My teen gives up too easily

When I was 15 years old, I wanted to turn from a skinny little boy into a man – and do it quickly! I had somehow switched onto the idea that muscles looked good, and if I had some then I wouldn’t be teased for being a skinny runt.

So I called a friend of mine, Michael Christofis.

He had muscles and I wanted to know how to get them. And I didn’t want it to take forever. So I casually asked him how much weight he does on the bench press. “I put 20kg on each side and do 3 sets of 10”. OK, I’ll try that too.

Well, it was a disaster. I managed to get the bar off the rack and lowered it down to my chest. Easy! Halfway there! But with all the willpower, desire and effort in the world, those skinny arms couldn’t lift that bar off my chest. I was straining and pushing, grunting and snorting, but I just couldn’t lift it. I was stuck. So with all my remaining energy, I rolled the bar down my boney chest, over the stomach and down to my lap so I could sit up and breath. I was lucky not to get a serious injury, though I did get some bruising down my non-existent 6-pack!

You see the problem was, I wanted to be strong and big, but hadn’t developed smaller, bite-sized muscles so that I was ready for the next stage. I’d never done a push up, never tried 10kg… I just launched in with 40kg and failed. I was like an unfit, untrained runner trying to go out and run a big marathon! I wanted high level success, and I wanted it now!

The same thing happens in many areas of life.

  • We want to play that instrument and be able to play it now!
  • We want to be good at the dance routine, but be good at it now!
  • We want to start saving but want it sizeable now.
  • We want to be a boss, and to be the boss now.


When it comes to our education, finances, our physical condition, or any relationship, there is a principle that will always stand:

“Before you grow a lot, you’ve got to grow a little.”

This growth principle applies in every area of our lives.

The Principle of Little Victories

Part of teenage development is to see that there are steps to growth and success. So many want to be skilled, knowledgeable, rich, or famous but don’t yet understand the hard yards to get there. They would love it if things were easy, if success fell into their lap, if winning didn’t require time and effort. But those who have lived a little longer and experienced some of the hard yards required to get to a goal, you’ll know that for every milestone reached, there were a hundred smaller steps in getting there. There was discipline, perseverance, mastery and time.

For teenagers to develop a growth mindset and make progress in any area of life, they need to learn the Principle of Little Victories. And for teens, it starts really little. Here’s some examples of teens we’ve been working with:

I wasn’t very disciplined in my life. My bedroom was always messy, I never get my assessments in on time. I constantly felt like my life was all over the place. So Dan told me to try a little victory. “When you get up, try making your bed. It doesn’t sound too earth-breaking. But if you try making your bed for 7 days in a row, it will be amazing how that feels different to other days”. Strangely, he was right! It gave me an instant sense that life is just a little more in control. I liked coming back into my room, seeing it neat. It kinda motivated me to keep on top of other areas, and I improved.

Dom, 17yrs: Struggled with discipline

I get bullied for my weight. And if I’m honest, I don’t like the way I look or feel. Every other time I’ve tried, I tried for the gold medal. Huge diet, no sugar, small meals, try to run daily. It just wasn’t sustainable and I’d quit after a few days. This time, I started small. A walk with Mum. 5 on-knee push ups. Cut dessert and sweets from my diet, except on weekends. Then after a week, I went for 7 pushups. I jogged. Kept up the no junk-food diet, but only allowed a treat on Sunday. It wasn’t dramatic but I was making small steps. Now I’m in routine. And yesterday, I ran 1km without stopping. It was nearly 10mins, so I’m not fast. But I’m still at it and have shed 7kg’s.

Sal, 16yrs: Felt overweight

I’m the worst at saving. I just spend it. I don’t even know where it goes! But I need to start saving because next year, it’s Uni. I want to go overseas. I need a better car. I need rego for that car. So, I’ve started. The very first $50/week I make, I stick it in an account that I can’t touch. I asked the boss to send it there without me even seeing it. For the first time, I’ve got some money – and it’s growing. Maybe I can do this?

Bronte, 18yrs: Got a job, but spends it all each week.

I want to get better exam results. At the moment, I average about 55-60%. I want to go to Uni and need to get it up over 80%. Someone said that I should just try for 65% before reaching high. Then 70%. I guess I need to get used to study and figure out what works for me. I put so much pressure on myself last year, but I think I’ll just try small steps.

Jack, 14yrs: Can’t get past 60% in tests

By encouraging teenagers to make little victories, you build within them a growth mindset. It forms a subconscious belief that “I can do it”. Growth and progress are possible for even the laziest teen. Instant success is rare, and natural talent will only get them so far. The Principle of Little Victories teaches a young person that there are steps to achievement – not leaps. Pretty soon, they end up surprised at how far they have come!

Is there something you have achieved through small victories? Have you set a series of small goals to achieve a big result? Do share!


Dan Hardie

Dan Hardie

Dan is a counsellor and the founder of MyStrengths

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