January 16, 2020

Getting Goals and Habits to Stick

Over the past year I’ve had a significant change in the way I deal with goals and habits.

For a long time I wasn’t a person that set goals. I felt better without them, and was able to get more done when I wasn’t setting goals. (I blame Leo Babauta for sharing this idea. I really took it to heart.) I thought about things I wanted to do, but I wouldn’t go through the process of setting goals or tracking them.

In the end of 2017 I wanted to establish some habits. They are small things that I wanted to become better at, like writing in a journal and reading certain kinds of books. I wanted to be the kind of person who writes in a journal every day. I found a habit tracking app I like, called Streaks, and set out to see if simply tracking whether I do an action each day can help me establish a habit.

It turns out this really works for me. I enjoy clicking the box to say I’ve done something and the small reward of seeing my streak grow. After reading Atomic Habits I started to chain these small actions together. I added things like flossing my teeth, meditating each day, and daily writing. Just adding more things to my habit tracking app didn’t mean I actually did them, but eventually each of these habits has taken hold and become part of who I am. I don’t do any of theses things at a very high level. My writing won’t inspire millions and my journals won’t be carefully read in the future. That’s not why I do it. I wanted to improve and adopt actions that I admire.

Here are a couple of the keys that have made a difference for me:

  • Don’t worry about starting on January 1The day to set a new goal or begin a new habit is right now. Everyone knows that New Year’s Resolutions are arbitrary, but I also think we sometimes don’t start new things because the beginning doesn’t feel significant enough. (If I start exercising on 11 I know I’ll stick with it all year long!) That’s rubbish, and we all know it. Start your resolutions on the 15th or the 6th or the 23rd. When you start really doesn’t matter. Getting started does.
  • Gamification can help. I know that there are some people who are incredibly effective at using gamification to change their lives. (I’m looking at you, Nerd Fitness community!) Designing epic quests or creating an alter ego doesn’t work for me, but the simple gamification of keeping a streak alive does. Find out if gamification works for you, and use it if it does.
  • Don’t try to be epic. For years, since childhood, I tried to write in a journal consistently. The problem was that I never thought the things I was writing were worth anyone’s time to read! I was so focused on the vague future when someone would read what I wrote that I psyched myself out of writing at all. Now I just make sure I write something. Some days my journal is just a picture. Some days I write a lot. Getting the benefits of journaling was not a matter of being good at it, but simply of doing it.
  • Break big tasks down into chunks. Blogging and writing in public is another thing I wanted to do, but it takes so much time. Trying to brainstorm an idea, write out a post, edit it, publish, and promote it all on the same day is something I can do if I’m on vacation, but not when I have a regular day with work, school, family, and whatever other things pop up. Reading about Jeff Goins’ writing process really helped me. Now I chunk my writing process into three tasks: generating ideas, writing a post, and the steps of editing, publishing, and promoting. My goal is to do two of the three each day. The process of chunking has made writing less scary and something I’m able to do more consistently.

Our daily actions determine who we will become. Use small, simple steps to help you become the person you want to be.