Celebrate the little successes

Today, my huge goal is to get an envelope out certified mail. Yesterday, it was to get a cashier’s check and take it to the Social Security office.

Both of these things were supposed to get done on Monday — Tuesday at the latest. But, as I walked out of the bank yesterday, I told myself, “Look at you: Getting things done!”

That probably sounds silly to anyone who doesn’t know much about depression. Still, I’m proud of myself. The more urgent a chore, the harder it is for me to get it together and get it done. So, yeah, it took me an extra three days — but I got it done in under a week. Without freaking out over the errand and ignoring it until it became a crisis.

There are so many aspects to frugality (and life) that we will never do it all. Maybe you forget about a credit card payment and end up with a late fee. Or you are too tired to cook and buy convenience food. Maybe you simply don’t save as much as you wanted to.

Most of us simply have too much on our plates — with or without depression and debilitating health conditions — to realistically get everything done. In other words, we face daily upteen ways that we can “fail.”

And, yes, taken separately, most of these so-called failures would have been easy to avoid. But we don’t live in a vacuum. (If we did, I bet my house would be a lot cleaner!) These lapses occur because we’re busy juggling other aspects of life: work, cooking, cleaning, paying bills and maybe even raising kids.

We don’t get everything done because there aren’t enough hours in the day, let alone enough energy in the individual. And, okay, even when we do have the time and energy, we don’t get everything done. Because we’re human, which is synonymous with a complete and utter failure to be perfect.

There will always be a million things we can berate ourselves for. We can scold ourselves on the myriad things we’re not doing at any one moment. But then we spend most of our lives throwing good energy after bad. Which would you rather do: Beat yourself up for buying pizza on the way home, or enjoy quality time with loved ones?

Being constantly disappointed in yourself is an exhausting proposition — take it from someone who knows. It also means you’re eternally living outside the minute. Rather than enjoying the present, you’re focused on past mistakes and promises to yourself (that you almost certainly can’t live up to) about the future.

I am finally cluing into the fact that it’s far more motivating to use a little praise than a lot of scolding. (Sure, I knew this about other people for ages. But you didn’t expect me to hold myself to the same standards as everyone else, did you?)

Today’s errand — the certified letter — is a lot more likely to happen because I know I’ll be proud of checking one more thing off the list. By celebrating the small victories, I go from facing self-directed wrath (“What’s the matter with you? You can’t even get one thing done?!”) to feeling proud and even a little efficient.

I’m not saying it’s easy. You feel like kind of an idiot the first few times you praise yourself for something relatively simple. But is it really all that simple? Most of us lead hectic lives. Some days I wonder how we get as much done as we do — let alone all the things we “should” be doing but aren’t.

So, okay, getting a letter out in the mail doesn’t qualify as a miracle — small or otherwise. But it’s hard for me to do. Whether you think it’s silly or not, I consider such things obstacles. So when I overcome them, even when it means a basic errand gets done, I am proud. When I get a bill paid on time, I’m happy that I avoided a late fee or the stress of whether I’d get sent to collections. And if I’m too tired or disorganized to prepare a meal, I try to celebrate if I can keep the cost of our convenience food relatively low.

It’s easy to spend all your time and energy thinking about what isn’t getting done. Sometimes, the real challenge is to celebrate the things that you do accomplish.

And, hey, if you even slip up on that… It’s okay.


  1. Deedee says

    I know exactly what you are talking about. Good for you, you must celebrate those (seemingly small) victories. For me, it is telephone calls. Like calling the dentist or doctor for an appointment. Or calling a plumber for a major leak. Seems like such a simple thing, but I have such a hard time actually doing it. Weeks can go by. It's at the top of my to-do list and I still can't do it. So when I do, I feel so very proud of myself and yet I also still have that lingering "I am an idiot for thinking this is so hard to do" feeling.

    • says


      Ugh, phone calls are the worst. It seems so simple but still so onerous. Sometimes even harder than getting myself out the door for the actual errand/appt. I've stopped questioning the why and just try to accept that it's going to take me awhile to work up to it. Tim helps by reminding/pushing me about it until I do it just so he'll stop asking. But, hey, whatever works!

  2. pen says

    I have health issues to, nice to know I'm not the only one who just falls asleap and forgets to do something from sheer exaustion. Glad to know you are manageing. keep on going one day at a time… plan as best you can, and when you cant, enjoy that carry out since you got it.

  3. TEN says

    Don't be so hard on yourself. I often put a few 'silly' things on my list of things to do and give myself a pat on the back for accomplishing it. Right now, stamps and filling out a vacation time request are both on this week's list. If I do both tomorrow, it will be a success. I use the 'silly' things to gain momentum for the other things on this list. The list contains more things than I hope to accomplish for the week. That way, I can pick and choose and celebrate the accomplishment – big and small.

  4. Beth says

    What a great reminder. When it comes down to it, at the end of the day there are things that we did get done and things that we didn't get done. I think it's much easier to focus on the things that didn't get down (after all, they're still on the "to do" list) but it's just as important to focus on what we did accomplish and be proud of that. Thank you for the timely reminder during the craziness of the holiday season! Keep on getting things done!

  5. catseye says

    I could have written this post! I'm bad about beating myself up for not getting everything accomplished on my to-do list and I don't have major health problems. But I'm learning to find ways to deal with my inner critic.
    For one thing, I'm middle-aged and work a full time job, but just don't have the energy level I had when I was younger. If I need to lie down and maybe take a nap after work, I do it. Also, I've finally accepted that I can't get everything done in one day. I'm learning to pace myself, at last.

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