Goals into habits

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.