Goals versus Habits & some thoughts about how to think differently about both.

1 minute summary – longer 6 minute read underneath.

 1 minute summary.

Break down goals into the smallest pieces. Do these actions daily to build towards habitual actions that take you closer to your goals. It’s easy to set too big or too small goals, and do nothing. Instead start small, do daily and achieve more. 

6 minute read.

As a coach I’ve always been interested in goals. I think the feeling of achieving a goal is incredible, and one that I love seeing the people I work with achieving.

A goal is something exciting to work towards. When it’s combined with something you’re passionate about, it may not be always exciting to you but something you’re willing to suffer to achieve it.

I think goals can always be big, scary, audacious and done with “blue sky” thinking – which is if there were no limits and you could have anything, what would it be?

Coaching sessions can follow the GROW model of coaching which I’ve spoken about previously. You normally start with the Goal, then the Reality, next the Options and lastly Way forward / Will depending which version you look at. I always think the reason we look at the Goal before the Reality is because knowing your reality and focusing on this before you set your goals you may limit the goals you set.

I think it’s typical to hear “I want to lose 1kg,” or “I want to deliver a presentation to senior management,” or similar when working with people. Some of these goals can be perceived as huge for some people whereas others would think these goals are insignificant and not worth any worry. The growth and learning along the way of achieving a goal is relative to the person and this is what makes it so interesting.

Now to habits! I read recently about why habits are better than goals. This challenged my thinking as I had always been of the mindset that goals were the answer to everything! If you’re stuck at something, it’s because you’re not clear on your goals, you need to set more goals, you need to take action and you need to do SOMETHING!

Reading this piece by Farnam Street challenged my thinking and I think swayed me into thinking more about habits and how these can be greater tools to consider when trying to achieve anything in life.

Habits are things you do consistently. If you brush your teeth twice a day that’s a habit. You probably don’t know which hand you pick up your toothbrush, or what side of your mouth you start with when brushing your teeth. And that’s ok – isn’t it amazing that your brain has automated these mundane things so you can focus on other cool things – like what you’re going to cook for dinner.

Habits don’t have to be massive, they can be as small as they need to be to be effective. Habits can be reading for 5 minutes a day or walking for 20 minutes a day. A habit wouldn’t be running a marathon a day but that depends on the person. A goal might be running a marathon, a habit to build towards that goal might be running 5k every other day.

When I read the piece I thought it was interesting and helped me reflect on some of the things I’ve worked on to build towards my goals.

A goal I’ve had for years was to facilitate leadership programmes and coach on these in work. I set this goal years ago, broke it down into things I could do consistently and then did some of them. Consistently. Every 2 weeks I attended Toastmasters. Every morning I watched TED talks. I bought books on TED speakers and read the tips from them. I qualified to be a coach after saving up money to pay for the course. I got some clients and coached regularly.

Looking back I could’ve made more of these habits rather than things I do haphazardly. I think I could easily have created the habit of reading 5 pages a day of the TED talk book rather than just whenever I thought of it. That would’ve got me through the book quicker and freed up time to read other books on the topic. I could’ve spoken at events more often and so been in the habit of preparing speeches or opening sessions of larger events.

I think it’s useful to think about some of the goals you may have in the back or front of your mind. They may be huge goals or tiny goals. Don’t be dismayed by the size of the goal. Don’t be put off by the big goal and be disheartened because it seems insurmountable. And don’t consider the small goal insignificant as to not warrant any attention or effort. Both times – you do nothing. Action is better. Doing something is better. And getting clearer about what you can do is interesting to focus on.

Aswell as that a different way to think about your goals is to break it down into the smallest thing you can do, and then do it daily, until it becomes a habit. Make it really easy to succeed. And let success build success and momentum build towards what you’re trying to do.

So for example, you want to run a marathon in 6 months. Breaking it down into the smallest thing you can do consistently you could say you’ll run 3k a day, increasing by 1k a week which would get you up to 24k runs by the week of marathon. That’s realistic, it’s only 3k a day rather than trying to consider running a marathon and how big a challenge that could be.

This can also be thought of for thinking habits – like analytical thinking, questioning etc. and could also be used for soft skills like presentations, emotional intelligence. You could set a goal of “I want to be more emotionally intelligent” but creating the habit of trying to properly understand the other person in every interaction you have daily, will take you a lot closer to this goal then trying to be perfect straight away and getting disheartened.

Long post today – but I’m trying to clarify some thinking around this topic. Normally I’d say let’s go set some goals or similar. But instead I think it’s time to set some habits…

If this is interesting to you I’d love to hear from you. Can you apply this today? What is the smallest thing you could do today to take you closer to your goals? What habits have you got that you’d like to stop and what habits could you replace them with or start?

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