Read Time: 4 minutes

Do you have goals?  Like real, written, actionable goals? Most people don’t.

But I’m sure you do. Because you want to get the most out of your life.

But what if I told you that goals aren’t as important as every self-help book says they are?

What if I told you that habits are the foundation to success?

Goals and habits actually work together, but goals are nothing without habits.

Goals

We’ve all heard that we need goals. If we want to achieve anything in life, we need goals. Right?

Zig Ziglar says “if you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” And he uses that to explain why you must set goals.

Practically every popular productivity author talks about goals. Most speak of SMART goals:

  • Specific: Exactly and specifically what you what to accomplish.
  • Measurable: A way to know when the goal is accomplished.
  • Attainable: The goal must be something you can actually reach.
  • Realistic: Be honest with yourself about your capabilities, but aim high!
  • Time-Bound: There must be a date. A deadline.

Here’s the truth: goals are important, but they aren’t the most important thing.  Let’s talk about habits, and then tie them together. But I want you to know right now, goals are nothing without habits, and habits are much more important than goals.

Habits

Goals are only necessary to help form habits. Habits are what gets you to your goal. Habits are action.

In other words, it’s important to have goals and habits, but if you had to pick one, habits would be the best choice. Why? Because even actionable goals don’t directly prompt you to do anything. Sure, they’re a good starting place, but a goal in itself doesn’t specify action, only outcome.

So what about these habits? How do they work and how do they relate to goals?  Here’s the process:

  1. Set your goal. Make it SMART and write it down.
  2. Find your action habit(s). This is what will get you to your goal.
  3. Break it down. Figure out what you need to do each day to achieve your goal.
  4. Build your habit(s). Take smalls steps towards your goal, and increase the steps regularly.

Here’s what this looks like, very simplistically:

Set your goal:

“I will weigh 175 pounds by October 16.” Let’s assume a current weight of 195 and today is June 16.

Find your action habit(s):

“My action habits will be running and dieting.”

Break it down:

“I need to lose 20 pounds in 4 months, which is 5 pounds per month — roughly 0.16 pounds a day.”

Build your habit(s):

“I will start by running 0.25 miles 3x per week, and increase this by 0.25 each week until I get to two miles. I will diet 1 day per week and increase this by one day each week until I am dieting 6 days per week.”

It looks like Mr. Example would have a much better chance of achieving his goal with these last three steps added. You can’t just set a goal and walk away; there must be action habits to follow. In fact, let me explain why you don’t even need written goals, if you stick to your habits. But the “if you stick to your habits” part is much easier said than done.

Goals Aren’t Necessary If You Stick to Habits

I set goals.  Personally, I think everyone should, because they show you where you’re going, but it’s true that you don’t absolutely need goals. Habits are enough on their own. Before you unsubscribe and never come back to this blog again, let me explain:

In the example above, the action habits will most likely get Mr. Example to his goal, but even if he doesn’t hit the “October 16” goal, he will lose the 20 pounds shortly after, if he sticks to his habits. It’s all about habits.

If you decided you wanted to write a book, and you came up with an idea, decide which option would better serve you:

  1. You write down a goal to write a book by January, 2018.
  2. You implement the habit of writing 1,000 words per day.

You got it, the second one. Obviously these will work best together, but the problem is that goal setting can be hard, because you always either feel like the goal is too lofty, or not lofty enough, and this often leads people to forget their goals entirely. But it’s easy to start writing 100 words per day, and increase it by 100 each week, until you reach 1,000 words per day.

In summary, goals and habits work best when formed together, but if you had to pick one, pick habits. Every time.

A Word on “Visions”

I mentioned earlier that I set goals and build habits, but I also set a vision for every area of my life, and I feel like this is important, but don’t take this step until you’ve consistently set goals and built habits. Here’s how visions work, they’re actually above goals and habits. Now for the process and examples:

  1. Set a vision. “I will be a serious student of life. I will be a life learner.”
  2. Set a goal. “I will read 100 books by my 30th birthday”
  3. Set action habits. “Reading”
  4. Break it down. “I will read 10 books per year”
  5. Build the habit. “I will read for 5 minutes per day, increasing by 5 minutes per week, until I read for 1 hour per day.”

Why do you set the vision? Wouldn’t the goal and the habits cover everything? Kind of, but here’s the deal: you set a vision to keep you on track. You want to remember the whole reason you set the goal and built the habits in the first place, right? So set visions.

It’s easy to set a goal, hit it and then set another goal, but once you’ve done that several times, you may realize that you’re moving away from your vision.  The takeaway here is this: remember why you set the goal(s) in the first place by using a vision statement.

I believe the ideal scenario is to take one area at a time, set a vision, create a goal out of your vision, and build habits based on your goal. It’s a process that runs like a powerful machine once you get it down. The most powerful machine in the world.

Do you set goals, build habits, or both? Share your thoughts below!

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