This past weekend, my husband and I celebrated the fact that I was in a good place with an on-going project. It wasn’t the end of the project — that is a date far off in the future — but it was a moment we could point at as measurably different from the start of the project. We took a day trip to a nearby college town, ate Korean food at a new restaurant, and read outside in the sun. Small things that make me happy and celebrate the accomplishment.
I wasn’t always like this. Once upon a time, I only celebrated the end of a project. I thought that the small victories didn’t warrant attention, and that celebrating too soon tempted fate.
Life got me over that quickly.
The fact is that too often we wait to celebrate until we reach the end point, but what do you do when there is no end point? Or the end point is far off? With aphasia, the goal may be to return to the same communication ease that you or your loved one or patient experienced prior to onset. And that is a great goal to strive for if you don’t lose sight along the way that there will be plenty of smaller milestones that warrant attention and celebration, too.
Why You Should Celebrate Small Victories
Celebrations matter because they send a message to yourself and others: I’ve accomplished something and I’m proud. And you should be proud! It is no small feat to treat aphasia.
Celebrations send a message to your brain, too, giving it positive reinforcement. You may not have reached your end goal yet, but celebrating becomes an internal reminder that you’ve worked hard, and it makes you want to continue giving your all.
Celebrations are also about giving love to yourself or another person. It’s a recognition of the value of effort, and it drives home a statement to yourself or to the person you’re celebrating with: You matter and I care about you. Yes, that is an important message to give yourself, too.
Lastly, celebrations are about recognizing life beyond aphasia. Speech therapist Nicole Apostolou, MS, CCC-SLP points out the need for these types of celebrations in chapter three of The Word Escapes Me:
As a therapist, I am always happy to see and point out the gains each client has made. This can often be bittersweet because although a client is happy to make progress toward more meaningful and functional communication, it is still not as perfect as he/she used to be. This is where a supportive and understanding attitude is needed to remind clients that their emoitonal response is warranted, but the acknowledgement of their successes is still relevant. I always emphasize to our clinical staff that we are treating the whole individual, not just their voice.
This means that you celebrate the effort expended, especially the emotional energy invested in getting to this point, and not just the voice. People are so much more than their aphasia, and celebrations acknowledge all other facets of a person’s being.
Track Your Progress
Connie Sievers wrote about training for a triathalon on CNN and stated her reasons for keeping a spreadsheet:
During this training, I have been keeping a detailed spreadsheet of my progress. This spreadsheet has been critical in my journey. If I only look ahead, I might let the fear win and give up. The spreadsheet lets me look back at the improvements that I have made thus far. It empowers me to keep moving forward. I keep a separate column on the spreadsheet for my small victories. I highlight the victories in bright colors, so I notice them often.
Tracking your progress not only helps you look ahead, but it’s also a tool you can use to look behind when you feel frustrated. It’s a reminder that today doesn’t look like last week, and while you may not have reached your personal end point yet, you are working towards it.
Consider keeping a spreadsheet or list where you write down all the small steps along the way.
Schedule Your Celebration
Your celebration doesn’t need to be a big party with a balloon release and confetti parade. Instead, take some time today to make a list of ten things that make you happy. They don’t need to be grand gestures, but they should be actions that feel celebratory. Special meals, taking time for favourite activities, or spending time with someone you love can be ways of marking the moment.
The point isn’t just to make this list, but to use it, too. If you do not have clearly defined goals you’re attempting to reach, schedule your celebrations to mark on-going actions. Maybe you want to celebrate attending speech therapy every four weeks or place a monthly “hard work celebration day” on the calendar so you remember to acknowledge work even if you haven’t reached a specific milestone.
There is no limit on how many celebrations a person can have; in fact, the more the merrier since they become an on-going reminder of the attempts made toward an end goal.
The writer Joseph M Marshall III said, “Success is rarely the result of one fell swoop, but more often the culmination of many, many small victories.”
Tell us, how are you celebrating your small victories?