11 Small Wins to Help You Kick Start Your Primal Life

CelebrateLast week I took up the idea of how small wins can lead to big successes. When we allow ourselves to appreciate the everyday accomplishments and set ourselves up for regular achievements, we inevitably gain confidence in our abilities and build the motivation to continue challenging ourselves. Ignoring a win is like brushing off a compliment: it’s a missed opportunity and a waste of positive energy. That energy matters more than we think in our journeys. When we shift the pattern and begin seeing – and celebrating – our small wins, however, we learn to literally see ourselves as winners (this doesn’t come easily for everyone), and as psychological reason goes, winning begets more success.

What constitutes a “win”? That’s up to you. Above all, start where you need to start. If you’re just embarking on a major weight loss or health overhaul, maybe every good choice deserves to be written down. Later, when better decisions become built into your lifestyle, you can raise the bar.

You can approach small wins a number of ways. Some people might prefer more of a “task” route in which you’re attempting to see how consistent you can be with a new habit. This approach cultivates discipline and can be helpful in laying down new patterns in your lifestyle. Make a game of it – especially if you’re doing it as a family or with Primal friends. Assign points for each task and compare at the end of the week/month. (Feel free to start a thread on the forum for it!) If it’s just your own groovy self, consider doing a log to give each task concrete, visual recognition.

Another way of looking at it is meeting a certain benchmark. These might feel more gratifying because they’re occasional achievements and therefore feel “bigger.” Additionally, there are challenges or events for which participation itself is the accomplishment for most people. Finally, there are the gains you make doing the same activity over time. It’s all part of a personal journey, of course, but consider incorporating a little of each.

Regardless of what wins you favor, there’s one thing I definitely suggest. The idea here is to see each win as part of a successive and progressive chain, a means for continual – and often exponential – growth. Don’t just observe each win individually like an isolated occurrence. To put each in a grander context and to get the most mental mileage out of your wins, assemble them. Keeping an ongoing record (e.g. achievement journal, visual board, fill-in calendar) will help you appreciate your progress over time. When you’re having a crummy day and suffer from selective amnesia about any past self-esteem or positive choices, you’ll have a whole slew of wins to buoy you through the funk.

Now, a few ideas for small wins worth cheering over:

Stepping down a dose in your medication (or stopping it altogether).

It’s one of the things people celebrate the most because it’s such a tangible sign that they’re regaining their health and vitality again from the grip of disease. No matter how small the change in dose, commemorate it. It’s your body getting stronger (and maybe your bank account more flush again).

Fitting into a new size or style of clothing.

Though we may claim otherwise, I think just about all of us enjoy looking good. Despite any culturally imposed guilt, there’s nothing wrong with it when it dovetails with being healthy. Some people have clothes from previous years they’d love to get into again. Others look forward to enjoying shopping for something new that they wouldn’t have felt comfortable in before. Whatever the case, work it.

Meeting a Foodie Challenge: Try 10 new Primal foods this month.

Expand your Primal repertoire and enjoy the win simultaneously. The key here is preparation. (A sad truth: healthy foods are the perishable ones.) Have a couple recipes for each new food that genuinely appeal to you. Take pictures of each creation. The more variety you develop in your Primal Blueprint diet, the more likely you are to feel satisfied and stick with it. Mikey likes it!

Keeping up with the kids.

I can’t tell you how many times I hear this from folks who go Primal. Extra weight and poor fitness had held them back so long, they felt like they were stuck on the sidelines of big parenting moments. The first time you realize you were able to catch your child in a game of tag or run alongside her as she rode her bike – you’ll never forget it. Appreciate the occasion for the fitness progress it is and the parenting celebration. You’ve always loved your kids. It’s just amazing to be present to them in a new, invigorated way.

Making it through a holiday/event without chucking your intentions.

Cousin’s wedding coming up? Spring charity galas or office retreats? Don’t underestimate the “win” of sticking with your Primal priorities at events like these. Go with a plan and celebrate the strength of your strategy and resolve afterward.

Hosting your own holiday/event – on your own Primal terms.

