The Power of Small Wins

Ramit Sethi

When I was researching my book, I discovered that one of the first feelings when people see a book/course about money is…DREAD.

“Ugh…I’m going to have to analyze all my spending…find those old receipts….then keep a budget for the next 60 years…ugh” (throw book away and stomp on it on the way to read US Weekly).

The code word here is: PREMATURE OVERWHELM.

The idea of having to “get all your ducks in a row” is a powerful demotivator to behavioral change. There’s a reason why the cover of my book says, “Just a 6-week program that works.”

We know premature overwhelm happens with managing your personal finances.

It happens with earning more on the side (“Where do I find an idea? Do I need business cards? How do I get clients? Ugh, they won’t pay me…”)

And it happens with finding your Dream Job.

One of the antidotes to premature overwhelm is using SYSTEMS. Rather than a hodgepodge of 50 tactics you “could” use, finding someone who can help outline a clear, simple set of steps to take — including what to do when one of the steps fails — can quickly conquer premature overwhelm.

As I tell my students, using one of my systems (on automating your money, earning more, or finding your Dream Job), when you have a system, you can focus on what’s in front of you this week — and ignore everything else until you come to it.

For example, in week 1, my Dream Job students don’t even TOUCH their resumes. In fact, they don’t even think about them until they’ve done some of the foundational work that will let them craft such powerful resumes that they’re almost immediately sent to the top of the pile.

One other solution to premature overwhelm is identifying small wins along the way. It’s funny how we think “success” has to be a 6-figure job, or being covered in the New York Times. The biggest successes start with the smallest wins.

Most importantly, small wins keep you focused on moving forward (one reason why I like Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball approach, even though it’s not mathematically “correct”).

That’s why I spent tens of thousands of dollars building my own Dream Job software — so I could incorporate small wins directly into the course.

And today, I thought I’d share some with you. The first group of DJ students is working through the course, and they’re collecting a massive number of wins. Some of them have already found jobs and negotiated big raises. Others are racing along, marking successes along the way.

Take a look:

“Two phone interviews for Monday and Wednesday for next week. Both are aligned with community engagement. One is a Director position at a museum and I was jumping up and down when I got the news. I have never been a director, I was a senior manager in my old position so to make that leap would be incredible. The second is at a up and coming start up. Both are great fits and it feels great to know my first impression with the resume and informational interviews stuck.”

-Cathleen A.

“Met with the future CEO (undergoing a spinoff) of the largest publicly traded company in my state. Contacted him through email. Setup the email with warm network information including the names of mutual friends and pulled on the fact that we graduated from the same school. I asked for 15 minutes, we ended up talking for almost an hour. Covered details about his new position, the company’s growth plans, family, living in *****, and the possibility of working together.

I felt great having made the connection and persisting to get the appointment. I now feel like I have another ally — a very well-positioned ally in the business community here in *****. He asked for a copy of my resume to keep on file and will keep me in mind as the business grows. I was also able to share this meeting with another person in my network who can connect me with influential business leaders.”

-Matthew W.

And some larger wins…

“I redid my resume when Dream Job started and sent it out to jobs on the ***** site just as a test. As the free stuff came out, I kept shifting processes and trying to correct the mistakes I made (like telling them my salary.) Anyway, I got an interview yesterday and spent the last week practicing short, story based answers on camera, prepping a sample newsletter for the briefcase technique and quizzing a girl I know who works there. Oh yeah, and I borrowed a suit and bought $5 heels at a thrift store. They called me this morning (24 hours later) with an offer.

End result: $10,000 raise, great benefits, great boss, and a place I can actually rack up some wins, instead of just doing what I’m told. I plan to use the Dream job stuff to really work on my social and negotiating skills to become a top performer and be worthy of my dream job over the next 2 years.”

-Jessica V.

What was the last small win you celebrated? Leave a comment with the details.

(And if you’re interested, you can get the very same free Dream Job bonuses that those students above got.)

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  1. Financial Advice for Young Professionals

    I went to my first outside of work get together with my co-workers and it was awesome. We talked about a lot of interesting stuff and I learned a lot about them. I had been dreading going to one of these because I hate talking about work outside of work but it worked out pretty well. 🙂

  2. Ron

    3 recent small wins:

    -Negotiated a title upgrade after 6 months (Note, I’m 23, this is my first job after graduating, and I’ve been here 9 months) AND set a benchmark to revisit my title AND salary for another review in July.
    -Last week, had an informational interview with an Executive VP in an industry I’m interested in entering. Came away with a game plan and resources to do some serious follow-up research, and was told I could have interviews at certain companies IF I wanted them (but I’m happy at my current job for now)
    -This one’s much “smaller,” but I got a boss from a past internship to write a recommendation on my LinkedIn profile

  3. Brian

    Small win of the week: I ran a mile. My goal is to do a half marathon in 2012. Gotta start somewhere.

