Goals Into Habits

February 10th, 2009 by Steve Pavlina

Whenever you set a new goal, you’re unlikely to achieve it unless your habits already support it. If your goal runs afoul of your current habits, you’ll need to change your habits in order to achieve your goal.

Suppose you set a goal to write a book, but you aren’t already in the habit of writing on a regular basis (ideally daily). Most likely you’ll never complete the book. That goal will just sit on your to-do list for years.

Suppose you set a goal to quit your job and run your own Internet business, but you aren’t in the habit of developing websites. That goal is also unlikely to be achieved. It will simply remain a fantasy, overridden by the habit of showing up to work each day.

Identify Habits to Support Your Goals

When you set a new goal, think about what habits would enable you to put that goal on autopilot, thereby making it a done deal.

It’s usually best to think in terms of daily habits, especially for big goals. Daily habits are easier to install than less frequent habits. (For details on successfully installing irregular habits, see the article How to Maintain Not-Quite-Daily Habits.)

It’s also wise to think in terms of simple habits, not incredibly complicated ones. Simple habits are easier to install and maintain. You can always add complexity later, but focus on getting the basic habit successfully installed first.

If one of your goals is to write a book, a simple daily habit would be to work on your book for at least one hour per day. If you can install and maintain that habit, completing your book is practically a done deal. Even if you write only on weekdays and take two weeks off, that’s still 250 hours per year you’ll be investing in your book. This simple discipline is enough to build a career as a professional writer.

Ask yourself: What daily discipline(s) would make this goal a done deal? The answer to that question will tell you what habit(s) to install. If you can condition and maintain those habits, you’ll very likely achieve your goal. It’s only a matter of time.

Be Specific

Make your habits specific. Identify when, where, and how you’ll implement them. Leave nothing to chance.

If you’re going to exercise daily to support your weight loss goal, specify when you’ll exercise and for how long, where you’ll exercise, and what type of exercise you’ll perform. Doing yoga in your living room from 4pm to 4:45pm daily is a clear habit. Adding “go to the gym” to tomorrow’s to-do list is not a clear habit.

One of the most basic habit properties is time. To install any new habit, you must put in the time.  Carve out a dedicated block of time to spend on your new habit. Even if the habit doesn’t require any extra time to maintain, such as the habit of not biting your nails, you’ll still need to devote time to conditioning the habit.

Start With a 30-Day Trial

Use the 30-day trial approach to kick-start your new habit. This method has a high success rate and can be adapted for virtually any habit you’d like to install. (For details on how to do this, see the article 30 Days to Success.)

Focus on achieving a perfect record with your habit for 30 days straight. Don’t worry about Day 31. If you can make it 30 days, you can usually coast from there because the habit will be on autopilot by then.

Even if you later get off track, it will also be easier to re-establish a habit when you’ll already completed at least 30 full days in a row. At the very least, you’ll know you’re capable of making it 30 days and beyond when you start anew because you’ve already done it.

Eliminate Interference

Nuke any obstacles that may interfere with your new habit. Clear commitments from your schedule that would overlap the time you’ve allotted for your habit.

Notify other people that this time is sacred and that they do NOT have permission to disturb you at these times.

Make sure you have all the equipment and supplies you’ll need to implement your habit. You don’t want to start on Day 1 with lots of enthusiasm, only to discover you’re missing something important and can’t proceed.

Give yourself every advantage before you begin. Review the article Habit Change Is Like Chess to make sure you account for the early game, middle game, and endgame of habit change. Don’t fall into the trap of blitzing for Scholar’s Mate and putting yourself in a disadvantaged position from Day 1.

Identify Supporting Habits

Take time to identify any supporting habits that will support your main habit, thereby supporting your primary goal as well.

For example, if you want to change your daily eating habits, you’ll also need to change your grocery shopping habit to make sure you buy the right foods consistently. This is especially important if your new diet will incorporate lots of fresh produce.

Another example: If you want to build a successful blog, writing is an important daily habit, but for optimal results, you may want to spend time each day promoting your work as well. This is especially important when you’re just starting out and hardly anyone knows about your blog.

Work on installing your main habit and all critical supporting habits at the same time if possible. If this is too much to handle, then install the supporting habits first. You can tackle them one by one with consecutive 30-day trials if you wish. Once the supporting habits are in place, you can then tackle the main habit.

