GOALS VS HABITS
Let’s take the most cliché and universal New Year’s Resolution of the bunch: “I want to lose 20 lbs and look sexy for summer.”
I think almost everyone has had this resolution at some point. In most cases, after you recuperate from your New Year’s Eve binge on January 1st, join the gym January 2nd, make yourself go at least 5-6 times a week mostly out of guilt because you spent so much damn money and you feel like you need the exercise. But you have no idea what you’re doing. And my god, look at all of the undernourished, clammy people here. Wow, I feel so lazy just watching them. Can this treadmill go any slower? I’m tired. I want a burger. Or maybe ice cream. Or maybe an ice cream burger.
Yes. The struggle is real.
The problems with the predictable pursuit of goals (i.e., New Year’s resolutions) are well-documented at this point.
People tend to rely too much on self-discipline and willpower and avoid thinking about structuring good habits. People tend to bite off more than they can chew, so to speak, setting goals that are far above their skill or knowledge level and then becoming irritated when they make little to no improvement towards them. People are tempted to take “shortcuts” to attain a goal that may actually sabotage themselves in the long-run, like starving yourself to lose weight, or cheating to get a good grade on a test.
That’s all true. But I’m here to suggest something else.
“Lose 20 lbs by summer” is a stupid goal to begin with. That’s because it’s produced from one-dimensional mindset. They view the problem in the overly-simplistic terms of “Do a lot of X, eventually get Y.”
Just like forcing yourself to go to the gym dozens of times is unlikely to make you lose much weight and keep it off. It will just make you hate the world!
Goals like this require an extreme amount of effort, yet they never seem to “stick.” Eventually, your oomph and your discipline run out and you fall right back to the same person you were, except now you feel guilty and defeated.
The secret. It’s better to devote your focus and energy on building habits to achieve your particular goals.
People usually don’t focus on developing good habits because goals sound much sexier in our minds. They feel more motivating and hopeful in the moment when we think about them. There’s a clear image of a positive result in our head and that gets us keyed up.
Habits, on the other hand, don’t sound as sexy in our heads. They’re long-term, and tedious, which makes them seem boring. And there’s no clear picture one can envision for “going to the gym every morning for a year” or “only drinking alcohol on weekends.” You don’t get this flash of motivation imagining yourself eating salad for lunch every day. You don’t lay in bed at night fantasizing about flossing every morning.
Goals are a one-time deal. Habits are a long-term investment.
This is why so many people who lose weight end up gaining it back (and then some). They concentrate on a particular goal rather than developing the right habits.
So when their get-up-and-go and willpower runs out (and it always does because willpower is limited) they inflate back to their original selves.
With habits, on the other hand, there’s no exacting endpoint that must be reached. The habit is a simple daily or weekly repetition that one does until muscle memory and brain chemistry kick in and you’re now doing the preferred action on autopilot. With the implication of a goal, every day you go back to the gym, it feels harder. With habits, after a while it feels harder to not go to the gym than it does to go.
Therefore, it is a better deal on our very willpower and sanity to focus on building habits. You should still set and have goals however, don't forget to peruse the habits that will bring about that goal, that would make that goal a certainty — eating less sugar, walking the dog everyday, developing a workout plan — and then focus on those. The weight loss then naturally occurs as a side effect.