"Setting a goal is not nearly as important as mastering the habits that will bring it to life."
— James McPartland
Aristotle once said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit". In my seminar and coaching work, I am frequently asked how one can find the time, energy, and fortitude to pursue big goals when life seems to already be asking so much of them. The simple answer, most likely for all of us, is to stop overcommitting ourselves. We tend to say "yes" when we would actually prefer to say "no". We overcommit when we are unclear about what we should be doing instead, or how to prioritize and schedule our ever-growing list of activities.
Remember, a focus on results does not lead to results. Results are a lagging measure of our habits. Simply put – we get what we repeat. Committing to a consistent daily habit is far more impactful than committing to a goal. Paradoxically, habits do not restrict our freedom – they create it.
While nobody seems to disagree that they are overcommitting (and saying "yes" when they would rather say "no"), their next request is often to gain a strategy (or set of tactics) to help break these patterns. As such, we use the following format in our workshops and seminars:
Developing the Habit of Developing Habits
1.) Define the goal you are pursuing:
What will it ultimately look like, feel like, smell like, and taste like when it is achieved?
How will you actually know when you've met the goal?
Why is it important to you and to your life?
What is the realization date? When will it come to life?
Who else needs to be involved, and in what way?
2.) Describe the behaviors, actions, and sub-steps required:
What daily habit will have the biggest impact on reaching the goal?
Who needs to be informed, included, and recruited to help bring this goal to life? What's in it for them?
What might you have to stop doing to make room for the new habits and behaviors required to meet the goal?
Can you “stack” – or “link” – the new habits to any existing behaviors? (i.e. adding new habits of practicing gratitude and setting daily intentions to your current habit of daily journaling as part of a morning ritual)
Identify what could interfere with developing new routines.
3.) Set milestones – Create minor wins on the path to victory:
What activities, performed over time, increase the likelihood of ultimate success? (i.e. 4 workouts a week for 90 days)
Enroll a support team. Let people know what you are going after and tell them how you would like them to help you.
Have a "spring back" plan to “fall back” on if you get off track. Old, ingrained behaviors will often try to sneak back in and grab your attention as they are what feel comfortable and "normal".
Create a reward / consequence program. Appreciate the wins and hold yourself to account for the setbacks.
Speak about your success in advance. Stay positive.
4.) Reduce options – Avoid distractions – Set the environment up for you to win:
Choose your means of support in advance. (i.e. specific clothes, meals, uplifting books)
Remind yourself (in writing) every morning and night what you are pursuing, why it is important, and how you and others win when you win.
Avoid people who do not support you, or who tempt you to say "yes" to a distraction – because you are clear on why you choose to say "no".
Journal the journey. Capture the small wins.
Have a daily plan. Think of the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat… With a thermostat, we set the parameters. With a thermometer, we react.
5.) Master your identity:
Who will you have to become in order to reach your goal?
Who will you no longer be on the path to reaching this goal?
Remember – while incentive can start a habit, identity sustains it.
Who will you have to re-train to see the "new" you?
How close is this new identity to your authentic self?
Like a debt collector that tracks people down after going on a spending spree with no means to pay, bad habits may bring immediate and temporary gratification, but the cost always comes – to be collected in full in the future. The cost of developing good habits on the other hand, is more like an installment plan – you pay now and reap the benefits later. I encourage those I work with – wait for the rewards, there is less competition and ultimately a bigger payoff.
And remember, good habits need a home – a place in your schedule so that they begin to exist in your world. As with many important things, it is not necessary to get habits perfect – only to get them going. Identify a goal, then begin implementing the habits that support the attainment of that goal. Once you have momentum, fine-tune your daily approach. The process itself will teach you a great deal, and sooner or later you’ll end up mastering the habits that will bring your goal to life!