There are people who have goal setting down pad. Using common methodologies, they are able to put goals on paper: their goals are precise, elegant, water-tight and feature all the ingredients a goal setting coach could dream of. Yet, the end-result is a mixed bag of hit and miss. Why is that?
Your Habits Determine Your Success
One of the main reasons for excellence in goal-setting and a big-fat F in goal-getting is that people tend to neglect the importance of their daily habits. Yep, you heard right: your daily habits. In fact, we could even argue that the best strategy is to throw out your goals entirely and to merely focus on the creation of new, healthy habits and the replacement of old, shonky ones in order to create a more successful and healthy life.
Let’s think about it for a moment: it is our daily habits that create our success over time; it is our habits today that create our world tomorrow; and it is our repeated actions, non-actions and behaviours that determine our overall progress. Yes, goals are great for setting course into a specific direction; habits – however – are the essential force for getting us there. So a very good question I like to ask is: when was the last time you reviewed your habits instead of your goals?
In fact, ask yourself: are your daily habits supportive of your aspirations? It’s a simple question: yes – or no? If there is a faint yes coming from you, fantastic! Which of your daily habits are supportive of your goals? Do more of them! Which of your daily habits are sticky and sabotage your goals? Do less of them! If your answer was a muffled no, also great. What do you need to start doing and what do you need to stop doing in order to change that?
Smaller is Better
When replacing old habits with new ones, start small. Think of one small action you can do every day instead of overdoing it. Just like building a muscle requires gradual, ongoing work, so do our habits. Too many or too big changes in a short period of time will make you run out of steam fast.
In order to create real change we need to be in for the long-haul and not for a sprint and thus, the best thing to do is to slowly yet consistently create minute changes in your daily life that accumulate to a bigger change over time. What do they say again? Many a mickle makes a muckle – and if you’ve ever had to pay off debt and are familiar with the concept of compound interest, then you know that this is true. To put a slightly different spin on it: most people will find it less overwhelming to write for ten minutes per day instead of pursuing the goal of publishing a book –yet, chances are that a book publication is the likely outcome of the habit of writing daily.
So think about a new action now. Remember to make it small. No! Smaller! Much smaller. Perfect! Now it’s time to build it into your day-to-day life.
Including a New Habit in Your Daily Life
Here’s the thing though: even when people manage to identify small changes in their habits, sometimes they struggle longer-term. After a good run of success, it is not uncommon for people to start ‘forgetting’ to do their new actions or to attract some weird change in circumstance that prevents them from continuing.
This is why creating a system that allows you to easily implement, keep track of and celebrate your new habits is important. One of the easiest ways to implement a new habit into your daily routine is habit stacking; something I first read about in an article by James Clear. It’s effective, brilliant and – most importantly – as easy as pie. Simply take a daily habit you already do, for instance drinking your morning tea and then stack your new habit, let’s say reading five pages in a book, on top of it. In short, complete the following sentence:
After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT]
Based on our example the sentence reads: After I drink my morning tea, I will read 5 pages in a book. Et voila – done! Linking a new habit to something you already do every day will help you to more easily remember doing the new habit so that – soon – it becomes an old habit.
Keeping Track of Progress
Personally, I also like to keep track of how I am doing over time. Visibly. In fact, without any clear measurement and accountability I – just like many others – find it difficult to continue pursuing my habits because – let’s face it – sometimes creating change can be tedious, challenging and hard and the easy way out is to simply not do it.
This is why I have a printout of my target habits, broken down into small, easily achievable actions, hanging on the wall next to my desk. This was inspired by the Seinfeld Strategy and the below picture is an example.
My job is to complete and tick off as many actions as possible every day. Some days I tick off all – on others only a few. And that’s okay, because my focus is on every step that I have made towards my desired outcomes and not on all the steps that are still missing. And – truth be told – the feeling of seeing all the ticked boxes sometimes gives me that little extra boost needed to tick off one more small action that day; even when I am feeling tired or unmotivated.
Lastly, good work needs to be acknowledged and celebrated. It is a shame that people whip themselves over so-called “failures” and then fail to acknowledge the good work they have done when they actually achieve what they set out to achieve. Yet, celebration is an important part of growth, progress and life.
I sometimes look at the percentage of ticks I have achieved over the course of the week and – dependent on performance – treat myself to something nice. It could be buying a new book for ticking off ninety to hundred percent of actions or a nice, hot cup of coffee for sixty to ninety percent.
Or you could create a point system for daily and weekly tasks and reward yourself based on that. Be creative and make it fun so that change becomes something enjoyable; something that you regularly celebrate and something that is creating a positive snowball effect in your life. Who said creating and maintaining a routine was boring?
By implementing and following a simple system, it becomes much easier to replace sticky habits with habits that stick. Of course, once your new habits do stick, it is time to review: given your aspirations, which ones are serving you and which ones aren’t? Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Enjoy.