Habits Are The Building Block to Achieving Your Goals
Welcome back, pilgrims
As we continue the #2020Refocus Challenge we are going to work focus on hitting our targets.
Seven steps ago, we created SMART goals. We've made them Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Timely. Now, we're going to execute those SMART goals. I've mentioned repeatedly that action is an important part of attaining our goals. You can think and plan until the cows come home, but until you start to do the work you are ultimately playing pretend.
Everybody, even the most carefree person, has a routine somewhere in their lives. Patterns of behavior are just a part of human nature. Whether it's taking a family holiday every winter, getting ready for work in the morning, or how you do the dishes. Whether cognitively or coincidentally, you have routines in place for yourself.
Next we are going to create the tempo of our lives. Yes, every once in a while, we can do something extraordinary, but we want to make our goals sustainable, not an outlier. Our lives are shaped by what we do every single day. There's a famous quote by Aristotle: “Excellence is not an act, but a habit”. If your goals are to change way you live, then you must change the things that you do day in and day out.
There are three tasks for this week. Before we go any further I want you to do the first task now:
Write down your daily/weekly/monthly routines.
There's this saying that everyone has the same number of hours in the day. While that is true, not everybody has the same resources, nor do they have the same style of life. We are going to establish a routine that allows you to be as productive as your circumstances allow.
Maybe you look at your routine, and you think, “wow, there's a lot more that I do that I didn't realize”, or maybe you think “I’m not as productive as I thought I was...where does all my time go?” Ultimately, the goal is to find out how you are spending your days and where we can incorporate your goal getting tasks into your routine.
Now that we know what your routines are, answer these questions as honestly as you can:
To what I ask what takes most of your time during the week?
What do you wish you had more time for?
What puts you under the most pressure time-wise?
What do you seem to never have time for?
The answer to these questions should provide clarity on how to rearrange your routine. Let’s start with the largest immutable in your life. For most people, this will be work or school. Most days of the week you need to be somewhere by a certain time. This is something that you have to do but, you don’t have control over the terms.
Whatever issues that you feel like you're having, whether it be punctuality or follow through or whatever else, we're going to take the pressure off of you from active choices. When faced with decision anxiety can cause you to think about all of these things that go into accomplishing your goals. Fear and self-doubt can creep in. Anxiety and procrastination set in and prevent you from accomplishing your goals.
Choices, Choices, Choices...
Every time you make a decision, you are actually making two. I learned the concept of opportunity cost in an economics lecture, but I have found it resounds in many different aspects of my life. Opportunity cost is the lost benefit of making a decision. If you say yes to something, you are saying ‘no’ to everything else. Example: the decision to stay up late. It’s not only saying yes to finishing this movie, but you are saying ‘no’ to sleep you would have if you had gone to bed on time.
If that wasn’t overwhelming enough, there is a thing called ‘decision fatigue’. Here in the 20th century, you have plenty of options. From types of cars to drive, to the television to watch, to music. We have so many more options than the generations that came before us. Of these choices, there’s not a ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ answer. If you choose one streaming service or the other, it’s simply a matter of preference. You must find the thing that works best for you. The fact that there's not a wrong answer can sometimes be overwhelming. You can become preoccupied with choosing the best decision. That weariness you feel when it comes to making a choice and you simply pick something just for the sake of picking it, that’s decision fatigue.
Let’s say you go to the grocery store to pick up some cereal and milk. There are a plethora of combinations. Milk: you have skimmed, 1%,2%, whole milk, organic, long-life milk. Then you have nondairy alternatives. When you multiply these selections by the 17-foot-long cereals in the aisle, the combinations abound. However, if you go to the grocery store, you don't typically spend too much time deciding what cereal and milk you're going to get. Why? Because you know before you get there what you want. Even if there are sales to consider, it won’t take you too long to compare your options.
This is the type of discernment that you need to apply to yourself and your goals. Remember wayyy back in step 1 when we created our vision and our mission statement? Those are the core of our desires. If the options before you don’t fulfill your vision and your mission, you don’t even have to consider them as an option (much like Kix, I don’t know what kids tested it or why their moms approved, but I have always had a beef with them and their poor taste). If you haven’t yet created a mission and a vision statement, I’m really disappointed. You had an additional two whole weeks to do it, after being assigned the task from the beginning. I mean, no pressure...but pressure.
The same way that you are able to run in and out of the store quickly because you have already made up your mind, is how we are going to establish your routine. We're going to apply that logic to the decisions that you have to make with your routine where you've already made up your mind as to what you're going to do and now you just have to do.
Establishing A Routine
Task number one is to write your routine out your daily routine. But you’ve already done that from earlier in the blog right? Remember when I asked you to write it out? You did it right? I mean I don’t mean to call you out for not following instructions... but then again, I do. Accountability!
Do it now. Before you read any further, write down your daily weekly and monthly routines. This isn’t the cute rhetorical request. I mean it. Stop what you are doing and write out your routines. Don't read any further until you write your routine out.
