Don’t set goals, create habits

The new year is traditionally the time when we set goals for ourselves. Things we want to achieve. Skills we want to develop. Aspects of ourselves that we want to improve. And a couple of weeks into the new year is traditionally the time when we realise the wheels have already come off and we’re stuck with being who we are. So why not try something different? Instead of setting goals, create habits.

A goal identifies a specific target that we’d like to achieve. Learn a new language. Run a 10k. Have a beautiful garden. The problem with goals, though, is that they’re an all-or-nothing thing. And if you don’t achieve them, or think you’re probably not going to achieve them, they can make you feel like the whole idea is futile and that you might as well give up.

So rather than focusing on the end result, focus on the process of getting there instead. Rather than committing to a big goal, commit simply to taking regular action that will take you in the general direction of that goal. Choose something that’s not too hard. Build it into your regular routine. And then do it. Create a habit.

So rather than committing to learn a new language, how about making a habit of studying for 20 minutes, three times a week. Rather that committing to run a marathon, how about making a habit of running to and from work twice a week and then doing a longer run at the weekend. Rather than committing to having a beautiful garden, why not just spend a couple of hours every Sunday pottering around with your secateurs.

Habits are hard to create. But once they’re established we do them without thinking. They just become part of our everyday routine. Like having a shower, eating breakfast or doing the hoovering. And very soon we can find ourselves making the kind of gains we were hoping for. Learning that language. Running that marathon. Or having that beautiful garden. All without a goal in sight.

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