Unless they’re born with a penchant for entertaining, most people take their time on this one. It’s not your typical newbie event, but once you get the gumption to set the Primal agenda, it might just become tradition. No, maybe it won’t be easy to convince your non-Primal relatives to forgo the conventional trimmings for the bigger holidays like Thanksgiving, but consider hosting one of the upcoming “grill-friendly” holidays like Memorial Day or 4th of July. Primal hosting might not benefit your health specifically, but think of it as inspiration – living your Primal lifestyle out loud.

Achieving a fitness challenge.

Some people challenge themselves to try a new machine or set of weights at the gym each week. For others, it might be to try three new classes in a season. Maybe you want to challenge yourself to get out of the gym and attempt three kinds of outdoor or at-home workouts in a month. While physical gains (e.g. upping our lifting weight or treadmill incline, stepper time) are genuine small wins themselves, don’t forget to challenge yourself toward variety.

Filling five (or ten!) hours of play each week.

I honestly can’t think of a better win. How many people can say they play that much on a regular basis? How do you think people would feel about their lives if they did? Sure, not every hour of a Saturday can be filled with the likes of Ultimate Frisbee. Better to spread it out anyway. Turn off the T.V. and play chess instead on a Tuesday night. Skip an unnecessary meeting and woodwork or paint instead. Be active, creative, spontaneous. Get out of the mindset that governs all the other hours of the week – for five hours a week. The result can be life-changing.

Participating in a large fitness event.

There’s something to having an event on the calendar to work toward. It’s concrete initiative and hoopla-filled achievement on the actual day. Maybe it’s a charity walk that’s 3 miles or 10 miles. Maybe it’s your first 5K race or marathon. Maybe it’s a hiking trip or a noncompetitive biking expedition (Someone told me recently he does Iowa’s RAGBRAI each year – shout out to the Midwesterners.) Whatever the event, there’s such an incredible vibe you get from being with the other participants and seeing the supporters. It’s one of those small wins with huge personal gain – far beyond the exercise benefit.

Achieving a major calendar milestone.

Six months Primal, ten years Primal, one week Primal. Doesn’t matter – celebrate it. Mark the occasion with some reflection, a massage, or just your favorite Primal dinner.

Attaining an outdoor adventure challenge.

Choose five outdoor adventures in your area that you enjoy doing or have always wanted to do that you will hit between now and the start of summer. Then choose five more. They can include everything from hiking your favorite park trail to climbing an area mountain, tubing or canoeing a given river to doing a full moon hike, biking the rounds of your city to exploring a new neighborhood on foot. Mix it up and invite friends along for the adventure.

Is that enough to get you started? What other small wins would you add to the list? What small wins would you like to enjoy in the coming months? Thanks for reading, everyone. Have a great end to your week.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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54 thoughts on “11 Small Wins to Help You Kick Start Your Primal Life”

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  1. Sounds like some fun ideas. I started having some small daily goals and it feels really good to meet them.

  2. When I first started out I bought a pack of different colored star stickers and assigned each color to a daily goal – exercise, eat primally, get enough sleep, take a walk, etc. Every day I did those things I added the stars to that day on my calendar. It was a great visual boost to see the calendar covered in stars at the end of the month. It also showed me the areas where I was lacking so that I could be more conscious of them moving forward. It really helped me develop the habits I needed to be successful.

    1. +1! What a good idea!!! I need more play reminders big time. (And I might even add a star for the following comment. More sex would be great too!)

        1. Excellent idea, jennf! And doubly so on the “real fun time” part. =D

  3. Don’t forget Improved Sex Life. When you’re fit, energetic, sleeping better, and managing stress better, the love life improves! (Maybe not a “small win?”)

  4. One thing that helped me was a journal. Then, go back 6 months and read where you were, and realize how far you have come. That has kept my motivation going.