For example, first you could install the habit of restocking your kitchen with healthy food every Tuesday evening. Then you could install the habit of preparing meals every day (to reduce your desire to eat out). And finally you could install the habit of changing your diet to whatever you want it to be. This simple progression can lock in a collection of supportive habits to help you achieve goals for weight loss and better overall health.

Commit Yourself Publicly

If you need some extra incentive to stick with your 30-day trial, get other people involved to help you. Commit to your new habit publicly. Put yourself on record, so it will be harder to wimp out.

Many people announce their latest 30-day trials in our discussion forums. Some also post daily updates to let others know of their progress. This is an excellent idea because it increases accountability. You’re less likely to slack off when you know others are watching out for your progress updates.

If that isn’t enough, then make a promise or bet with someone — with a significant consequence if you fail. Add some pain to the mix to ensure that you’ll do your best to follow through. This kind of positive stress can be very motivating, especially if you consider yourself somewhat lazy.

Goals Into Habits – A Personal Example

One of my top professional goals for this year is to develop and release a line of downloadable information products on a variety of personal growth topics.

This is a big goal that will require a significant time investment. Unfortunately, my current work routine doesn’t support this goal at all.

I have lots of experience selling info products online. I used to sell downloadable PC games for several years, so I already have the know-how to create and publish downloadable info products. I remember the daily rhythm I experienced while developing and releasing new games, and it’s very different than my current work routine which is centered around instant publishing of much shorter content.

Achieving this goal requires that I invest a serious amount of time and energy in product development. But up until this time, I haven’t been in a good position to install the necessary habits I’d need to make this goal a reality. I managed to write a book of course, but that was a one-time release, not a complete product line.

Starting this week, I’m going to devote several hours every weekday to developing new information products. Initially I plan to create a downloadable audio program. I’d also like to write more books, but I intend to release at least one audio program first.

In order to achieve this goal, I must radically change my daily habits. Here are some of the changes I’m making:

  1. Continue to get up at 5am, but instead of going to the gym first, go straight to my home office to get started on my work day. Review my goals and plans, and get to work on product development tasks by 5:30am every weekday.
  2. Dedicate every weekday morning to product development, working straight through until lunch time. I normally have lunch around 1pm, so with a few breaks, this should give me a solid 6-7 hours per day on product development. If I start feeling burned out, I can always cut back on the hours or take extra days off as needed.
  3. Devote one hour per day to writing and editing new blog posts. I can write short posts more frequently or long posts less frequently. Adapting to shorter writing sessions will be a major change in my blogging rhythm.
  4. Limit the time I spend on routine communication to no more than 60 minutes per day, including email, forums, phone calls, etc. Do these tasks in the afternoon.
  5. Exercise in the early evening after my workday and before dinner. Favor exercises I can do at home instead of going to the gym. This saves driving time.
  6. Run errands on weekday evenings around 8pm (especially Tuesdays). Stores are less crowded because people are at home watching TV. This habit saves me as much as 30 minutes on a typical errand run vs. running the same errands on a weekend.

It may take me a while to successfully install all these new habits to support the achievement of my goal, but once they’re up and running, I’ll be able to develop new products with a steady rhythm, much like the blogging rhythm that allowed me to write hundreds of new articles year after year.

By reclaiming more time from my daily routine, I’ll have more time and especially more creative energy to invest in developing information products. I can continue to release abundant free content like articles, podcasts, and newsletters, but I’ll save the more complex messages for structured products.

Blogging is a great medium for expressing certain ideas, but it’s a weak medium for covering topics that are too big or too complex. This is one of the reasons I decided to write the book Personal Development for Smart People. Writing a book enabled me to explain the fundamentals of personal growth in much more depth than I could do in a handful of articles or podcasts. I was finally able to share the big picture instead of always hacking away at the branches. I was delighted with the final result, as were the vast majority of the book’s reviewers, so this encouraged me to develop more products.

Other topics that would be better served by full-length products as opposed to blog posts and podcasts include time management, subjective reality, polarity, the Law of Attraction, the raw food diet, polyamory, and polyphasic sleep. These topics are all sufficiently complex that an article or series of articles can never do them justice.

What new goals can you achieve by installing a few simple daily habits?


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