As I’ve mulled over my 2014 goals and heard which goals other people set, I’ve realized one reason we so often fail at our grand visions: habits.
The common advice to set SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time bound) goals doesn’t always work when the goal isn’t a one time, check off the box type of goal.
Say my goal is to get in better shape. Even if I make it SMART with a deadline, specific definition of “in shape,” and bite-sized action steps, I can’t achieve it without changing my habits and my lifestyle. Or maybe I can reach the goal, but I can’t maintain the results without maintaining the habits that got me there.
- To improve my fitness, I must exercise habitually.
- To save money towards a house or pay off debt, I must save habitually.
- To build a close relationship, I must invest time habitually.
Forming a habit requires us to overcome inertia repeatedly until the momentum shifts in the direction we want.
Some days, I love the flexibility of my work. Other days, when I have a handful of things to do in whatever order I choose, I flounder. I reach the end of my day, frustrated with my progress, feeling like I’ve spent more energy deciding when to do what than actually doing the things.
I’ve realized that to work this way, I need intentionally set habits. Not every minute needs to be scheduled, but those things I want to do regularly? They need to be on the calendar. They need to happen with less deliberate thought.
Have you read that Power of Habit book? It was one of my favorites from last year. It’s more of a social science book than a self help book, but the end does offer a few practical tips for changing habits.
I reread those pages last night. Boiled down, all habits revolve around a routine. There is a specific cue that triggers a habit, and a reward that keeps us coming back for more.
Whenever I think about changing habits, I think about my parents. They have improved their fitness significantly over the past five years, and maintained the improvement. How? They formed a routine that they could stick to.
They started going to an early morning (and I do mean EARLY) boot camp. They overcame the resistance that told them to go back to sleep for as long as it took to become a routine.
Their commitment earned them the emotional and physical benefits of exercise – the reward.
Now, years later, they still go several days a week. My mom told me they’re generally awake anyway at that early morning hour now that their bodies are used to it.
They ultimately still have to decide to go each time, but the momentum is in their favor. It’s a much easier decision, more automatic than labored. All things being equal, they will get up at 5:15 to go on those mornings each week.
What positive habits do you have? How did you make them part of your routine?
This topic really interests me, and it’s one I plan to actively experiment with and apply in the coming months. You can expect to read more about habits and their implications. Let me know if that interests or bores you!