Okay thank you for writing out your routines. Next, we are going to identify any time-wasting activities or gaps. Identify any time wastes or gaps that could be used to be more productive or some multitasking. And then Task three is to when you're incorporating your new habit to establish a trigger, assign an action and reward for your behavior.
When we set the SMART goals, the reason that I went needed you to set the tasks because that is the lowest common denominator. I know that goal setting and making a change can seem dauting, but consistency is key. What simple thing can you do regularly to make a big change in your life?
Well I’m impatient, and I want it now.
You may wonder why you can’t just uber-focus and get it done right now. I’m not saying that you can’t, but just as with sprinting, a short burst of full out running may get you there quickly, but how far is the finished line? You can’t sustain that momentum for extended periods of time. If your goal is short, and not something that requires longevity and you have the determination, I'm sure you don’t have to create a routine. If your goal is something that you want to last, then creating a routine will not only help you get it, but it will help you sustain it indefinitely. In SCOPE, you read how your goals don't exist in a microcosm or on an island. You need to adapt yourself to environment that sustains your goals.
Benefits of Routine and Practice
Practice is important because it takes the scariness out of it. Performance anxiety is real, but once you've actually done something, a lot of the stigma is removed. Another reason that practice is important is it allows repetition.
I remember when I took a computer class in school. One test was for us to remember the entire layout of the QWERTY keyboard, and roles and functions. Now I’m a bit rusty between ROM and RAM, but that QWERTY keyboard?... I know that like the back of my hand. Because in the years that have followed, I went from having to look at the computer to see where the next key was that I needed, to only having to glance once or twice. To now being able to touch type 50wpm with very few errors.
I spend a lot of time typing 😉. Where once I was very aware of which keys I was typing, I’m amazed even now, while writing this that the letters are on the screen faster than I can think to type them. This is because of muscle memory. It’s another amazing little thing that our brains can do. Once we create a routine, the brain actually adapts to do the action more quickly and efficiently with less cognitive energy.
This is the same principle applied to “riding a bike”. (If you are someone that ever learned how to ride a bike and relearned, I will say that though you never forget, your skill level may diminish in long periods of inactivity. But that’s a LOL story for another time.)
Practice allow you to do things in a simulated or safe environment that you may not have the ability to do in real life. In a game, you only have one chance to take the shot, to make the catch, to block the goal. While in practice, you are in an environment where you can repeatedly run the drills until you have it perfect. You can go back and redo without any penalty. You don't have the time constraints of the game clock to work against. You can stay as long and you can go as hard you need.
Practice conditions us and strengthens us for be able to carry the weight of our goals. You may have a coach (or mentor); practice is great because you're receiving active feedback. Or, if you are an individual contributor, you can create some type of metric where you self-assess your performance. Practice allows you to develop skills. If you have people that are going to be taking this journey with you, this is great because it's a place for you to provide feedback for each other. It's a place for you to learn skills and to develop weaknesses.
Luck is when opportunity meets preparation, so if you stay ready, you don't have to get ready.
A few weeks ago, I suggested the Power of Habit by Gary Duhigg. I don't know how far you have gotten with this book, but I definitely want you to give the book a read. It was very integral in the way that I changed behaviors of my own. I will be honest the changes have been gradual, but that’s the point isn’t it? Small consistent change over time?
I want you to succeed, so I’m not going to suggest a book that won’t get you to where you’re trying to go. The book gave great insights on creating physical and mental space for the things that you want to add to your life. It also has great information about removing or minimizing things that do not serve you (aka bad habits).
Creating a habit
Habits tend to get a bad rep. That’s because people often only talk about bad habits. Good habits don’t get enough props. A habit is rooted in a craving. A craving is psychological or physiological urge that is the motivator for your actions. A craving can be triggered by a situation or a stimulus. Once triggered there is an act that is done in an effort to fulfill the desire created. The reward is the alleviation of the craving.
This is called the habit cycle. Good or bad we all have them. What is considered a trigger varies from person to person. You may or may not be able to remove the triggers, but one of the easier ways to end a bad habit is by replacing the behavior with something more beneficial. The triggers and the reward remain the same, but the actions taken are adapted.
The behavior you are replacing should be something that you can do with relative ease. For instance, let’s say you are an emotional eater and you want to replace the negative behavior of comfort eating. You may think to replace the behavior of binge eating with some push-ups or HIIT cardio.
This may work, but it really does depend on your level of motivation. A simpler substitution could be a low-calorie alternative to the snack that you currently turn to. Whatever the replacement behavior is, it should be one that isn’t difficult for you to execute. The reward should also be at the same level as the reward for the bad habit.
If you aren’t replacing a bad habit, and wish to create a good habit for yourself, the same rules apply. Find a cue to trigger your habit, create a behavior, and reap the reward. Achieving your goals requires discipline, but positive reinforcement is a great motivator as well. Our brains are wired to crave what makes us feel good. The reward shouldn’t be abstract in a way that it puts into a bigger goal. Each habit should have a direct and immediate reward. That is how the habit will stick.
Okay pilgrims, go forth and practice.
Until Next Time,
***The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute clincal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only. The content of this article are general assessments and should not be followed instead of seeing a professional regarding your mental and physical health.