    1. I am a big journaler! It really does help on a daily basis as well as looking back at previous entries.

      I just ended a Whole30 month and now I’m switching to this. I think the journal will be a big help. (I bought Mark’s 90-day journal because of it’s unique structure, but long-term just my own little Moleskin will probably work just as well. )

  5. These are just delightful and inspiring! Thank you for measurable ways for me and my friends to enjoy the journey.

  6. The husband and I get stars on the calendar for eating 100% primal that day. Whoever has the most stars at the end of the month gets to choose a restaurant for a big dinner out. We haven’t resorted to sabotage yet, but it is fun to try not to break a chain of stars.

  7. I use the calendar approach. I’m focusing on achieving one primary goal at a time and if the other goals slip that’s okay. I just have my one thing that I have to achieve. Every day I make my goal, I put a sticker on the calendar. It’s just a free calendar that I got in the mail. I’ve had a box of stickers since childhood. At 25 I now have a fantastic use for them. It’s a small cheap reward and it provides visual progress to how often and how long I can stick with a goal. I can even write the deterrent on days that didn’t merit a sticker. About once a month or after two months, I make a new primary goal. Works for me!

    1. Wow, you all are super fast at replying. Apparently many of us use calendars.

  8. I read excerpts from The Power of Habit last week (after Mark’s post). I realized I have a bad habit of grabbing the wrong thing to eat (or maybe just not enough of the right thing, e.g. too many nuts and cheese and not enough leafy greens). So instead of trying to stop the bad habit, I added a new one. Every morning right after breakfast, I chop a selection of vegetables so they’re ready whenever I need them. Right after I’m done chopping, I’m out the door for some primal exercise. The payoff for the new habit (chopping) is endorphins (from exercise) and the happiness that comes later from convenient grab-and-cook food.

  9. I focus on daily wins – saying no to the cookie because I want to say no and not because I have to, working out when I feel lazy and feeling soooo good afterwords, and noting every moment when I do a self-check and think, “yup, I feel great. I must be on track!” Because that matters more than any scale, clothing size, or food journal can tell me.

  10. “enjoy looking good”…and I’ll add that when you feel good on top of that, it is a very powerful combo.

  11. Oh man… my pre-prego jeans are still sitting in my closet waiting for me lol someday soon they will be released!

  12. I’ve been teetering on the edge of going full Primal with my struggle being giving up sweets (I’m a stress eater and sweets are my go to). I celebrated a small achievement yesterday of avoiding the cupcakes and donuts brought in the celebrate Admin Day. This was big for me since it was a particularly stressful day (hubby lost his job). My next goal is eating more veggies! I really like the calendar idea and will give it a shot for May.

    1. Congrats! That sounds more than a small victory to me….I swear the office is the hardest place to stick to your eating plan, especially when they bring in stuff like that. I had a similar experience yesterday where they brought in Fazoli’s and cheesecake factory. I was able to avoid the pastas and opted for a huge salad with some of the chicken from the chicken alfredo on top, but I caved to a couple pieces of cheesecake. lol. They were small pieces so I don’t feel to bent out of shape about it.

      Also, best of luck to your husband in finding another job. I just got employed 2 weeks ago after being laid off for 3 months so I know the feeling.

    2. Congrats on saying ‘no’ to the bad stuff !! (and I’m sorry to hear about your husband)

      I work in an office too and every day my co-workers will come round with the biscuit tin, or a home-backed cake (and we have some great bakers here).

      I explained to them all last summer that I was cutting out refined sugar for a month (which is how I started) – at first they would ask if I wanted some cake/biscuit etc. and was I really sure that I didn’t. It was tough at first but every ‘no’ became easier. Now they usually say ‘you don’t want any cake do you?’ or if they ask it’s because they don’t want me to feel left out (and I say ‘no’).

      We’re having a leaving meal for a colleague next week and my boss actually asked me if there would be anything I could eat in the chosen restaurant! It seems like a big deal at first and I was scared of being judged by people, but actually they get used to it pretty quickly and then they start asking questions if they see you with a potato! lol 🙂

      Now I’m 10 months in and have lost 35lbs, I get waaay more comments on how tiny I look now rather than the fact I don’t eat the office biscuits!

      If you have sweet cravings you might find that herbal tea with liquorice root is helpful, or snacking on cheese (if you eat dairy- IMO it’s a far lesser ‘evil’ than sugar).

