#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.



  • Carol

    By the way, I took this one to heart. Several months later, after talking about the points, and even incorporating them into one of my blogs http://carolkeiter.wordpress.com/2014/12/22/new-year-resolutions-happiness-through-action-one-mini-habit-at-a-time

    I have been actively adding and maintaining my own mini-habits; meditating, stretching, practicing music, and now finally diving in to doing the final edits of my book that has been (like having a baby and tossing it in a closet) coming to life and will be sooner than later introduced to the world. I've never felt happier or more accomplished, by performing these mini-habits and reaching new plateaus. thanks Ed. Oh yeah, I also started my first podcast, also inspired by Ed Gandia’s messages. https://deliciousmedicinalfood.wordpress.com/2015/02/08/welcome-to-carol-keiters-podcast-and-pics-delicious-food-as-medicine/

    • edgandia

      Way to go, Carol!! Thanks for sharing your progress here. Congrats on these big moves that started as mini habits!

  • Jim Quinlivan

    Great thing about podcasts is that they live forever.

    Life Areas: Health/Professional Productivity (two birds, one stone)
    Goal: 10,000 steps a day (Foodist rather than paleo)
    Mini Habit: listen to Ed's first "habit" podcast while walking medium pace on treadmill.
    Action today: At 6:00am, walked for 35 minutes while I listened to podcast. Will listen to second episode this afternoon.
    Result: with other "break" activity, I have 5,292 steps by 11am. Should be close to goal after second session and afternoon activity.
    (Not a bad habit to form when it's -12 with wind chill of -40 outside here in Chicago land.)
    Recommended reading: "Foodist," Darya Pino Rose and her blog: Summer Tomato. She also talks about habits and recommends The Power of Habit.
    Break over. Back to work.

    • edgandia

      Love it! I'm with you -- love listening to podcasts while walking or doing light exercise. Thanks for checking out the episode.

  • I downloaded the podcast and finally listened to it yesterday. I'm going to commit to a mini-habit that begins with one warm prospecting email sent per weekday.

  • Venkat Raman

    Great episode, Ed! I am getting a late start on this, but better 'late' than never. I am resolving to make a change in my website, however small, each day. Right now, many aspects of the site need improvement, so the change can be anywhere. Later, when things stabilize well, it may change to more specific type of change.

    • edgandia

      Thanks for listening, Venkat! Love how you're applying this with your website. Way to go.

  • Awesome episode, Ed!
    I've been able to get into the groove of working out in the morning, and that's been great.
    The minihabit I'm going for right now is reviewing an SOD I put together. It's the Standard Operating Document, but also the Start of Day document for my freelancing. It's got the "whys" I'm doing this (family, freedom, time, travel, etc.), and also has the finanacial minimums I need to hit on a monthly basis. I have not been reviewing this on a daily basis. Keeping the whys and the financials top of mind will hopefully motivate me and keep me focused and ensure I'm doing the work that needs to be done.
    Today was Day 1.

    • edgandia

      Love it! Stay tuned for part-two of this episode next week. I think you'll really like the additional info my guest and I are going to share with you.

  • shane

    Why no reference to BJ Fogg and his TinyHabits program?!

    • edgandia

      Shane -- Yes, great point. BJ Fogg has done some amazing work in this field. That's for bringing that up.

      Honestly, I could have spent hours talking about this and linked to dozens of resources. But you can't cover it all in one show. I have more next week with James Clear.

  • Maria

    Yours is a constant quest for understanding and betterment, Ed … which is
    why I always stay tuned! First, a general comment. I find that if the
    habit involves only myself and not someone else's cooperation in it
    (such as the example I'm about to give or the one you gave re.
    spending time with your son), I'm more likely to succeed. In response
    to your challenge, what I'd like to change is in the realm of social
    interactions. None of my friends know any of my other friends … so
    I don't really have a support “system.” Therefore, I've decided
    to plan an activity with one of my friends each week, and suggest
    that we each bring another friend to that activity. (I've done the
    first email this morning.) What I'll be interested in is how
    many of my friends will actually join me in helping me establish this
    new habit.

