I still clearly remember the first time God told me I needed to go to the casino. I was mystified. I do not gamble. I will never start gambling. (Anyone who knows my family history knows the reason.) Why was God telling me to go to the casino?

At first I thought God wanted me to preach there. Nope. Then I thought, well, maybe I need to eat more? There is a buffet at the casino, after all. Well, no. That wasn’t it either. It was clear that I was supposed to learn some lesson, but what was it?

Then one day when I was in Vegas, I saw a man celebrate after he’d won at the craps tables. He was jumping up and down and screaming. Dancing like a goof. His friends were all cheering him on. I thought to myself, “What would happen if I celebrated like THAT after doing something good?”

And then it hit me.

That was it. That was what I was supposed to learn.

I already knew that the way to change my behavior, my habits and even my identity was to give myself rewards for taking small, incremental steps in the right direction. But what would happen if, instead of little rewards, I celebrated like that guy in Vegas?

I tried it. It worked. I mean, it really worked.

For instance, I managed to get myself addicted to writing in the same way that social media gets people hooked. I’ve gotten so addicted to writing that I now enjoy it more than playing video games. And that’s really saying something.

I used to procrastinate terribly, because writing is my highest calling. It’s also what I care about most, out of all the work I do. So of course, it’s what I used to self-sabotage the most on, too.

That’s all over now.

I’ve written in the past about celebrating small victories. Today I want to describe three specific details about how I celebrate, and why I do almost the exact opposite of what everyone else does.

First detail: I never let myself celebrate finishing projects. In fact, I never let myself celebrate results of any kind. The night before, I write down on my phone calendar what piece I’m going to work on the next day. Then, once I’ve worked on it, I delete the calendar note and I celebrate like a crazy person.  I only celebrate that I worked, that I took action. I never celebrate getting results or finishing, and I celebrate no matter how little I got done.

Why?

It’s because, regardless of length, the hardest projects to finish are the ones that are the most emotionally challenging. The ones that bring up the most baggage that I haven’t dealt with. The ones that touch upon inter-generational sickness and trauma that I’ve been trying to ignore. 

They are tough to finish because I often don’t really know exactly what to write. Or, more commonly, I don’t want to admit what I need to write.

If I celebrate results, and I get that incredible chemical rush, that awesome high, then I will quickly become addicted to writing only the easy pieces.

But those easy pieces are the ones that other people need the least. What most benefits readers are the pieces that were the hardest to write.

Second detail: I really do celebrate madly, like a person winning in Vegas.

The key here is I’m not telling myself anything. I’m not using “positive affirmations” that, on some level, I believe are a lie. I’m not trying to deceive myself.

See, I’m not into “positive thinking” and I’m really not into fake healing–telling yourself stuff like, “How is the worst thing that ever happened to you also the best thing?” Forget all that.

I’m too smart and too honest to bullshit myself.

But a celebration? It’s non-verbal. It’s joyous. It’s wild. It’s crazy. It’s not “true” and it’s not “false”. It’s just pure emotion, pure physicality.

And my brain can’t tell the difference between celebrating a win in Vegas or celebrating the fact that I took a single, small action towards my goals. My brain just knows there’s a party going on.

Third detail: I don’t try to “let go” of bad habits, bad memories, or…well, anything, to be honest. I mean, the more I try to tell myself not to focus on something, the more I’m gonna focus on it.

What happens with celebrating small victories is that the bad habits just kind of get crowded out over time. You can only have so many habits. And addictions are particularly good at taking up space.

Again, think about how social media gets you hooked. Think about how Facebook gives you all these little notifications over stupid stuff that doesn’t even matter. But the constant rewards are how your brain gets suckered into visiting over and over again.

So I do celebrate taking even small actions on my less important goals throughout the day. I mean–I might even celebrate taking out the garbage. I just don’t let those celebrations be as big or joyous as the celebrations over my main purpose, writing. But I do celebrate.

And over time, I have become someone who identifies purpose, calling, and even purely egotistical “winning” as being about taking action. Which is good, because I can completely control whether I take action. And I believe that I need to get what I can completely control completely right. Because if there’s anything that 2020 has proved to me, it’s that I don’t really control a whole lot.