  4. Peter Christensen

    I recently got started using a virtual assistant service to track down 401k accounts at my former employers so I can roll them into one plan. Two birds with one stone!

  5. CL

    I think it’s awesome how you use Clotaire Rapaille’s format to talk about our code words. The last small win I celebrated was starting to genuinely connect with my coworkers.

  6. Susan

    I got my first incredibly positive feedback on the book I’m writing. I sent three chapters to my target audience and immediately got a phone call asking me, “Send more!” It really got my juices flowing and fingers tapping (on the keyboard, of course). I anxiously await feedback now on the next 10 chapters–all fueled by that one positive comment.

  7. gm

    VERY insightful post.

    Would love to see you tie it in to other things you’ve talked about, eg BJ Fogg’s practice of having everyone say what they did and what they are going to do.

  8. Camille

    Not really a “small” win, but I’ve read about GTD and implemented it with MS OneNote and Outlook but this gives me an incredible control of my work (actually doing tasks that matter and cancel useless projects…) and my position (giving me an overview of where I want to go).

  9. Zach

    small win: organized giant list of products I own, websites I visit, groups I belong to, a la 4 Hour Workweek for “muse” product ideation.

    Next up:
    Brainstorm complementary products
    Translate all items into niche markets
    Brainstorm products for markets

  10. Dunte

    Closed packages for my first two pure referral clients. Also, have generated three connections in the city I am moving to in a few months and scheduled one meeting (this weekend!) with a professional mentor I had been trying to reach for two months.

    Three wins in a month!

  11. Camille

    Last month I was wondering about a new tech and was about to read a lot of docs.
    Then I googled to find people actually using it and found some from my company who give presentations to conferences. I poked them through our internal instant messaging system and one of them call me back and then explained me the full whole thing in almost 2 hours of phone conversation + giving me insights about real life examples with concrete numbers. Amazing.

  12. Daniel H.

    Hybrid Organization has known they wanted me as an intern from Day 1. Come to find out that they thought my requested rate was a long-term goal rather than a minimum requirement right now. Sure enough, they low-balled my with their offer and I was kind of pissed.

    I regrouped, then, I decided to try my hand at negotiating my compensation – a rather uncomfortable thing for me because “selling is sleazy”, right? I tried my pitch on one of my colleagues and she liked it, so I tried it. Boom! I got my minimum rate, she wants me to start asap, and this is an awesome project in a field close to my heart!

    Now I just have to hope she can get organized enough to send me that offer she agreed to…

  13. christie

    I found an interesting investment property on the realtor listing service. I called the city and asked about being able to split the lot. Went out to the property and checked it out. Called listing agent. Her associate called me back. She confirmed that I could have an Inspection with a bank owned property. There is still that “back out” . I’m meeting a different realtor in an hour to look at comps for the property. This has truely been one step at a time. If it looks like a good deal on step A, check it out. If it still looks good, go to step B and check that out. Repeat. repeat. repeat. There are still lots of decisions and questions to be answered. I don’t know if this is a good deal for me. But, this is how I will find one. 😉
    The funny thing is, I know what motivated me. A distant relative was bitching about missing out on this good real estate deal in the 1990’s! He still sounds jealous about the guy who got it. I thought that was so ridiculous. Certainly, there have been financial opportunities for this guy since the 1990s. He just didn’t take them. A few days later, I realized, “BAM”, I’m doing the same thing! I am NOT actively pursueing opportunites for myself. Well, at that time I wasn’t. I changed all that yesterday! And, I will keep working on it.
    ~ Christie
    P.S. Glad to know you are a Dave Ramsey fan. He is very funny to me. I joke that only Dave Ramsey would like my car. ( I’m driving a beater with no payment.)

  14. Justin Shne

    Excellent methods. Great advice as well. Dave Ramsey is the man. Hopefully Dave Ramsey and Smartey’s Inc. can work together some day !

  15. Cameron

    Consecutive small wins have been waking up and getting earlier ie 6,515,430,4 now gearing up to wakeup and getting up before 330. Amazing how much more time for productive work from 330-630 with less distractions!!! Also consistently working out 3 days a week at gym and pushing myself more each time than previous great to see fast cumulative results.

  16. rightyk

    I’ve been following the Dream Job system and have been taking coffee meetings with various people within my company since I love where I work but am interested to change my focus.

    One of the coffee meetings lead to a follow up discussion about a possible position. Since it’s internal I’m obliged to let my boss know if I’m talking to anyone about another job. I didn’t talk money at all, I just told him I was investigating an opportunity for my career path.

    A few days later I was told that I have received a $5k raise for being good at my job. I haven’t decided if I’m going to pursue the other position, but it’s nice to get a bump in the mean time.

