Do you feel stuck? Have you set goals and failed repeatedly? Do you feel like goal setting doesn’t work? It doesn’t have to be this way. You can break free and make 2021 one of the greatest years of your life! The key to your breakthrough is learning how to create lasting habits. Yes, habits can be the fuel for your rocket. Speaking more broadly of retirement, habits will be an integral part of succeeding in all four phases of retirement: the prepare-to-go, go-go, slow-go, and no-go years. It’s going to be a great year!
HABITS VS GOALS
As you step into 2021, should you work on goals or habits? In my opinion, it isn’t choosing one or the other, but rather how they work together. For me, habits have allowed me to achieve my goals. For example, I used to weigh about 225 pounds. I used habits to reduce my weight to below 190 pounds, my high school weight, and have kept it off for almost a decade. When I cheat and gain some weight I know exactly the habits to implement to get me back into the weight range range I’m comfortable with.
For me, habits have helped me achieve goals with my family, my spiritual life, and my career. Before I mastered many of the principles of habits, I would have aspirations for change in my life; I would even write them down but would often fail. I struggled with how to keep them in front of me and maintain momentum. It’s completely different now.
It can be the same for you. The ability to have a brighter vision for your life and then make SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) goals from that vision is only the first step in the process. The next is to develop the habits and system to achieve the goal.
That being said, habits don’t have to be tied to a specific SMART goal. You could simply want to be healthier or lose weight so you put a new habit in place. No matter the future-self you envision, learning how to create lasting habits can be the key. One of the key reasons is that it gets you off the willpower treadmill.
WILLPOWER VS HABITS
According to research, willpower is like a muscle, that can become depleted and wear down the more you use it. It’s like a muscle that has been lifting weights. Eventually, performance declines and recovery is needed to rebuild the muscle.
Ironically, as we exhibit self-control, our ability to make choices becomes fatigued. Our willpower decreases over the course of a day, which means that we can often undermine our best intentions because we default to the level of the current programming of our mind and body. The reason we set our vision or goal in the first place was because we didn’t like the results we were getting in our life and the reason we are often stuck getting the results we are is the current software of our mind and body. It can really be a vicious cycle.
The way we break free from relying on willpower is to form habits that become automatic. Take for example, brushing your teeth. You probably don’t have to put that in your schedule. It just happens. Once you start brushing your teeth, you don’t have to think about how to brush your teeth either. Your mind can even wander off but you still brush your teeth.
THE MIND AND BODY WANT TO BE EFFICIENT AND CONSERVE ENERGY
The brain and body are built to optimize energy and run efficiently. You don’t have to think about your heart beating, digesting your food, or what to do when you’re sleeping. The body has systems and programming that automatically do these things. Your mind works similarly but is also more complex, as you’ve probably noticed. Our subconscious mind, or what I like to call the running mind, are those thoughts that occur automatically, for example daydreaming. Another example is driving to work on a familiar route. Often you can just arrive, while your running mind took over and very little mental exertion was needed.
What makes thinking different from the body is willpower or the conscious mind, or what I like to call the intentional mind. Put to use and we can consciously mold and shape our actions and thoughts, enough to change our circumstances. Think about or work at something long enough, and it will work its way into the subconscious (i.e. learning to play the piano or guitar). Learning where to put your fingers can be extremely difficult in the beginning and over time can become automatic.
So the key to achieving your goals and vision is thinking big about your future and then thinking small about the habits and systems that will help you get there. It’s about relying less on willpower and learning to program our mind and body for success. Habits and systems are like the rudder that can steer the big ship of your life. Benjamin Hardy wrote a great book on willpower, habits, and systems called Willpower Doesn’t Work that I highly recommend if you want to go more in depth.
As you become increasingly aware of your current habits and know how to form new ones, the game of growth and change becomes much more simple and easy. Transformation becomes a natural byproduct of your habits and systems. Goal achievement and growth can become much less of a struggle.
THE ANATOMY OF A NEW HABIT
According to James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, every habit has four distinct phases. Understanding the anatomy of habit is how you create lasting habits. The first is the cue, the second phase is the craving, the third is response, and the fourth is reward.
Here are a couple of examples he shares:
Example: Text Message
- Cue – your phone buzzes
- Craving – you want to look and see what the message is
- Response – you grab your phone and take a look
- Reward – you satisfy your craving by looking at the message
- Cue – you walk into a dark room
- Craving – you want to be able to see
- Response – you flip the light switch
- Reward – you satisfy your craving to see
FORMING YOUR NEW HABIT
From my own experience I’ve found that the easiest way to form a new habit is to stack a new one on an old one. For example, if you’ve decided that taking two or three vitamins each day is an important part of your health goals, your cue or trigger could be eating breakfast.
A few years ago I decided to create a habit of study, prayer, and meditation in the morning. I structured an hour each day. Honestly, the things I’ve done in that hour have moved around but the goal is clarity and amazing positive feelings. This habit has become the foundation of huge benefits in my life on a number of levels. The reward has been the way I’ve felt. As time has gone on, I’ve added going to gym three days a week on top of that hour, which was already a habit. Now, I have a double whammy of feeling good. I’ve created a similar shorter routine before bed as well.
Let’s take the example of this podcast. I have a goal of creating 52 podcast episodes in 2021. In order to achieve this goal, I have to create a system that works. Because I have my personal hour in the morning, I’ve now stacked an hour of writing and podcast show creation each day immediately after that personal hour. Then, three days a week I go to the gym after writing. Now I’ve stacked three incredible habits on top of each other, two that are already very effective. What’s the chance of my new podcast habit sticking? Almost 100%!
One of the best cues or triggers I’ve found is choosing a time and place. That allows me to even put it on my schedule.
TRACK YOUR HABIT
Another way to ensure success in forming new habits is to track them. Whether you have a to-do list that you look at each day, take advantage of free apps, or use an accountability partner, tracking and holding yourself accountable will be important to your success.
On my Android phone I’ve used an app called Loop Habit Tracker (Android only) for several years. I have specific notifications that come up at 9 am and 9 pm that have all the habits I’m wanting to keep in front of me. I then mark if I’ve completed them and I’m able to track month by month how effective I’ve been. There are also a number of different apps for free that can do the job and I’d encourage you to try and see if this method works for you.
Here are some of the habits I track right now:
- Morning mindset
- Scriptures and spiritual time
- My business story/offer
- Learning time
- Gratitude journal
- Treats only on Sunday
- No food after 7 pm
HOW TO CREATE LASTING HABITS IN 2021
Instead of exclusively goal setting this year, I’m creating one or two habits or systems in key areas of my life. One question to ask is, “What is the most effective habit I could form in this area of my life?” Don’t feel like you have to choose a habit in each of the areas below. You could easily just start with one or two categories. Because I’ve trained myself to add habits it isn’t overwhelming to work on a few at a time, especially with Loop Habit Tracker as my tracking and accountability system.
Here are some examples:
- Spiritual – morning routine
- Marriage – fifteen minute meaningful time together with Christine every night at 9 pm
- Family – dinner every night at 6 pm
- Influence – produce 52 podcasts and emails
- Health – small meals for dinner
- Mindset – future-self journal before bed
Choose a habit that would be pivotal to progress in your life. Then break down a time and place (trigger or cue). Then track your progress and be accountable. Let’s make 2021 an amazing year!
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