your bed.
Make your bed
Tim Ferriss popularised this notion with his 5 Morning Rituals That Help You ‘Win the Day’. It’s the same notion that Navy SEAL commander Admiral William H. McRaven also earlier spoke of in a 2014 commencement speech he gave to students at the University of Texas. He includes this as one of his ten small things in his book, Make Your Bed: Small Things That Can Change Your Life … and Maybe the World.*
Today my mother-in-law was coming to stay for a few days, so there were some things that needed doing in preparation. Each one small but essential to making her stay comfortable and her room inviting. The beautiful spring weather had suddenly turned chilly and so the bedding needed to be warm and layered with plenty of options. And I hung a soft pink warm gown nearby, just in case.
She is an ex-florist, so I knew a vase of fresh flowers would be appreciated. I wandered through the garden to gather what was in flower – an eclectic posy formed of lavender, bottlebrush, fressias and seaside daisies which I placed in a cutglass rose bowl my own mother had given me when she started to pass on her treasures several years ago. She’s still going strong at almost 99!
Both small tasks were simple and enjoyable in the doing and in the finishing. The wander through the garden was a sensory meditation, the eyes being drawn to the colours of the flowers in bloom and the freshness of them, the hand’s awareness of the foliage when touched and then the fragrance emitted. And all the while an appreciation of where to cut each stem to create the final posy. The simple being in “the doing”. It was such a simple joy and adds to the meaning of the day, it’s an essential part of a good life.
Every day is filled with mostly unrecognised completions and wins. To stop and take the time to see these and acknowledge their value in your life brings satisfaction and just a little more joy.
Celebrate or Acknowledge?
Quite often the advice is to “Celebrate the wins”. In 2020, “celebrate” usually means a rowdy occasion mixed with alcohol and a few speeches. But the origins** are different:
from Latin celebratus – much-frequented, kept solemn, famous; past participle of celebrare – assemble to honor, commemorate or honor with demonstrations of joy
So “honour daily wins” could hint at the true presence we find when we are “in the moment” and “aware of being in the moment” so that joy emerges. It points to “honour daily moments” as the place where magic happens.
A little bit of science
And scientifically we know why acknowledging wins is a good thing. Jonathan Cawte writes: “Dopamine is the achievement hormone; it makes sure we get to the goal. Dopamine narrows our focus and responds strongly to visual cues. Each time we see the goal we get a hit of dopamine. As we get closer to the goal the dose increases until we are rewarded with a mega dose on its achievement.”
We need to see our goals, write them down, just as we need to acknowledge our wins – write them down, acknowledge them in a visual way, journal them. “Without a visual cue there is no dopamine,” Jonathan Cawte states.
We need to be careful that whilst goals are useful, they may crowd-out the simple joy of doing. Goals are very “left-brain” and will take control if allowed – this is one big driver in the western workplace.
For example, it’s understood that dopamine can actually make us addicted to checking things off our lists because it makes us feel good physiologically! As with everything there can be a downside. If you find yourself adding items to your list just so you can tick them off, then step away from the list!
In contrast, we want to be in “serious play” – a skillful balance of right-brain and left brain contributions, not be all one-side or the other.
*Make Your Bed: Small Things That Can Change Your Life … and Maybe the World
by William H. McRaven ISBN:9781405934466, 1405934468 Published:15 June 2017