Do Your Habits Support Your Goals?

by Mark on March 4, 2010

Do you set goals and start to work on them only to soon quit? Do you have trouble maintaining momentum over a long period of time? Don’t feel bad. It happens to the best of us. The reason, as Scott H. Young explained, is that you’re lazier than you think. That might not sound very positive or supportive. His point is that our plans typically rely on willpower to achieve our goals, and willpower is not reliable.

The problem is that willpower always runs out. There is only so long that you can push the huge boulder up the hill. Just like Sisyphus, the boulder is doomed to roll back down over and over again. In this case, the boulder that you are fighting is your old habits. Battling old habits uses up your finite supply of willpower.

The Power of Habit

I would like you to do a little experiment. Take a different route on the way to work today (or on the way home). If you have been taking the same route for a long time, it will be solidly conditioned into a habit. It will actually be difficult to change your route. Unless you remember to immediately take a different turn than you normally would, there is a very good chance that you will automatically go your normal route before you realize it.

Have you ever done this before? On several occasions I have set out to go to the store in the direction of my work office only to find myself driving towards work instead of the store. The habit becomes so ingrained that your behavior becomes completely unconscious. I don’t even think about the turns I need to make to go to work or to get home. I just go on autopilot.

Try a second experiment. Use your opposite hand the next time you brush your teeth. You will notice that it feels very awkward and that you have to consciously think about it, whereas if you use your dominant hand  you don’t need to think about it much. When you are using your dominant hand, your mind will probably be thinking about something else entirely.

Mother Nature has equipped us with the ability to develop habits so that we don’t need to consciously think through everything we do. This frees our mind for things that require more mindpower. The challenge is that most of our habits were developed unconsciously. We didn’t consciously set out to develop most of our habits, and the result is that many of our habits don’t serve us. They work against us, and that includes working against our efforts to achieve goals.

Align Your Habits with Your Goals

We don’t need to bemoan the fact that our habits are working against us. We can use this knowledge to our advantage in creating an effective goal achievement strategy. Think about a goal that you would like to achieve, and ask yourself:

What habits do I need to develop to put the achievement of this goal on autopilot?

Instead of depending on willpower, which is essentially a conscious struggle to overcome your conditioned habits, develop new habits that will help make your goal achievement more effortless. The stronger you can condition the new habit, the less you will have to think about the new behavior, and the more effortless and consistent your behavior will become.

What one habit can you begin to develop to help you achieve your most important goal?

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