Last year I thought THIS is my year. I’m going to get super fit with killer abs and toned legs and an overall healthy glow. I started off going to the gym everyday, lifting weights, doing intense workouts, making juices, eating salads— the works. Of course, we all know how this story ends, by February I’d missed a few days at the gym, sometimes I’d feel lazy and just want to watch Netflix. I ordered a pizza once for dinner and it all went down hill. By March I was the same old Cat I was back in December 2019. It’s a never ending cycle, every year we make these new year’s resolutions to lose weight, read more, get organized, learn a new skill, save money, and the list goes on and on. In the beginning there is so much momentum and promise and then around February, March, everyone is back to their old ways. The problem is we are going about it all wrong. We rely heavily on our own will-power, knowing all too well that our will-power has failed us time and time again. Why do we think this year will be different if we keep doing the same thing each year? Instead of repeating history, we need to review what works and try that.
You need a system.
Keep in mind, the goal is not the starting point, it is the end point— where we would like to be. The starting point is where we are now. In-between now and the goal is what we need to focus on. Why is that? Because we know what we want (the goal) and where we are now (the starting point) but all the action is taken in-between the starting point and the goal. The actions need to be intentional, repetitive and continual over time— this is a habit system. The habit system is the in-between.
Habit systems work because they are repetitive and automatic, helping us cement the behaviors into our lives. According to Forbes, habits are “a hyper-efficient and economical mode of acting that doesn’t require the high price tag of conscious thought. It’s because of habits that we are able to reserve our brain power for the more pressing tasks that come up.” We don’t give enough credit to our habit systems as the force for accomplishing our goals; yet it is this set of repeated actions taken on a day to day basis that get us one step closer each day.
It is nearly impossible to flip your life around from night to day. Instead, focus on incorporating one new thing into your habit system at a time. For example, this year I have the same goal of becoming fit, but instead of trying to do all the things at once, my first baby step is to incorporate some level of movement into my life. To accomplish this, I’ve added it into my morning routine. My morning routine was to wake up between 7-7:30, make my bed, walk my dog, get ready for work. My new routine is to wake up at 7, make my bed, walk my dog, exercise, and get ready for work. Notice I already had a set routine and I am only adding one extra step. In the past I’d try to incorporate all the new habits I wanted to form into my routines simultaneously and would inevitably fail at all of them. Now I just need to put effort into this one task until it becomes effortless and automatic.
A good rule of thumb is to be ambitious about your goals and conservative about your process. You want to set yourself up for success and lofty action plans might just do the opposite (remember me at the start of 2020 trying to do too much at once?). Instead of trying to cram all your success into one pretty package, consider making micro-goals that will ultimately lead to your ambitious goal. Using the example above, the ultimate level of fitness I’d like to reach is a daily workout for 30-45 minutes a day, eating healthy, drinking enough water and engaging in active past times like hiking and sports. As someone who currently lacks most of those things, that’s quite a leap! This time around, I’m starting by developing a workout routine. By exercising 15 minutes a day for 5 days, I am building my stamina and the routine of working out. Once I’ve mastered 15 minutes, I can increase to 20 minutes and so on. The point is to set realistic and achievable actions so that you don’t exert yourself trying to do it all at once.
Take inventory of your surroundings— what (or who) around you might steer you away from forming your new habits? You want to avoid or temporarily limit your interaction with these things as much as possible. Still using the example above, sometimes I would wake up around 7:30 because I’d hit the snooze button on my phone’s alarm and sleep in a few more minutes. In these cases, I wouldn’t have time to exercise because I spent the time sleeping in. To remedy this, I put my phone on the dresser away from my bed. Now when it sounds, I have to get out of bed to turn it off. This simple adjustment eliminates the snooze button behavior and encourages me to move ahead with my day (because once you’re up, you’re up, right?).
The Bottom Line
Having goals is important and necessary for personal and professional development. That said, they are only half of the story! Building a sustainable habit system is the other half of the story. It is the piece we often overlook or ignore because it is the hardest. Don’t fall into the trap of setting goals only to give up before you even start. Work on your habit systems and your goals will virtually fall into your lap. I’d love to know if you have any tips to forming habit systems. If you’d like to share any, email them to me at here.
Cat Marte is a Success Coach who helps success driven people launch and grow their online businesses. Book your free introductory coaching call today.