      Good luck and good health though!

  13. Tried a new food last night: I made cauliflower faux-tatoes. They were quite good as a substitute for mashed potatoes. Next time I’ll add garlic to them. They were a bit smoother and thinner than potatoes, but a small difference.

  14. Love this post. Hopefully this summer I’ll be celebrating three small wins. A 52 mile bike ride, the warrior dash, and hopefully at some point having a summer dinner party that’s purely primal! Haha, not sure how well that will go over with my friends but if I’m the host, I make the rules…right?

  15. Actually, there is a book called The Game On Diet, which you play in teams and it has a breakdown of points you can achieve each day through food, water, exercise, good habit, bad habit, and communication. Although I completely ignore what they write in the book as a far as recommendations for how to eat, it is still a great system to help you think about your habits every day. I’m about to start a game against my roommate! This post came at a perfect time for me.

    1. That sounds very interesting. I might look into that and see if I can get a group that might want to compete against each other….maybe make it for a prize like losing team take winning team out to dinner or something.

  16. We host family gatherings and holidays frequently, and most of my family doesn’t even realize that the food is primal. I get lots of compliments on the food, and it’s always well received. I rarely make anything that isn’t primal, and if the crew wants dessert I have someone else make it and bring it. I might have a small serving, and then the rule is that any leftovers must go home with whoever brought it.

  17. I think of small wins as feedback in the form of feeling. It’s that nice “Yessssss!” feeling we get when we do some small part of what we’re trying to do.

    I’ve given this small win feeling a name: “micro-mastery.” It’s a micro-feeling we get from micro-evidence that what our efforts are working.

    The cool thing about micro-mastery is that it’s a source of intrinsic motivation. We like the feeling, so we’ll work to feel it again. Thus, it fuels our efforts. It motivates us to continue. It’s how we get perseverance.

    When it comes to nutrition, I’ve found micro-mastery comes in especially handy when it comes to NOT eating certain things. There are times when I actually tell myself I’m going to skip the [whatever] and I’m going to have – instead – the good feeling of micro-mastery.

    So micro-mastery is a feeling we can use as a strategy and reward. It’s something we can consciously work for to guide our own behavior.

    1. Susan, that’s a great re-frame – I’m definitely going to use that!

  18. The other day I was cleaning out my closet. I pulled out all my shorts (that have been stored away since last summer) and NONE of them fit, they are all too big! I also found an order form from a bridesmaid dress that has my bust/waist/hips measurements from a year ago. I really need to get a tape measure and compare! Definitely a blog post for the near future.

  19. We hosted 15 family members for Easter dinner this year. My dinner menu was entirely primal: ham, parsnip & turnip mash, and creamed kale. Appetizers were mostly primal: crudites, shrimp, deviled eggs, and nuts; someone brought cheese and crackers. Dessert was ice cream cake (OK, not entirely primal, but it was also someone’s birthday and hey, no wheat!). DH wasn’t certain that the paleo menu was going to fly with the family, but they gobbled up the parsnip/turnip mash and creamed kale like no one’s business! I was a little mad when we had only one serving of the kale as leftovers!

    Goes to show that if one is a foodie, this way of eating is hands down the BEST!

  20. Coincidence: I just realized this morning that I actually accomplished my goal of getting strong enough to take an Olympic weightlifting class. Session 4 of the class and I just realized it. You are right, you need to celebrate or pat yourself on the back for the little goals you set and achieve. It makes a big difference.

  21. Thanks for posting! Just the encouragement I needed for this weekend to stick with Primal! Makes me feel better about my goals getting accomplished!

  22. Anyone else doing the squat challenge this month? It was circulating on Facebook…anyway, that’s my current fitness challenge, and I wrote down the schedule on my dry erase calendar. It’s a great mini-reward to cross off each day after I do the required number, plus I always text my sister and best friend to ask if they’ve done theirs yet, and they do the same for me. Both a motivation and a reward!

  23. Love this post! I am continually inspired by to push myself and find new levels of success…you did it again. Thank you!

  24. My work is my play! Painter, graphic designer, illustrator, comic book artist. My problem is making time to do other play type stuff. It cuts into doing my art.

