Goal setting has been touted as the most effective way to achieve success in life. We’ve been told to write them down, stick them to our refrigerator door and even to write them on our bathroom mirror. You’ve heard that goals should be SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time oriented. I even wrote a blog post on effective goal setting. Recently, I’ve moved away from goal setting with both myself and my patients, focusing instead on daily habit formation and the implementation of routines that set you up for success now and in the future. The inspiration for this change came after listening to the Atomic Habits audiobook by James Clear. Clear argues that goals are easily procrastinated upon, and can often be too daunting to even get started in the right direction. By focusing on daily habits and routines, you will improve yourself each day, setting yourself up to achieve success and ultimately to conquer even the loftiest of goals.
The problem with goal setting
One of the main problems I see with goal setting is that time oriented goals are susceptible to procrastination. If my goal is to lose 20 lbs. by the end of the year, it’s very easy to let myself wait until 6 or even 3 months are left in the year to start working towards the goal. Why start now when I have an entire year to accomplish my goal? A goal that is set out over a year may lose steam after a couple of months, which is what I commonly see with patients looking to make health changes at the beginning of the New Year. Everyone knows that you will see more people out walking in your neighborhood or exercising at the gym in January, February and March only for it to taper off as the year progresses. Rather than setting a time oriented goal, instead pick daily habits that will incrementally help you achieve whatever you envision for yourself.
Define your ideal self
Before completely throwing away your list of goals, make sure you have a clear idea in your mind of what you want for yourself. Envision your ideal job, body composition, and skill set. Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? Where do you want to be financially? How do you define your ideal self? Once you’ve established these parameters, you are better suited to implementing daily habits that align with this vision. If you envision yourself as having a fit and healthy body, implementing a daily habit that helps you save money or be more organized doesn’t necessarily bring you closer to your vision. Instead, for weight loss, pick habits such as a consistent gym routine, a healthy breakfast at the same time each morning, or reading a book before bed to help promote optimal sleep and recovery.
Do this instead
As stated previously, the alternative to goal setting is the implementation of daily habits and routines. Habit formation is beneficial because it focuses on daily growth. If we aim to grow and improve ourselves little by little each day, the culmination of consistent work will be incredible in the long term. We may not notice the improvements on a day to day, micro level, however, if we step back after a year and look at the macro improvement the results are substantial. True growth and change does not come with drastic lifestyle changes such as an extreme 10 day fast or juice cleanse but rather with small steps each day in the right direction.
Next, I show you how to reframe your goals into daily habit formation.
Goal #1: ‘I want to lose 20 lbs. before summer’
Habit: I will work to implement a habit where I do 3 sets x 15 push-ups in the morning followed by drinking a 16 ounce glass of water.
Habit: Weather permitting, I will go outside in the morning for a 10 minute walk in the sunshine before work.
(First morning exercise and sunshine stimulates cortisol release and helps to regulate our circadian rhythm. Sufficient cortisol release in the AM will decrease cravings for fried and sugary foods in the evening which occurs if cortisol levels remain high.)
Habit: I will place a pan, plate, and eating utensils out in my kitchen before I go to bed each night. Already having the pan on the stove increases the likelihood that I will cook a homemade breakfast and adopt a more consistent eating schedule that includes breakfast each day.
Goal #2: ‘I want to increase my sales at work by 15% this year’
Habit: I will wake up at the same time every day to ensure a consistent sleep schedule and to increase my productivity at work.
Habit: I will call 2 potential new clients each day prior to leaving for lunch.
Habit: I will send a thank you card to 2 existing clients each week thanking them for their business.
For work related goals, consider setting up a daily, weekly, and monthly checklist in a binder or whiteboard to track progress of tasks to be completed. Make these tasks part of your habits at work and you will see your productivity increase.
Goal #3: ‘I want to improve my relationship with my parents’
Habit: Each morning I will practice gratitude by writing down 3 things in my life that I am grateful as part of a journaling routine.
Habit: I will call one of my parents every Friday after work to check in.
Goal #4: ‘I want to be more organized’
Habit: Each morning I will make my bed as the first task to be completed in my day. Making your bed each morning sets yourself up for success throughout the rest of your day and helps you to establish a task completion mindset.
Habit: Each morning when my coffee is brewing I will take 5 minutes to tidy up my living room so I leave for work with an organized living space.
Goal #5: ‘I want to get better sleep this year’
Habit: I will develop a habit where I turn off all electronics at least 1 hour before bed time. Blue light exposure stimulates cortisol release at the wrong time of day and will make falling and staying asleep more difficult.
Habit: Prior to going to bed I will write out tomorrow’s ‘To Do’ list in a journal that I keep by my night stand. Getting tomorrow’s tasks written down will give you peace of mind and allow your brain to turn off before going to sleep.
Habit: I will read for 20 minutes before bed. Reading, especially fiction, gives your brain a singular point of focus, and helps you get your mind off of the day’s stresses.
I hope this article gives you valuable insight into daily habit formation and the power it can have. I finish with a quote from W.H. Auden – ‘Routine, in an intelligent man (or woman), is a sign of ambition.’
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.