I’ve got a lot of goals. Too many, if you ask my husband – and he’s probably right.
I love to shoot for the moon when I set goals, but most of the time I’m trying to launch a dozen rocket ships at once – which is overwhelming, counterproductive, and normally causes all of them to miss their mark.
Last week I listened to this great podcast with freelance writer Ed Gandia and motivational blogger James Clear about binning the idea of goal setting, and focusing instead on building small productive habits into your daily schedule. Want to run a 10k? Get in the habit of running every morning, and pretty soon you’ll have met that goal. Want to write a novel? Get in the habit of writing 300 words at lunch, and by the end of the year you’ll have 109,500 words – more than enough to have written that novel.
The point is that if you develop even the tiniest of habits – like doing three pushups at 2pm every day – you can make significant progress towards even the loftiest of goals.
Though both men are writers and entrepreneurs, the focus of the podcast is primarily on health and reaching personal goals. There’s some great information in there about how big your habits should be, what to do when you get off track, and how to keep yourself motivated over the long haul. Give it a listen!
Setting good habits
- Pick just one or two. Human willpower can only handle so much before running out of steam, which is why when you set yourself a dozen goals at once (like I always try to do) you’ll normally get overwhelmed. Instead, pick just one or two of your top priority goals and start there. Once you’ve built up regular habits to support those goals you can pick another one or two to add to your routine.
- Focus on the actionable. The problem with goals is that most aren’t actionable. “Spend more time with my family,” and “Get in shape” are too nebulous to be truly helpful. Rather, break those goals down into a habit that will support it. A good habit consists of a specific action done at a specific time. Like, “Turn off my cell phone during dinner,” “Floss my teeth after brushing them each night,” and “Go for a walk every day after lunch.” Tip: Try to tie your new habit in with something you already do every day, like taking a shower, or picking up your kids from school.
- Start small. Nothing will get you off track quicker than a habit that’s too big. Choose something ridiculously small, and you’ll have absolutely no excuse not to do it. Doing three pushups, choosing just the next size down of soda, or meditating for 60 seconds may seem small in the short run, but they’re also immediately achievable. And you can easily work up from there once you’ve gotten into the habit.
- Track your progress: Most advice in articles about habit setting boil down to one tactic: Put a checkmark on a calendar every day you do your habit, then reward yourself once you’ve gotten a good streak. You can also find cell phone apps like Lift to help you keep track.
- Don’t kick yourself if you miss a day. Seriously, don’t. So you’ve got a gap on your calendar where you didn’t exercise for a week, or you ate nothing but junk food for lunch for three days. Don’t worry about it. Just recommit to starting your habit again tomorrow, and building up the links in that chain. You can do it if you just keep at it.