Stop Setting Goals.

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Focus on habits instead!

You know what time it is.

It’s time to make those New Year’s resolutions again.

So, what will it be this year? What are the goals you’ll declare for 2020?

Maybe it’s weight loss, or perhaps you’ll start using that gym membership you purchased in 2015. 🙂

Those are pretty common ones, but maybe you’re a solopreneur with some goals for your business. You want to land X number of new clients or finally finish writing that book you outlined ages ago.

Regardless of the flavor, goals have one thing in common: they are off in the distance. You won’t get there until significant time passes, and time marches on whether you want it to or not.

The raw truth is this: We won’t achieve our goals unless we do stuff between now and this time next year. Brilliant, right?

As rudimentary as this observation may seem, it is baffling how many of us set goals but never actually perform any of the actions necessary to bring them to pass. It seems that sometimes we feel the goal-setting act alone provides all the good feels we need going in to the new year.

A couple of years ago I sat down with my kids around New Years and we all wrote down some of the things we wanted to accomplish over the next twelve months.

I remember them scratching out a number of things, and then taking turns declaring their intentions to the family.

I also remember checking in with them in June of that year to review their progress, only to find that most of them couldn’t find their notes and didn’t even remember what their goals had been.

Needless to say, 2017 wasn’t the year of champions in the Goldsborough household.

Around that same time, I had an epiphany regarding New Year’s resolutions. To be honest, it was more of a slow realization. Here it is:

I will never reach my goals unless I change my habits.

Setting goals is easy, because we we don’t have to do anything today, or tomorrow, or the next day. The goal is off in the future, down the road enough to worry about at a more convenient time. Just knowing that we had the character to set the goal provides this faux sense of accomplishment.

The problem is this:

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

~ James clear

As long as I have no definitive plan to crush my goals I will have little hope of achieving them.

This realization helped me shift my focus away from goals and toward habits. You see, goals are only effective if they are supported by habits.

In 2017, I decided I wanted to run 200 miles before the end of the year.

Prior to that, I’d have set the goal and just hoped for the best. I’d have gone on a few runs until I didn’t feel like it any more, and never really keep track of how I was doing.

However, when the light bulb came on that year, I decided to focus on my habit instead of my goal. I pulled out my mad 5th grade math skills, and discovered I’d need to run just under 4 miles per week to hit my goal by the end of the year.

Instead of shooting for the 200 mile marker and hoping I could make it happen sometime in the next twelve months, I decided to just establish a new habit instead.

The habit was pretty straightforward.

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of the week I would run at least 1.3 miles.

There would be no excuses and no tap-outs. If it was cold, or raining, or I was tired, it didn’t matter. I was still going to run my 1.3 miles first thing in the morning if the day of the week started with an M, a W, or an F.

The only suitable exception was if both my legs were broken (so far so good by the way).

You see, failure just needs one good excuse, and I wasn’t going to let that happen.

On that first Monday in January, 200 miles seemed like it was unreachable. But 1.3 miles wasn’t so bad. I could do that.

So I did.

Then I did it again on Wednesday, then Friday, and just kept at it. My legs weren’t breaking, so there was no viable excuse, and I ended up making it a habit.

I got my 200 miles in 2017.

In 2018 I bumped it up to 300 miles.

In 2019, I knocked out over 500 miles.

You can bet I won’t be backing down in 2020. 🙂

I was able to accomplish this not because I set a big goal, but because I established a small consistent habit.

Now, before you go thinking I’m an uber-disciplined person, understand that there are a dozen undisciplined areas of my life that I could list right now. For instance, this very moment it is after midnight while I’m typing this, and I should be in bed sleeping. 🙁

But to avoid depression, I won’t go down the rabbit hole of personal failures today.

The good news is this: every single positive habit you form, whether small or large, contributes to your growth and propels you toward your goals.

Once you form a consistent habit, all you need is time to produce incredible results.

Think again about 2020.

But this time, consider building habits rather than setting goals.

What small thing can you do today, and then repeat tomorrow?

What can you do 52 weeks in a row that will work together to produce amazing things twelve months from now?

Don’t just set goals. Build habits!


What’s one small habit you’d like to establish in 2020?

Mine is writing.

I plan to write every weekday, and by January 2021 I’ll have a book to show for it.

How about you? I’d love to know!

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