If you’ve tried to change and improve yourself more times than you can count, then you’ve made plenty of resolutions through the years and have failed a lot. You’ve also set goals and had no progress.
If you’re pretty successful, productive and in love with the process of gradual change, then you’re also aware of the importance of habits.
But if you still can’t really achieve anything big, don’t see any transformations in your behavior and mindset, and don’t seem to be getting closer to your goals, then let me tell you a little about the pillar of personal growth.
It’s all about habits.
Breaking bad ones, replacing them with good ones, learning how to make them stick, and gradually turning the things you do daily into something productive, positive, healthy and successful.
This can be considered the secret success formula you’ve been looking for. But that doesn’t mean it offers a shortcut.
No. Habits are hard to build, and old ones are even harder to break.
But it’s a process that can be learned. Once you do it right, you’ll just replicate it every next time with any old behavior you’re trying to remove, or new one you’re trying to develop.
First, it’s important to know why they matter. So here’s what makes them so important:
1. Habits are the basis of your success.
They are what we repeatedly do. We already have many of them, and if we don’t realize that, then they’re mostly bad ones we do on autopilot.
If we lack success, that’s the reason.
But the good news is that you can change all that. By working on one habit at a time, you can get better at that, learn how to do it with less effort and faster, and can soon change the way your entire days go.
2. Taking control of your habits is the only way to take control of your life.
Self-control is a great skill to master but few have succeeded in that.
There is, however, a simpler way to take back control of your behavior, time, health, and everything else that you can control. That can happen by changing your habits.
3. One good habit leads to other positive changes in your life.
There are some keystone habits that are so great and worth developing, that they go together with other smaller but still powerful habits which don’t require any effort.
4. Every successful person you’ve ever heard of has done something about his habits.
It starts with the realization that you need to make permanent changes in your behavior. Then comes the self-analysis and seeing what’s wrong, doing your research and deciding where to start.
Once you choose your first habit and make a plan, there you go. You do your best to dedicate time to it daily, even if it’s 30 seconds. That applies to both building a new one and kicking a bad one.
Commitment makes good habits stick. It also makes you more successful and purpose-oriented in general.
You see how the process of transformation looks like and apply the strategies that work to other areas of your life too. And it usually ends pretty well.
Why Habits are the New Goals?
When people fail to achieve a goal, the exact reason why that happened is rarely clear. So it is with New Year’s resolutions.
But if you tell me you failed with a new habit you were trying to build or with breaking a bad one, and give me the exact steps you took (plus your preparation or the lack of it, and the things you didn’t do but should have), I’ll tell you what exactly you did wrong.
From what I’ve seen in terms of changing a behavior and reaching goals in life, habits make sense, goals don’t.
Maybe we’re just not made for the whole goal-setting process. Everyone talks about it, some achieve it, but maybe even in their cases it’s all about developing the right habits and letting them do the rest.
Here’s what Leo Babauta says in this post:
“I’m convinced that creating goals or resolutions is hardwired into us, because we can’t stop making them. Unfortunately, we’re not as equipped for making the goals come true, and the pattern most of us have seen is that we start a goal with optimism, only to be disappointed when we haven’t done much after the first week or so.”
And here’s what Mark Manson shares in an article:
“People tend to rely too much on self-discipline and eschew forming useful habits. People tend to bite off more than they can chew, so to speak, setting goals that are far above their ability or knowledge level and then becoming frustrated when they make little to no progress towards them. People are tempted to take “short cuts” to achieve a goal that may actually sabotage themselves in the long-run, like starving yourself to lose weight, or cheating to get a good grade on a test.
Just like forcing yourself to work and save for 20 years is unlikely to get you rich, forcing yourself to go to the gym dozens of times is unlikely to make you lose much weight and keep it off. Goals like this require an intense amount of effort, yet they never seem to “stick.” Eventually, your energy and discipline runs out and you fall right back to the same person you were, except now you feel defeated.
That’s because it’s better to invest your limited focus and energy on building habits rather than specific goals.
People usually don’t focus on habits because goals sound much sexier in our minds. They feel more motivating in the moment when we think about them. There’s a clear image of a certain result in our head and that gets us excited.
