Have you ever set a goal only to realize that you’re trying to move from zero to 100 and aren’t quite sure how you’re going to get there? While setting goals sets the foundation for the finish line, creating habits to achieve your goals will allow you to meet milestone markers along the way and get you closer to that finish line.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) suggests that to achieve big goals, relying on and following through on micro habits is the way to get there. To understand how best to use habits to achieve your goals, let’s first look at the difference between goals and habits. 

3 Reasons Why You Should Focus on Habits When Goal-Setting

A goal is an end point where as a habit is a built behavioral pattern. Goals and habits are not the same, but they are tightly intertwined, and we need both to accomplish our goals in a meaningful way. 

I am no stranger to dreaming up a goal I want to achieve and moving full steam ahead towards it. Time and time again, though, I’ve fallen into this trap only to set myself up for failure or to feel annoyed rather than inspired by my goals. Falling short of my goals leaves me feeling discouraged and unmotivated to try again.

I’ve found that the best way to get there is through focusing on your habits. Here’s why you need to use habits to achieve your goals:

1. Small changes to your lifestyle and routine are more manageable than giant leaps. 

Have you ever decided that you want to become a morning person and want to start waking up earlier? My morning routine ebbs and flows, but there have been times that I’ve wanted to wake up at 5:00 am after waking up consistently around 8:00 am daily.

Do you know what happened when I set my alarm at 5:00 am and forced myself to wake up three hours earlier without easing into it? I had to take afternoon naps because I couldn’t function all day, which disrupted my routine, and after a few days of feeling so miserably tired, I gave up and didn’t stick to it. 

Looking back, I realize that it would have been much easier to start small and ease into the morning, working my way to 5:00 am. Don’t burden yourself with giant leaps that you aren’t ready to commit to; start small.

2. Your goal might be too overwhelming if you don’t have an effective plan.

Perhaps it’s because I’m an Enneagram 6 and planner by nature, but I tend to feel overwhelmed by goals that aren’t at least semi-planned out. An effective plan, unbeknownst to us or not, often includes changes to our behavior, otherwise known as habits.

By creating a plan for your goals, you are setting yourself up to succeed while simultaneously creating space to consider which behaviors you want to implement and how you’re going to change your daily habits to get you to the finish line. 

3. Goals have end-dates or final markers of achievement associated with them, which means once you accomplish the goal, it can be easy to return to your bad habits.

It’s not impossible to achieve a goal without incorporating habits to get you there. However, accomplishing goals without relying on habits can be problematic because, without the foundational structure of healthy habits, it can be easy to fall right back into your old ways after achieving the goal. Let me share an example of how this has manifested in my life. 

I set a goal to take 30 barre classes in 60 days at my local Pure Barre studio during one of their end-of-year fitness challenges. I created a plan that would allow me to complete the goal, focusing solely on hitting the 30 class mark by my deadline. One of the main reasons I wanted to commit to taking more barre classes aside from completing the challenge was to focus on exercising more routinely.

I completed 30 classes in 60 days, but I reverted to taking one or two classes per week as soon as I hit that goal. Sure, one or two classes per week are beneficial. Still, if I had implemented habits around attending classes while completing the challenge rather than focusing on forcing myself to get there, I could have stuck with my new routine of three or four classes per week. 

3 Tips for Implementing Habits

How exactly should you incorporate habits into your daily routine to help you achieve your goals? Here are a few tried and true tips for getting started.

1. Start so ridiculously small you can’t say no and are not likely to fail. 

Like me, let’s pretend you want to become a morning person and want to start waking up at 5:00 am. You wake up at 7:00 am right now, so you only have a two-hour gap to close. Start so ridiculously small by setting your alarm back two-minutes each day. You can wake up two-minutes earlier without hassle, right? Sure, it might take you a while to get to 5:00 am, but you’ll be there in no time. And if your routine goes well, try the next step.

2. Add small increments to your newly incorporated habits once you are comfortable.

Maybe you’ve turned your alarm clock back two-minutes every day for the last week, and you’re ready for more. Try moving up to four-minutes, and perhaps eight-minutes next week. If your increments feel too large, don’t be afraid to scale back to help you get back on track. Understand that you may have to experiment with your habits to identify what works best for you.

3. As you become successful in your habit-building process, reward yourself because you deserve it.

A little bit of positive reinforcement goes a long way. Building new habits is challenging. When you get into the groove and start implementing the practices you desire to have, reward yourself for it. Be intentional and choose rewards that are meaningful to you, but be sure not to pick rewards that might conflict with your goal in-sight. 

Do you have a goal you’re currently working to achieve? What habits might help you achieve that goal? Let us know what practices you’re going to implement in the comments below!

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