9 Strategies To Savor Small Wins For Better Mental & Physical Health

Contributing writer By Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RDN, FAAP
Contributing writer
Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RDN, FAAP is an American Academy of Pediatrics Spokesperson, dual board-certified pediatrician and obesity medicine physician and registered dietitian.
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Image by W2 Photography / Stocksy

Often we focus on what went wrong. The goal we didn't meet. The "diet" that we couldn't "stick to." The workout that didn't happen. While it may be human nature to pay more attention to setbacks, psychologists have found that we might get closer to our goals to be healthier and happier if we learn to better savor positive experiences and celebrate even the smallest successes.

In their book, Savoring, social psychologists Fred Bryant and Joseph Veroff make a strong case for the health benefits of "being mindfully engaged and aware during positive events."

This mindful engagement increases happiness, strengthens relationships, improves mental and physical health, and improves creativity. Bryant and Veroff describe nine strategies to help savor positive experiences: behavioral expression (celebrate), self-congratulations, share with others, memory building, temporal awareness ("slow down time"), count your blessings, absorption, sensory-perceptual sharpening ("sharpen your senses"), and comparing.

Here's how you can apply these nine strategies to help you (and your whole family) boost mental and physical health—and feel good and have fun while you do it:

1. Celebrate.

Start your week by finding at least one success to celebrate. Were you able to sit down together for a family meal? Cheers. Your child finished a tough sports practice they had been dreading? High five. The celebrations can be small or big. The key is to make conscious effort to celebrate.

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2. Self-congratulations.

Give yourself a pat on the back when you've done a good job. Write it down in a journal. Share with your friends or family. It's OK to "brag" sometimes!

3. Share with others.

Sharing positive experiences with other people makes it easier to hold on to the memory and strengthens your relationship with the other person. As you set out to make a change to improve your health and fitness, involve other people in your change journey. The social support usually makes it more fun and almost always makes it easier to succeed in your goal.

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4. Memory building.

Make it more likely you will remember positive experiences in your life by engaging many of your senses in the experience. Later the same smell or sound can recreate that experience far into the future. For example, do any songs from your childhood bring you back to a specific experience from your past? 

5. Slow down time.

Every new parent has heard a parent with older kids remark with some variation of "Enjoy them now—time flies" or "The days are long, but the years are short." While, of course, we can't make time go more slowly, we can create a sense of slowing down time by reminiscing about life's happiest moments. Take the time to look at old photos and videos and reliving the moments.

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6. Count your blessings.

Regularly expressing gratitude is associated with happiness, kindness, health, and well-being. Practice counting your blessings by keeping a gratitude journal for a week (or longer). Each night before bed, write down three things for which you are grateful.

7. Absorb yourself in the moment.

Have you ever had an experience in which you were so focused on doing something that you were lost in the moment, without a sense of time or place? You may have been experiencing the flow state. Spending time in flow helps to improve happiness, positive affect, and performance and behavior. Set the stage to create a flow experience by allowing yourself the time, free of distractions, to work on a somewhat challenging project, hobby, or sport you've been eager to do.

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8. Sharpen your senses.

Our five senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell help us to fully experience the world. Make an effort to pay more attention to life's sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures. Try out this "savor your food activity" to practice doing this. Prepare or purchase your favorite food. Follow these seven steps to sharpen your senses as you savor your food:

  1. Ensure the room is completely quiet.
  2. Observe your food. Notice the nooks and crannies, and observe the food's texture.
  3. Smell the food by bringing your nose close to the food and inhaling deeply through your nose.
  4. Feel the texture of the food in your mouth as you take a small bite.
  5. Taste the blend of flavors on your tongue. 
  6. Chew the food slowly. 
  7. Swallow.

9. Compare.

The last of the savoring strategies to test out is comparing. How is your life today better than in the past, or how would it have been if you hadn't made certain positive life-changing choices? Take time to reflect on how your choices have helped your life turn out for the better.

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