Creating habits, not setting goals

Habits and goals are closely associated, but one is certainly more effective and has much greater sustainability. Nothing will change your future trajectory like habits.

We all have goals, big or small, things we want to achieve within a certain time frame. Some people want to be a millionaire by the time they turn 30. Some people want to lose a certain amount of weight before Summer. Some people want to write a book in the next six months. 

When we begin to chase an intangible or vague concept (success, wealth, health, happiness), making a tangible goal is often the first step.

Habits are processes operating in the background that power our lives. Good habits help us reach our goals. Bad ones hinder us. Either way, habits powerfully influence our automatic behaviour.

The difference between habits and goals is not semantic. Each requires different forms of action. For example:

•We want to learn a new language. We could decide we want to be fluent in six months (goal), or we could commit to 30 minutes of practice each day (habit).

•We want to read more books. We could set the goal to read 50 books by the end of the year, or we could decide to always carry a book with us (habit).

•We want to spend more time with our families. We could plan to spend seven hours a week with them (goal), or we could choose to eat dinner with them each night (habit).

When we want to change an aspect of our lives, setting a goal is often the logical first step. The problem is, solely relying on goals can be somewhat problematic. 

Every goal has an end point and ultimately this is why many people revert to their previous state or ways after achieving a certain goal. People run marathons, then stop exercising altogether afterwards. Or they make a certain amount of money, then fall into debt soon after. Others reach a goal weight, only to spoil their progress by overeating to celebrate.

Goals rely on willpower and self-discipline. Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.

Keeping a goal in mind and using it to direct our actions requires constant willpower. During times when other parts of our lives deplete our supply of willpower, it can be easy to forget our goals. Habits, not goals, make otherwise difficult things easy.

Goals can make us complacent or reckless. Studies have shown that people’s brains can confuse goal setting with achievement. This effect is more pronounced when people inform others of their goals. Furthermore, unrealistic goals can lead to dangerous or unethical behaviour.

If we were to create new habits, how could they benefit us?…

Once formed, habits operate automatically. Habits take otherwise difficult tasks; like saving money and make them easy. The purpose of a well-crafted set of habits is to ensure that we reach our goals with incremental steps.

Let’s say a person’s goal is to write a novel. They decide to write 200 words a day, so it should take 250 days. Writing 200 words takes little effort, and even on the busiest, most stressful days, the person gets it done. However, on some days, that small step leads to them writing 1000 or more words. As a result, they finish the book in much less time. Yet setting yourself a goal of, “write a book in four months” would have been intimidating.

Once we develop a habit, our brains actually change to make the behaviour easier to complete. After about 30 days of practice, enacting a habit becomes easier than not doing so.

Habits are for life and that is because our lives are structured around habits, many of them barely noticeable. Once a habit becomes ingrained, it can last for life (unless broken for some reason).


Believe in the process and enjoy the journey.
Team 4D Fit
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Facebook: @4DFitUK

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