“Our daily decisions, as well as our habits, have a huge impact upon both our levels of happiness and success.” – Shawn Achor.
The Obvious Approach to a Better Life
Goal setting has long been a linear approach to improving life. But after the first three months of the year and some education from author James Clear, I have come to the conclusion that goal setting is not enough. Any goal we set will either be helped or hindered by our underlying habits. James Clear insists that “You do not rise to the level of your goals but fall to the level of your systems” which are your habits or processes. While habits are automatic, goals are more motivational. According to Charles Duhigg, about 40% of what we do daily stems from our habits. Like apps and processes running in the background of our phones unnecessarily consume our battery, habits especially toxic ones eat up valuable time and energy we need to apply to our goals.
The connection between goals and habits has not always been highlighted. But if we intend to reach our goals, habit-goal alignment must be our first resolve. An athlete, whose goal is to make the Olympics and compete to win doesn’t just set the goal. They embark on a journey that calls for an overhaul of habits. The intention is to create an alignment between what they want to see eventually and what they do daily. Athlete and best-selling author Lewis Howes observed, “Champions aren’t born. They can be made when they embrace and commit to life-changing positive habits.”
It is not only the goals we set but the habits we practice that provide the nuts and bolts for goal accomplishment. We make our habits, then our habits make us. Our future takes shape through our daily routine. The following three key processes form a structured approach to orient our goals around habits:
With your goal as the whole, your habits exist as symbiotic parts. Each one structured and working to actualize the goal. Integrating a good habit into our life is often a challenge. But with intention, repetition, continuous review, and adjustment, harmony is created between your habits, your goals, and ultimately your life. This relationship is vital to goal accomplishment. If discord exists between our habits and goals, our lives suffer.
For example, your goal is to save $100 next month. After stating the goal, correct habit alignment is the next step. Each day you decide to pack lunch for work instead of buying lunch. To eliminate the excuse of waking up late and not able to pack lunch, you take action. You pack your lunch the night before. You have matched your goal to a simple daily habit that you can practice.
Do not allow the systemic nature of habits to deprive you of the goals you can achieve and the life you want to live. Start onboarding a chain of habits that will catapult you to your goals.
Habits tend to link to other habits creating a chain effect. Chain strength is attributed to the links of the chain. The potential to reach a goal has plenty to do with the link of habits that are trending in your life. And just as bad company corrupts good morals, so do bad habits kill our well-intentioned goals.
At the start of this year, I did a reality check on my productivity. I concluded that with a few small changes, I can make a dramatic improvement. First, I turned off all notifications on my phone. This helped me reduce and eventually eliminate the number of phone glances which were distracting. Two, I eliminated apps which I used but were not useful for my productivity. Third, I unsubscribed from all unimportant emails that overflowed my inbox. This sequencing was instrumental in my increased productivity.
Let’s revisit the goal of saving $100 next month. The urge to continue eating out is stronger than the intention to begin carrying packed lunch. And attention must be paid to this tension if there is to be goal realization. Sequencing becomes the bread and butter to simultaneously impede the bad habit and build a good habit. The idea is to redistribute your time and energy to developing the chain of good habits. Thus, a relationship is formed between the goal and corresponding habits. The flow boxes below illustrate this habit to goal sequencing:
Exploring, discovering, and applying the synthetic blend of habits that will shape your life into a goal accomplishing machine is a worthy life pursuit.
Find like-minded people and material to help perpetuate the habit to goal connection you want to instill. Books, online courses, and friends sustain the attraction to the goal you want. In essence, they create a Flywheel Effect. This concept was popularized by best-selling author, Jim Collins.
To get a flywheel moving requires substantial effort in the beginning. But as you push it consistently, little by little momentum is generated. As momentum builds, so does movement. An environment is instituted. Distance to the desired result is closed. As the flywheel generates more speed breakthrough is reached. The doom loop (a temptation for quick fixes), termed by Jim Collins is avoided. Progress is evident and sustained.
The environment created by associating with like-minded people and supporting material triggers the habits that you aim to establish in your life. In the case of saving $100 dollars for an emergency fund, spend time with savers instead of spendthrifts. Don’t read articles on the latest fashion trends or electronic devices. Instead, choose books or articles promoting financial freedom like Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. Our best chance of success in aligning habits with goals is to design a nurturing environment for the right habits to thrive and not merely survive.
Final Thought: Through synchronizing, sequencing, and synthesizing our habits with our goals, accomplishing them becomes more of a guarantee than hit-or-miss. By focusing on habits first, the goals you reach will last for a lifetime because you are acquainted with the process. As Gilbert Parker simply put it, “There is no influence like the influence of habit.”
Keep on Keeping on!
Habits Blog Series Summary
- Habits are either helpers or hinderers to our growth.
- For good habits to stick they must be connected to something meaningful.
- Our habits should emerge from our identity. Who you are is tied to what you do.
- By decision and daily action, we commit to developing good or bad habits.
- To reach your goals, orient and align them around correlating habits.