Habits vs. Goals

9 Jan

Habits vs. Goals

Aristotle was #smartAF, and long ago he realized the power of habits.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

While I am a firm believer in ongoing habits, we did just start 2020 and the New Year is always a popular time for dreaming big and setting goals.

The problem is, most goals or resolutions are destined for failure. According to U.S. News & World Report, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by February.

That number is staggering. And sad.

The real question is “Why?” And I think the answer lies in the difference between goals and habits.

I recently saw this quote from Adam Bornstein, a New York Times bestselling author, former editor of Men’s Health magazine, and Chief of Nutrition/Chief of Content at Ladder (a supplement brand with the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lebron James):

“Goals are just wishes. Wishes need plans to become real. Plans need systems to work as you envision. Systems need simplicity to operate correctly. Simplicity needs consistency to translate into results.” – Adam Bornstein

I would add that consistency requires repeatable behaviors (aka habits).

He highlights a critical point. Goals aren’t bad. Goals are actually great! They are just incomplete. They require an entire structure and framework underneath them if they are to be achieved. And what is the fundamental building block of that structure? A habit.

He also touches on the concept of consistency… more on that later!

Here are a few other key differences between goals and habits, as illustrated by the smart folks at Farnam Street in their blog Habits vs. Goals: A Look at the Benefits of a Systematic Approach to Life.

  • Goals have an endpoint, habits continue indefinitely
  • Goals often rely on factors outside of our control, habits are completely within our control
  • Goals rely on willpower, habits become automatic
  • Goals can make us complacent because they are in the future, habits are implemented daily
  • A Keystone Habit can have a much more powerful and much wider impact… if you start eating an extra serving of vegetables each day, you might naturally start including vegetables with every meal. Exponential impact!! And there’s no such thing as a Keystone Goal…

Now you might be asking yourself, “how do I create a habit instead of a goal?”

You use The Power of Less! You create, and practice, just one habit at a time. And make it an easy habit too!

But why just one at a time?

Well, the research is pretty clear, and I’d be willing to bet that we can all think of a time or two where we failed to reach a goal because we took on too many things at one time…

  • Research has shown that when people try to change a single behavior at a time, the likelihood that they’ll retain that habit for a year is better than 80%.
  • When they tried to tackle two behaviors at once, their chances of success are less than 35%.
  • When they try for three behaviors or more, their success rate plummets to less than 5%.

And why such an easy one? How will I actually make progress like this?

Remember that word “consistency?” Yeah. You need to be 100% confident that you can practice your habit every single day until it becomes automatic. If you can’t do it every day, then it will never become automatic. And then you’ll never reach your goals, just like the 80% of Americans every year who fail by February. This might mean you have to be willing to put your ego aside, which is a tough pill for all of us to swallow at times.

An easy habit, executed every day, can have a massive impact over the long term. We could do the math together… 1% better every day for 365 days… or we could check out this graph because the math has been done for us.

Graph courtesy of James Clear, author of Atomic Habits

1% better every day, which is what an easy habit does for you, will deliver results that are exponentially greater than where you started.

It’s important to note that 1% worse every day has a profound effect too, but not the one you want. It’s much better to do the easy habit.

PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE

Now it’s time to actually get down to business… how do we create these easy habits?

First, let me remind you that it is OK to have goals. In fact, it’s great!! Just remember that a goal by itself is incomplete. A goal is just the first step…

  • STEP 1: DETERMINE YOUR GOAL
  • STEP 2: BREAK YOUR GOAL DOWN INTO SPECIFIC SKILLS
  • STEP 3: BREAK THOSE SKILLS DOWN INTO EASY (DAILY) HABITS
  • STEP 4: PRACTICE YOUR EASY HABIT EVERY DAY

How about an example?

  • STEP 1: DETERMINE YOUR GOAL
    • Eat better consistently so I can lose weight
  • STEP 2: BREAK YOUR GOAL DOWN INTO SPECIFIC SKILLS
    • Develop hunger and appetite awareness
    • Learn how to cook vegetables in a way that I enjoy
    • Meal prep so that I always have healthy options available
  • STEP 3: BREAK THOSE SKILLS DOWN INTO EASY (DAILY) HABITS
    • Practice eating slowly
    • Practice eating until satisfied, not stuffed
    • Add 1 serving of vegetables to my dinner
    • Drink a protein-and-veggie-packed Super Shake after my workout
  • STEP 4: PRACTICE YOUR EASY HABIT EVERY DAY
    • Choose just one habit from above, and make sure you have 100% confidence in your ability to do it every day
    • You have to crawl before you can walk… you must also ensure that you are introducing the right habit in the right order
    • Get to work!

This process takes effort and practice, accountability and perseverance, and it requires a growth mindset…

but I promise you it is worth it!

“People do not decide their future. They decide their habits. And it’s their habits that decide their future.” – F.M. Alexander

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