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How to Redefine Success and Celebrate the Small Accomplishments

Success is something that holds a different meaning for each of us. Since falling ill, I’ve learned to become more mindful about how I view success. Its definition has had to change for me. For too long, I saw myself as a failure because I couldn’t do the things I was previously able to do before I became a fibromyaglia patient. It was an easy frame of mind to fall into, especially considering the pressures and expectations society places onto us. However, I can now see that I was being incredibly unfair to myself, and I also now appreciate how this way of thinking was detrimental to both my mental and physical health and exacerbating fibromyalgia symptoms [1].

Celebrating Success in the midst of Fibromyalgia Symptoms

I had a lightbulb moment one day when I decided I needed to redefine success and take back control. I was sick, I was doing the best I could given my circumstances and fibromyalgia treatment [2], and that was more than good enough! I realised that beating myself up about what I couldn’t do wasn’t serving me and a better approach would be to instead focus on what I could do. I also decided I would try to stop worrying about what other people thought of me or what society expected of me. My goal posts shifted and I began to focus on me and the small accomplishments I was making.

When you are very ill, I admit it can be hard to identify what your accomplishments are. I found if I focused on small health goals – such as being able to sit up for  short periods of time – it gave me an opportunity to feel a sense of achievement I would otherwise be lacking. This filled me with joy and helped to keep me motivated.

I’m not going to lie, celebrating these small achievements felt a little alien at first, but I kept reminding myself that being able to do something that I previously struggled with was something worth celebrating. Each small goal I achieved was a sign of forward progress; something at one point I feared wasn’t possible. Although we often focus on the bigger picture, it’s worth remembering that progress is made one small step at a time. I remind myself that with each small accomplishment I am taking one step closer towards healing my body, restoring my health, and managing fibromyalgia pain [3], which is my ultimate goal.  I now trust that each small accomplishment will gradually lead to another and that over time I will get to where I want to be.

You may be reading this and think it sounds great in theory but find yourself feeling reserved about your own achievements. Perhaps you worry that you might not be able to sustain them. That’s a perfectly reasonable response and one I have felt too. It is disheartening when you try to repeat something you previously accomplished and find yourself struggling. I’m thankful that it was pointed out to me that being able to do something once is great starting point. I remind myself of the fact that it takes time to build up the strength and stamina required to do something regularly, especially when chronic pain [4] is in the mix.

My experience is that healing the body is not a linear path, and that setbacks will happen along the way; they are unfortunately a part of the process and can happen when you test your energy boundary. I try to view flare ups as being temporary and keep in mind that if I have achieved something before I will be able to do it again, it will just take time. Although this path can be frustrating, I feel that slowly building up my activity levels one small success at a time will eventually result in me being able to do things safely and sustainably.

Although redefining success hasn’t been easy I feel that I am happier for it. By focusing on the small achievements, I have regained a sense of accomplishment and this helps to keep me motivated. It can be all too easy to downplay our achievements, particularly if they are things that healthy people take for granted. However, I fully believe that these small successes are worth celebrating as each one is step closer to achieving our overarching goal. I encourage you to redefine your own meaning of success and to celebrate the small achievements that you have made recently.

This article was first published on ProHealth.com on February 24, 2016 and was updated on December 12, 2019.

Donna Grant, a frequent ProHealth contributor, was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2013 and subsequently began blogging about life with chronic illness. She shares her journey and how she has improved her life with fibro, as well as other inspirational posts, on her blog February Stars [5].