  25. I had a great win today, I made it on to the gym’s leader board for deadlifts, not the best but up there…. And I also refused a load of free sweets, I just didn’t want them!! Mark is right on the money, a little celebration is cool, mine is a lovely piece of expensive steak.

  26. I just recently realized the wrapping – the “skin” – on ham is collagen, since I got two 0.9kg hams. I’ve practically been a carnivore the past four days and feel fine.

  27. I’ve found a few potential shelters (in the old sense of the word) between my most lived-in town and city. I might make some journeys to the market this May.

  28. Love this! I’ll definitely be implementing a few of these very soon. I know for me, a fitness/nutrition challenge really gets me going and motivated. My old gym had one last summer and I won the challenge and got free training sessions as a reward. Nothing like a little incentive to kick your booty into gear! I also like the idea of putting a dollar into a jar every time I work out or stick to primal eating and then spending it on a little treat for myself at the end of the month.

  29. This totally reminds me of a list I made 4 months ago when I delivered my first child. It’s short and long term fitness goals… I’ll have to dig that up. Thanks Mark for a wonderful post. I’ll be revisiting it for sure 🙂

  30. Another great post. I am working on stepping down my allergy medication and hopefully will be off it soon.

  31. Thanks for the shout out! As a native Iowan, I started doing RAGBRAI at the age of 14 and will be participating in my 7th ride this year! The camaraderie among riders on the route is incredible, very motivating to feel the sense of community with the 10,000+ other people out there. Being so close to nature and so reliant on your own physical and mental capabilities is definitely a primal challenge, one I recommend for ANYONE, especially if you’re looking for a unique adventure and some awesome tan lines 🙂

  32. The guilt over wanting “look good” is no small factor – the ok as a motivating force is pretty refreshing. That being said, I made the goal to do a pull up and DID IT recently. I “felt good” all day!

  33. I remember the day I had my wedding rings made smaller because they actually fell off as I was rummaging through my bag. Today, they are loose enough to think about doing it again. That’s progress. 🙂

  34. I was dogsitting my parents’ Annoying Little Dogs last week during my spring break, and we got into a routine of going for “a stroll about the property” every morning as soon as we woke up (slippers and warm coat included). They did their business at their leisure, and I got to walk and check out how (and if) last year’s newly planted shrubs were coming along. It also let me plan out what I was going to attack next (yardwork is my favorite primal work out).

    Even though the dogs are back home, I still try to remember to take my daily strolls. Every time I remember, I count it as a small victory because those are a few hundred steps I wouldn’t have taken, even if I went to the gym.

  35. Small wins make huge differences. I remember when I couldn’t even run 1 mile once a week. Then 2 miles once a week, then twice a week. Then 3x week. Then I could run 5 miles. If I could do that maybe I could do 1/2 marathon. Soon a couple 1/2s then a full marathon — and I qualified to run the Boston Marathon! All within a two year period. If I had set out to run the Boston I doubt I would have ever gotten off the couch. And all I wanted to do was get a little exercise and volunteer to exercise the dogs at the local animal shelter. I discovered a whole new me.

    Similar thing with my swimming. I was learning to sail so I figured I should take swimming lessons to brush up on my skills since I knew I would be spending a lot of time in the water (small sail boats). Pretty soon I realized that beyond merely staying alive I could actually swim! Soon I was doing sprint and Olympic distance triathlons. Again, if I hadn’t just taken the small win – swim classes – I would have still been on the couch.

  36. Its true that we forget the importance of small wins, I have managed to get this far through the year and get to the gym every single week even when busy, tired, or feeling like giving it a miss. I just thought I was being disciplined but it is actually a small win.

  37. I am a newbie.. Today being day 31. I have not had a sweet treat in all that time. I was a huge sweet food junkie. Also no wheat, but have had a tiny bit of dairy, like a bit of cheese and a very small amount of full fat cream. I celebrate my small steps and also keep a calendar where I mark off each night as I go to bed that I have make it through another Paleo day and 11 pounds lighter than I was 31 days ago.