How To Set Up Good Habits (Instead Of Goals)

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Goals are your ‘why’ while habits are your ‘how’. The problem is, you cannot reach your goals by focusing solely on them. You need to focus more on your process and your habits.

Because they will serve as your vehicle towards achieving your goals.

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What are goals

Goals are your reasons for doing something. They serve as your beacon. Your Northstar.

In an ideal world, goals serve as an inspiration for improved performance. And goals are the result of your well-laid plans and actions.

In reality, however, goals have a way of narrowing your perspective. You become so focused on the goal, like a horse on a racetrack, that you lose sight of everything else.

The problem with goals

Goal setting is not the problem per se. It’s the way we look and deal with goals that seem to cause the problem.

To paraphrase Bill Gates, we tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in a short period of time. As a result, when we fail to meet our objectives, we become discouraged and feel like failures.

Worse, we may abandon the goal entirely and never try again. Not to mention the stress and the immense pressure that these goals, or stretch goals as they are known, place on us.

There are a few problems that arise when we become overly focused on our goals. To enumerate, these problems are:

Goals do not define success

Winners and losers alike have goals. And if goals are the determining factor of success, then just by having goals, we should all be successful right?

Sadly, no.

According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits:

Every Olympian wants to win a gold medal. Every candidate wants to get the job. And if successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers. It wasn’t the goal of winning the Tour de France that propelled the British Cyclists to the top of the sport. Presumably, they had wanted to win the race every year before—just like every other professional team. The goal had always been there.

– James Clear

Goal achievement is fleeting

The high of achieving a goal does not last. It may even be underwhelming for some.

In addition, achieving a goal is only a temporary state. What happens after you reach your goal? Crash dieting, for example, may help you lose weight. But what happens once you’ve achieved your ideal weight? You revert to your old eating habits and regain all of your lost weight.

Focusing on goals is thus unsustainable.

You postpone your happiness

Another issue with being goal-oriented is that you tend to postpone your happiness until you achieve your goal.

That’s unfortunate because you don’t allow yourself to be happy in the present. Your happiness is dependent on a future event that may or may not occur.

Focus on the process

Focusing on goals limits your ability to grow and develop into your best self. As a result, setting goals is not the way to go if you want to reach your full potential.

Thus, your best bet is to concentrate on the process. Concentrate on the ‘how’ of achieving your objectives. Because it is in these systems that you will be able to keep trying, improving, and eventually succeeding.

This is how Clear puts it:

The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking.

It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement.

Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.

– James Clear

To reiterate, your progress and success will be determined by your continued dedication to your process. And this is a continuous cycle of iteration and fine-tuning.

How to set up good habits

Habits are your automatic reaction to triggers, which are made up of learned processes.

It’s the brain’s way of being efficient, of not wasting energy on responses that don’t necessitate the brain’s decision-making region.

However, the brain cannot tell the difference between a good and a bad habit. They will become a habit if the processed response to a trigger is repeated frequently enough.

Thus, it is your responsibility to develop habits that will benefit your personal growth and improvement.

When developing new habits, you will frequently be replacing old ones. Here are some strategies for replacing unhealthy habits with good ones:

Be mindful and avoid your triggers

You can’t fight temptation; you can only avoid it. So if there is a particular bad habit you need to replace, you need to be aware of the triggers.

For example, if you enjoy eating when bored, you should eliminate junk foods from your pantry. Or store them in a place where they are not visible. Next, place healthy snacks in places where you can easily see them.

Another example is if you are into online shopping. One thing you can do is to remove these shopping apps. If not, place them in several layers of folders, to add some friction to your online shopping.

Alternatively, try to notice your behavior when you log on to your shopping app. Are you bored? Stressed? Feeling inadequate?

Once you’ve identified the triggers, think about how you can avoid them. To avoid boredom, you could, for example, take up a hobby. To relieve stress, try meditation or yoga. If you enjoy shopping as a pick-me-up, why not engage in activities that will boost your self-esteem?

Make it easier to practice good habits

That is, make good habits easier to implement than bad habits. Look for small things that will make the implementation of your good habits easier.

For example, let’s say you want to be more physically active as a good habit. You can make the process easier by looking for exercises that are enjoyable and interesting to you.

Now, let’s say again that you want to try yoga. Your next step will be to see if there is a nearby studio that you can visit. Or would you prefer to do it yourself? Then look for videos that you can watch along with.

The next step is to plan your exercise routine. Then, prior to your workout, prepare your equipment, such as workout clothes, a mat, a water bottle, and so on.

All of these preparations are made to ensure that your good habit flows as smoothly as possible. By avoiding the activation of your body’s natural response to resist when things get difficult.

Start small

When developing good habits, it is important to start small.

The tendency of a habit to stick, according to experts, depends on how simple the habit is. Developing the habit of a healthy lifestyle, for example, will be more difficult than developing the habit of drinking enough water.

The former will require a number of changes all at once, whereas the latter is focused solely on one thing: drinking water.

So, think about the habits you want to develop and choose one small habit that you can easily implement. You can then build additional good habits on top of that small one and continue to improve from there.

Give yourself time

A good habit takes time, effort, and consistency to develop. So, allow enough time for your new habit to settle into a learned process response.

It is worth noting that developing a new habit can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days.

Instead, concentrate on repeating the process so that the response no longer requires active thought.

Additionally, take time to ensure that the habit you are attempting to establish is not disrupted. Prepare a backup plan in case something prevents you from performing the habit.

An example would be if you needed to attend an emergency meeting during your exercise class. Perhaps you could try to attend a later-scheduled class? Or do you prefer to carry out your routine at home?


To summarize, we need goals in our lives because they motivate us to improve and pursue our dreams. However, goals, particularly stretch goals, have a tendency to keep us focused on the outcome rather than the process. Thus, problems arise because:

  • Goals do not define success,
  • It is fleeting, and
  • It causes you to postpone your happiness.

Therefore, it is preferable for us to focus on developing and refining our process in order to achieve success. And, if these processes are repeated frequently enough, they become habits.

Here are some strategies for developing good habits:

  • Be mindful and avoid your triggers,
  • Make it easier to practice good habits,
  • Start small, and
  • Give yourself time.

Please share your thoughts or ideas about How To Set Up Good Habits (Instead Of Goals) in the comments below. And if you liked this article, you might be interested as well in these articles:

Why Good Habits Beat Motivation
How To Define Yourself By Your Habits
9 Effective Habits For A Happy Life

Building Good Habits For Your To Be
How To Break 9 Bad Habits That Keep You Down
The Best Inspirational Quotes To Love Yourself

Why The Need To Love Yourself
Develop The Habit To Love Yourself

Outside reference/s:

A top psychologist says there’s a huge misconception about setting goals
Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead.
Building good habits in your life (and ditching bad ones)

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