We’ve all done it, especially every year in January. We set a goal to make a change, start a new habit, change our ways for good. But a week or so later, that noble goal has gone by the wayside. Why is it so hard to form, and better yet, stick to good habits? How can we have the best intentions to improve our health, our wellbeing, our lives…and yet never seem to make any progress? And most of all, what can we do about it?
Goals vs Habits
It’s great to dream about what we want to change about ourselves – like how we look and feel, the important work we want to do, the relationships we want to build and nurture with family and friends. But, according to author Seth Godin, it’s possible that those goals are designed to distract you from the thing that’s really frightening you—the shift in daily habits that would mean a re–invention of how you see yourself.
It’s great to actually know what you want. Big goals give you a sense of purpose, a sense of direction. The trouble begins when the reality of those big goals becomes so overwhelming. We let those desires drive us crazy as we try to reach that huge goal all at once, instead of starting a new, small routine. In somewhat cliché’d terms, we’re so focused on the destination that we pay no attention to each step of the journey that will get us there.
Nowhere is this more common that with health and fitness goals. It’s January, and every gym, franchised workout studio and fitness center is pushing some “new year-new you challenge”. The diet business booms during this time, promising quick-fix solutions with little to no effort. These well-crafted marketing messages entice us to believe that this time we’ll finally do it, and it’ll be a piece of cake (no pun intended.)
The plain truth is that we ultimately make life-changing transformations by developing small, sustainable habits that build on each other to get us there.
Big Goals, Small Steps
If you’re serious about making real change — in other words, if you’re serious about doing things better than you are now — then you have to start small. James Clear, author and entrepreneur
Think about the small habits you perform every day, without thinking – brushing your teeth, buckling your seatbelt, brewing the morning coffee, doing the daily crossword. You do these things almost automatically. They are tiny actions that have become patterns.
Research has shown that the best way to form a new habit is to make a tiny change that the brain can quickly learn and repeat.
Going back to the health and fitness example…what tiny steps – daily behaviors – can you begin to take now, that when repeated over and over will lead to a healthier you? Things like doing some form of exercise for 30 minutes a day, drinking 8 glasses (8 oz/glass) of water, eating regular daily meals instead of skipping until dinner when you’re ravenous?
The Myth of Motivation
Amping up motivation has nothing to do with creating habits. In fact, focusing on motivation as the key to habits is exactly wrong. BJ Fogg, author, Tiny Habits
Often we plough right into a new goal when we feel that initial burst of motivation and excitement about what achieving it will feel like. Sadly, we often fail quickly because we went out too hard and too fast, and no longer have the willpower to endure the dramatic change we just initiated. Motivation disappears, and it’s much more enticing and comfortable to slip back into that old way of behaving.
Instead, start small this time around. Pick one new, small, manageable behavior change that you know you can make. Just focus on that one small change, until it becomes a pattern, automatic. One that you’ll do whether you’re motivated or not.
Think Lifestyle, Not Life–Changing
Especially at the New Year, we dream of achieving life-changing goals. But what we should instead be focusing on are the kinds of smaller, permanent lifestyle changes that will ultimately get us to that life-changing transformation. For example:
Running your first marathon is life–changing. Running 3 days per week, following a progressive plan that slowly builds in duration and mileage, is a new lifestyle.
Losing 50 pounds is life–changing. Eating 5 servings of vegetables per day is new lifestyle.
Life goals are good to have because they provide direction, but they can also trick you into taking on more than you can handle. Daily habits — tiny routines that are repeatable — are what make big dreams a reality. James Clear