Habits, on the other hand, don’t sound as sexy in our heads. They’re long-term and repetitive, which makes them seem boring. And there’s no clear image one can imagine for “going to the gym every morning for a year” or “only drinking alcohol on weekends.” You don’t get this rush of inspiration imagining yourself eating salad for lunch every day. You don’t lay in bed at night fantasizing about flossing every morning.
Goals are a one-time bargain. They are the spending mindset. “I will spend X amount of energy to receive Y reward.” Habits are an investing mindset. Habits require one to invest one’s efforts for a little while and then take the rewards of that effort and re-invest them in a greater effort to form even better habits.
With goals, every day you go back to the gym feels harder. With habits, after a while it feels harder to not go to the gym than it does to go.
Therefore, it is a better investment of one’s finite energy and discipline to focus on building habits.”
There’s also the fact that goals do sound bigger and it seems like the right thing to do. Everyone else is doing it, and whether we like and admit it or not, we follow the crowd sometimes.
Stop Setting Goals, Start Building Habits.
Goals still matter. I work with them well after years of mistakes and disappointment, but I’m all about the power of habits. If you feel stuck, don’t know where to start or aren’t good with the whole goal thing, you too should turn to them. It’s priceless.
If you think about it, our whole life consists of habits. Every single action is something we’ve done in the past or will do in the future (there are exceptions, of course, but that’s not the point here).
What you do today has a huge influence on who you become in the near future and how your lifestyle will look then.
If it’s bad, if you don’t do anything about it and just repeat it tomorrow and the day after, things will get worse. Your mind will get even more used to it and it will be your comfort zone. So anything new – in this case any better behavior – will feel so uncomfortable that your brain will come up with all sorts of excuses as to why you shouldn’t do it.
Goals do sound better. The moment we set one, usually a massive one, we don’t really sit down to think it through, write down the steps that will get us closer to it and actually take the first one.
Instead, we start visualizing the end result. It’s always completely different from reality. And although possible, it just gives us instant gratification and doesn’t get us any closer to the vision itself.
Habits, on the other hand, sound ordinary, even boring. But they are more powerful than we realize.
If we learn how to wake up early every day, I mean if we really make that habit stick and do it daily, we’ll also be more productive, will kickstart the day, may add a morning ritual soon, get some work done early in the morning, have some peaceful time for ourselves, start going to bed earlier because of that, increase our willpower, etc.
All that happens naturally and easily after the initial habit is built. Waking up early is a great thing to do and is one of the top keystone habits.
Such new habit also makes you disciplined, more energetic, more organized and brings some order in your daily schedule.
If you talk about it in front of friends, they won’t really listen with their eyes wide open. I mean, it’s not entertaining to hear about your struggles with getting up with the first alarm, or what new trick you learned to fall asleep faster, or how you missed a day and feel bad, or how you’re trying to stop overthinking.
Talking about big goals sounds much more interesting. People love to talk about what they’ll do with their money, for example, when they have a big amount of it.
But in reality, if these two people sit together, I can almost guarantee that the waking-up-early guy with be more successful and satisfied with his life in a year than the guy who dreams about being rich.
It’s just how things work. And it’s a fair game, if you think about it.
So how do we develop new habits?
The things you need to keep in mind are super simple and easy:
- Choose just one habit.
- Make a step-by-step plan on how to incorporate it into your daily schedule.
- Put it after something else you’re already doing daily and have a fixed time for it.
- Make it one action a day that takes less than 5 minutes (1 pushup, 2 minutes of meditation, 1 sentence of morning pages, waking up 5 minutes earlier than usual, etc.) That’s the power of starting small. Never underestimate it.
- Track your progress, or have an accountability buddy, or find another way to make sure you’ll keep going.
- Never miss 2-3 days in a row.
- Give it a month before you move onto another habit.
Can you do that?
Of course you can. You may not succeed the first time, but that’s alright. Even if you fail for 6 months, keep going but analyze your failures and learn from them.
Improve your process each time. Use reminders, find like-minded people online, make the daily habit even simpler and easier so that it’s ridiculous for you to say no.
If you keep going and do these things, you will succeed. It’s just a matter of time.
So what do you think? Do you agree that habits are the new goals? Why?
Full-time freelance writer. Lifestyle designer.
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