“A goal without a plan is just a wish” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Everyone has goals, right? We all have ideas about how we want our lives to be, so we create goals that help set us on a trajectory that we think will get us there. But if we go about the business of transforming our lives, to get our goal to work for us in the long term, what we really need to do is to create new HABITS.
Habits are things we do without thinking about them. They are natural to us. We brush our teeth every day, make coffee, & drive to work via the same route every day. But at some point, you had to learn to do these things in order for them to become natural & serve you in the long term. Think back when you were an itty bitty child – remember when brushing your teeth was not yet a habit? You probably forgot to do it – or even avoided it – unless a parent reminded you over and over again. However, with practice and time, brushing your teeth became a normal part of each morning and evening. So normal, in fact, that we don’t even think of it as a habit. It stuck with us. It just is what we do every day to care for our teeth.
A habit is formed with practice and time.
So for example, if one of your goals is to “lose weight” this year, but you are always so busy you don’t think you have time to go to the gym or cook regularly. However, you know it would probably benefit you to cultivate the habits of 1) cooking your own healthy meals and 2) moving your body more. You know if you do these things every day, chances are good that you will reach your goal. This is important to you so you want to make it happen. While you know your time is limited, you also remember that you happen to own a pressure cooker and/or a slow cooker, and you could get on the internet and bookmark a recipe page for pressure cooking to cook things quickly when you get home at night, and also one for slow cooking so it can cook for you while you’re at work, and start there. Now the movement part: let’s say you know you are wiped out when you get home from work, and you have limited time in the morning because you have a long commute. So when can you move around? Your lunch break! OMG! Now that you are cooking your own food and bringing the leftovers for lunch, you can eat at your desk & use your half hour or one hour lunchbreak to fit in a 15-30 minute walk. (I will be starting a Lunchbreak Challenge this spring BTW, so stay tuned!) Now that you know the how and when of cooking and movement, with practice and time, cooking and moving around can be a normal part of your day. Just like brushing your teeth.
If you have trouble getting started, a useful tool is to think about people you know that have already achieved the same goal you are looking to achieve. What is he/she doing to maintain their healthy habits? Using our example, if you want to lose weight, you would want to start cultivating some of the the habits of people who are already fit and healthy – habits like the aforementioned cooking your own meals and moving more every day. Another motivator is to read about how people you don’t know work to achieve their goals – like this post by Mark Manson. It is an entertaining, funny, and intelligently written sort of instructional guide on how to form new habits – it prompted me to rethink my own processes with regard to forming some new health and fitness goals this year and I hope it will motivate you too.
Forming new habits also helps you to have more control over your life.
Once even just one of your new habits is ingrained, your daily life will start to resemble the life you truly want to live. (Isn’t this the ultimate, real deal, deep-down nitty-gritty goal anyway??) Also once anew habit is in place, it will be much more difficult to fall off track – so if you are trying to lose weight, and if you do miss a day of exercise or if you pick up some take-out, it will be much easier to get back on track the next day because the new normal for you is cooking and moving every day, not eating out or sitting around. Cool, right?! Once you have implemented a regular routine for just one of those things you want to do, voilá! Your life has changed for the better! Then you can move on to the next goal and start the process of forming other new habits to help you achieve them. A work of caution – doing too much & getting overwhelmed is a surefire recipe for burn-out & frustration, so try to work on only one or two things at a time.
Just remember YOU are in the driver’s seat with regard to how you spend your time. Why not use that time to benefit you for the long haul?