Small wins convince people that bigger achievements are within reach

Monday, April 26th, 2021

Keystone habits, Charles Duhigg explains (in The Power of Habit), offer what is known within academic literature as “small wins” — and small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach. This goes well beyond losing weight:

Then, in the early 1970s, the American Library Association’s Task Force on Gay Liberation decided to focus on one modest goal: convincing the Library of Congress to reclassify books about the gay liberation movement from HQ 71–471 (“Abnormal Sexual Relations, Including Sexual Crimes”) to another, less pejorative category.

In 1972, after receiving a letter requesting the reclassification, the Library of Congress agreed to make the shift, reclassifying books into a newly created category, HQ 76.5 (“Homosexuality, Lesbianism—Gay Liberation Movement, Homophile Movement”). It was a minor tweak of an old institutional habit regarding how books were shelved, but the effect was electrifying. News of the new policy spread across the nation. Gay rights organizations, citing the victory, started fund-raising drives. Within a few years, openly gay politicians were running for political office in California, New York, Massachusetts, and Oregon, many of them citing the Library of Congress’s decision as inspiration.

In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association, after years of internal debate, rewrote the definition of homosexuality so it was no longer a mental illness — paving the way for the passage of state laws that made it illegal to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation.

And it all began with one small win.


  1. Kirk says:

    An anecdote which will no doubt be used by post-American historians to pinpoint the moment when the librarians began to betray their trust as cultural custodians, shifting to “activism”.

    The reality here is that sexual deviation is sexual depravity; you can dress it up all you like, but the raw fact of it is that the weirder your sexual tastes and the more obsessive you are in satisfying them, the greater the odds are that you are mentally ill. The fact that we no longer recognize this fact and compensate appropriately is the source of many of our social problems.

    And, I don’t limit what I’m saying to homosexuals, either–The heterosexual obsessive-compulsives are just as bad, and just as guilty for what they’ve done. There has been so much “sex” pumped into the cultural commons that it’s no longer a question of whether or not we’re in a Weimar-like situation with regards to a lot of this, but a question of to what degree. When you have marketers selling thong panties for pre-teens, and drag queen story hours at the local library…? Something is seriously, deeply wrong with your culture.

    Do a quick survey of the crapfest that is TikTok or YouTube, these days. Tell me if any of the “popular culture” on display in those venues looks at all like a place you’d like to raise your kids to be decent human beings, and if the answer is yes…? I probably don’t want you as a neighbor.

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