#020: Forget Goals! Focus on Habits Instead (Pt. 1 of 2)

Summary: In this week's podcast episode, I explain how I've shifted my approach to goal setting. And how focusing on habit development is changing my life and my business.

I'm pretty much done with traditional goal setting.

I'm talking about your standard "I'm going to get X result by this specific date" approach to setting goals.

It's not that this approach doesn't work. It certainly does (sometimes).

I'm doing away with it because it's missing a core element of making the goal a reality—the daily and weekly action that needs to happen in order for the goal to manifest.

Without that key element, you're just shooting in the dark.

In this episode, I explain how I've shifted my approach to goal setting. And how focusing on habit development is changing my life and my business.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

I've been goal-driven all my life. From the age of eight—when I opened my own candy store—and continuing through high school and college, I’ve always set goals. Often I’d set goals just for the fun of it.

As an adult, however, goal setting has been more difficult.

Over the years, I've experimented with different goal-setting systems. I’ve always found it challenging to translate less tangible goals (e.g. learn a new skill, improve relationships, become a better person) into something measurable.

In this episode, I’ll share with you my more recent experiences with goals and habits. I’ll talk about what I’m doing to replace bad habits with new habits and discuss what has and hasn’t worked for me.

Why habits matter

According to a 2006 Duke University study, clicktotweet 40% of the actions we take each day aren't the result of conscious decision making. They're automatic.

If these "autopilot" actions take us where we want to go, then great! But if not, we veer off course.

When we do something habitually, we think less. Our neurological activity actually decreases.

That’s why the behavior feels automatic.

Three great books on the subject of habits:

The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor.
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
Mini Habits by Stephen Guise.

The good news about habits

Habits aren’t destiny. You can change them.

Understanding how habits work makes them easier to control. Once you break a habit into its components, you can change it.

clicktotweet You CANNOT eliminate a habit. You can only change it or replace it with a better habit.

What I'm doing to replace bad habits with good habits

1. Diet—On August 4th, I switched all at once from a not-so-healthy diet to a paleo diet. It was really hard, especially the first few days and weeks.

2. Fitness—I wanted to get back into doing daily pushups. I started with ONE push up. Once you’re down on the floor, you can’t help but do more.

3. Money—Earlier this year, I started paying myself a fixed salary every month. For years, would just pay expenses from what I’d earned, which wasn’t providing the fiscal discipline I needed.

4. Family—My oldest son is approaching his teenage years. I wanted to spend time with him, so I committed to having weekly dates with him. These “dates” don’t have to be anything big. I’m starting with simple things we can do together.

5. Mind—I used to read personal development and business books every day, but I’d gotten out of the habit. Now I read 30 minutes every day. I started by reading three minutes every day and then built from there. I couldn’t have introduced this change all at once because I wouldn’t have given myself permission to take the time to do it.

6. Spirit—I’ve made meditation part of my morning routine. I use a tool to make this easier: the meditation app Omvana. The app includes guided meditations, and I know exactly how long they are before I begin.

Note that my focus has shifted from specific time-bound outcomes to working on "mini habits" until they take hold.

What I've found through this process

clicktotweet It's MUCH easier to develop a habit by working on it day by day than by setting a big goal.

If you set a big goal and assign a deadline, then you risk getting off course. It’s almost impossible to perfectly "reverse engineer" a big goal from achievement date to start date.

A better approach is to start with a ridiculously small step or action—an action so small that you have no reason NOT to do it.

An invitation to change YOUR habits

Now, I'd like to challenge each of you to start a "mini habit" TODAY and continue practicing that habit over the next 30 days.

Here's what I invite you to do:

1. Pick ONE area of your life or business you'd like to improve over the next 30 days.

2. Write down the habit you want to develop over the next 30 days

3. Think of the smallest, easiest, no-brainer action you could take TODAY (right after you finish listening) related to that habit. Make this task so ridiculously easy and simple, you can’t possibly skip it.

4. Finally, share this habit in the comments section of this episode (www.internationalfreelancersacademy.com/episode20). Come back over the next 30 days to share your progress to hold yourself accountable. Commit to coming back on December 12th to report your progress and lessons learned.

This is such an important topic that I'm doing a part two in a few weeks. My guest will be James Clear from JamesClear.com—a guy who’s done some serious studying and experimenting in this area.