    • edgandia

      Thanks, Maria! Love your idea. What a cool concept! Keep us posted. And either way, please come back after 30 days and let us know how it went.

  • Ed, I'm most of the way through the Mini Habits book -- great stuff, nice to see it being implemented. So far my first (and only) mini habit is to read 2 pages of a non-fiction book every day. It's a start. 🙂

    • edgandia

      That's absolutely right -- it's a start! The amount doesn't matter. What matters is that it's so crazy small and "doable," you KNOW you're going to do it.

  • Lieselotte

    Thanks for this great podcast, Ed. I am already looking forward to part 2. It was just what I needed to get me into some old habit again. I always used to do some kind of sport but recently we moved to another country and I simply have not found a group to join. So I thought maybe I should just do some running for a start. However, I have procrastinated doing it so far. Today, I have just returned from my first run around the block, only a short one, and it feels great. Now, I want to get in shape again for running longer distances.

    • edgandia

      Awesome! What a great first start! Thanks for checking out the show. And keep at it. Would love to hear back in 30 days RE: your progress.

  • Susan G. Clark

    Fantastic! Thanks, Ed. You got MY attention. I keep meaning to make meditation part of my daily schedule. I love my work, but for some reason anxiety and chronic hives are making me almost crazy! Yoga helps but only while I'm practicing. Adding a quieting meditation sounds like just what I need. I accept the 30-day challenge. Does anyone have a suggestion for free guided meditations online that I might check out?

    • edgandia

      Great! Thanks for committing to that habit and for making a public declaration here. Have you checked out Omvana.com? They have quite a few free guided meditations. I use the iOS app, but if you don't have a smart phone I think you can still get those from their website.

  • Rachel Sparacio

    Great podcast! I've been super busy with work lately and haven't taken time first thing in the morning for exercise or yoga (I've been pushing it to later in the day, which cuts into other things I want to do). So, my challenge is to do some form of exercise every morning before work.

    • edgandia

      Love it!

  • Ed....heartfelt and insightful. Every once in awhile we do need to step back to see if the path we are on is actually leading us where we want to go. Loved the analogy about getting hijacked by a stranger or held hostage by our ISP and how upset we would be if someone *told us* that we had to waste 3 or 4 hours a day. Love to hear the next part.

    My one thing is to go comment on a couple of blogs. It's dead simple and it's part of my strategy to drive traffic.It's my "one pushup" moment.

    • edgandia

      Cool! That's the key, I've found. Keep it ridiculously simple to start with. 🙂

  • Val’s Bytes

    I would completely recommend looking into TM (Transcendental Meditation). You only do it 20 minutes twice a day but its a different kind of meditation that helps you dig into your creativity. It wakes me up without a cup of coffee. Trust me, it's really useful.

    • edgandia

      Oh, that sounds really cool. Will look into it, Val. Thanks!

  • Mia Sherwood Landau

    Honestly, Ed, I think this is your best podcast episode ever, and I am a big fan of your podcasts. Thanks for the info and the inspiration! That mini-habit thing is really powerful.

    • edgandia

      Wow! Thank you, Mia. That's saying a lot. Appreciate your being a loyal listener and giving me such great feedback. 🙂

  • April L.

    I'm committing to only taking 1 hour to start my day/get going/eat breakfast in the morning. It's a forced habit when I'm working my part time retail job but I've been loosing way to many work hours just because I've "relaxed" on my non-retail days. So- I'm replacing slow start syndrome with a 1 hour start-the-day block.

    • edgandia

      Sounds great! Isn't it weird how differently we behave when we "have to" accomplish something within a certain time frame? I think there's a great lesson there. Thanks for sharing, April.

  • Okay, I'll do my numbers for 10 minutes every weekday.

    • edgandia

      There you go!