  17. Jennifer

    I started reading IWT in December/January, got busy, and then picked it up again when I had to sit there doing my taxes and realized I had this money sitting in my checking account not going to savings collecting interest and no money going to retirement. So this week I:

    -called my credit union and found out my credit card isn’t free and got moved to a free credit card with a higher spending limit
    -set up automatic payments for my credit card
    -moved my credit card into a rewards program
    -opened an account with ING direct with 5 different savings accounts for goals and will set up automatic funding soon
    -opened a Vanguard account and am about to set up my Roth IRA
    -still had time to start reading The Hunger Games

    It felt so overwhelming at first but it really is amazing how easy it was to just break it down into little steps. And at the end of the week it sounds like I accomplished a ton but it really wasn’t that much!

  18. John @ Universal Remotes

    After years of sleeping through the alarm for an hour or more or hitting snooze a few too many times with it right next to me, I moved it to the dresser. Now, I get up on time, earlier and am able to accomplish more before I normally was awake. Than in the first few hours that I was before. Gotta start somewhere. Small wins.

  19. Rafael

    I started using my library card to check out books on copywriting and marketing- I’m in sales and the cabinet company I work for just cut almost all it’s advertising, so sales have been down 80%. But the confidence boost I’ve got from reading has really helped me connect with customers and potential customers on the phone, and allowed me to confidently talk to my boss about my worries were I’m working. He let me know I’m extremely valuable and give me a HUGE leeway in working with our potential clients, gave me a blessing to start a newsletter and a store blog to see if It could generate leads. While not anything I can back up in numbers, I can now experiment with marketing and social media, which can help me build real skills that will help me into the future. Plus all my clients opened up to me today and I wrote a pretty decent sale. All I can say is my confidence and mood is higher then it’s ever been!

  20. Matt

    I still intend to leave my current job, but as long as I’m here, I applied for a newer position and got it, and when it came time for the salary offer, I negotiated for a higher one using some of your techniques.

  21. Jon

    After procrastinating/breaking for months, I’ve decided to finalize my website that will showcase a proprietary financial indicator and automated trading algorithim. It should be ready in two weeks.

    I definetly agree with you that automation and systems approaches are very key to amassing money on any scale. You don’t teach frugality, but for any portable business, I encourage it. Living in a cheaper area (apt) or cheaper country certainly has its advantages. Then take that money you are saving to work towards building your business. As long as it is getting you to, or closer to your goal, right.

  22. Kathryn C

    Small win, I made it through you post in one sitting.
    Big win, that pop up questionnaire on the right that asked me what I’d like to see more of. Genius.

  23. Erik

    One small win: Implementing one action step from IWTYTBR and opening a savings account with ING.

  24. brian

    my small win was getting off my ass and trying to contact the director of a movie i want to work on.

  25. Justin

    I’m a young financial planner by trade. Love my career. Moved to the south 3 years ago (I’m a Yankee) and was told that it would take 5 years to build my business from scratch. This past week I closed my largest case since moving here. It’s a large short-term win, but small long-term. I’ve learned to never underestimate the power of determination.

  26. james

    The recent world financial markets frequently staged the scene of the stock price soaring,Monster online shop the yen fell, the same is true of Japan.

  27. The Happy Homeowner

    I took a gamble on applying to refinance my mortgage despite the bank rep believing my home’s appraised value wouldn’t be high enough. I felt confident after doing my own research and knowing my area well. Turns out, while other home values are falling, mine has actually been increasing. On Tuesday I close, after which I will be saving almost $350/month! 🙂

  28. Keith

    Paid off my credit card. Win.

  29. yourPFpro

    I just completed my no cost refi and lowered my payment by $200 a month. SCORE! Going to use that cash to save for my next purchase. Wow, that almost sounds like an advertisement haha!

  30. Carl Lassegue

    I checked my bank statements and budget last month and I spend a lot less than I had budgeted for. Small steps

  31. Seth K

    What I would do with 1000 dollars….

    Few Things
    Either pay off my Discover Card in Full (few days late on it and sharks are already calling)
    Get my Best Buy Card back current (but does nto pay it off)
    Pay big chunk of my visa card
    pay off my car and over draft account

    what I want to do is start emergency fund put have theses other worries over my head
    working part time job less then 30 hours week ugh ugh..

  32. Seth K

    somehow posted on wrong page

  33. Best Way to Make Money

    Thanks for the mention, Mark. This is very good advice – speaking with an accountant and getting a corporation set-up for my online business is definitely worth the cost.

  34. Tarek

    Last win was getting accepted into a post grad residency in the 1st dental school in the nation. That was preceded by many small wins that accumulated n helped to achieve this.

  35. Spencer

    Setup editorial calendars, delegated the stuff I hate and suck at, and wrote a list of all my open loops and started crossing off those mofo’s one by one.

  36. Justin Stowe

    I recently launched an ebook on how to outsource Kindle ebook creation. It sold more copies than I expected, and I’m using the feedback from it to make an ever better product.

  37. Olivier

    “Premature overwhelm.”

    Great adage! There’s nothing more mystifying and infuriating than creating a big goal and then quickly becoming disillusioned by the scope of it.