Habits Vs Goals
What are Habits?
Habits are the small actions you make on a daily basis. It's easy to overlook the significance of these small actions, however researchers at Duke University suggest that a persons habits account for over 40% of their behaviour every day.
What are Goals?
Goals are the desired result or achievement that a person/ group strive to achieve. Goals can range from being short-term to long-term and can be applied to various areas of our lives; examples can include fitness goals such as aiming to complete a 5k run or career goals such as to gain a promotion.
Why you shouldn't focus on goals
Reason #1: Goals are temporary
A common problem that occurs with people who set goals are they often revert to their previous state once they achieved the goal they set. This is due to the "high" of their achievement eventually wearing off. Without the sense of purpose and motivation from having a goal its hard to stay on the right path. According to research from the University of Scranton, 92% of people who set a new years resolution goal never achieve them or fail to sustain them. Common examples include people running marathons only to stop running altogether after or losing weight only to pile it back on shortly after.
You could argue that a solution is to create a new goal once you achieve your previous goal. However, being in a continuous state of struggle and not meeting your own expectations can do harm to your mental health. Studies have shown that the majority confuse goal setting with personal achievement; this can lead to people utilising unethical behaviour to achieve their goals.
Additionally, those who don't meet their goals usually have to deal with a psychological state of failure due to their lack of success; having this kind of pressure on one's self can do more harm than good when trying to achieve a goal.
Reason #2: Goals can be limiting
Another problem that occurs with goal setting is they are often either limiting or unrealistic. It is very difficult to set the right goal as you may need to take into account various external factors, accurately assess your own ability and correctly estimate the time frame for achieving said goal. Often unexpected external factors (such as family tragedies or an injury) are detrimental to the goal; setting a goal means trying to transform a heuristic process into an algorithmic one, but this is not always possible.
Incorrect goal setting often leads to the goal-setter not applying themselves enough or over applying themselves and burning out. Either way, they are far from reaching their full potential and achieving what they are capable of.
Reason #3: Goals require a tremendous amount of willpower
It's usually mentally taxing to work towards your goals every day. Simply put goals don't give you the tools to get to where you want, instead they rely on you waking up motivated each and every day which is far from realistic. This reliance on willpower and motivation often leads to the person/group suffering from a burn out and therefore stagnating.
Furthermore, this reliance on willpower is usually only effective when the person is feeling strong and positive. This is a problem as people typically go through a range of emotions on different days therefore the mental strength to get to the gym may not be there or you may not have the willpower to indulge in some deserts on a tough day.
Why you should focus on habits
Reason #1: Habits are forever
Where as the behavioural change when striving to achieve goals is only temporary, when building good habits these behavioural changes can stay for life. This is because the focus is on one singular achievement when setting goals; when building habits the focus is on committing to the process, refining the process and continuous improvement.
Coincidentally, when employing beneficial habits the original goal is usually surpassed due to the focus being on maintaining the behavioural change that led them to make their desired improvements. Furthermore, research conducted by Charles Duhigg concluded that after a prolonged period of employing a habit, it actually requires more mental willpower to not abide by the habit. Therefore, this shows the power of sustainability when focusing on building habits instead of one singular goal.
Reason #2: You can continuously build upon good habits
Imagine, you set a goal to write 30,000 words in 30 days, it's likely you would quickly feel overwhelmed by this big ask. People often feel overwhelmed when creating these goals because setting goals does not give them the tools to actually achieve that goal. Now what if instead, you create a habit to write 500 words twice a day. After 30 days you would have wrote 30,000 words.
As previously mentioned, a key benefit of creating habits is that they get easier to complete over time, due to your brain becoming used to completing said task. Eventually, performing the task becomes less taxing mentally than not doing so. Now the person from my example who was writing just 500 words a session , might strive to write 600 words a session. This sort of very slight improvement leads to an extra 6000 words produced that month, a very significant improvement.
Reason #3: Goals bring discontent, Habits bring happiness
A major problem of setting goals is you rarely feel satisfied with your daily performance because you are not where you want to be. Instead, you are in a near permanent state of failure; James Clear (Author of Atomic Habits) says it best "“When you’re working toward a goal, you are essentially saying, ‘I’m not good enough yet, but I will be when I reach my goal’.” This type of mentality rarely leads to the goal-setter feeling happy during the process as they have not reached their desired outcome yet.
Through focusing on building good habits and sustaining a system (instead of a single desired outcome), the person focusing on employing these habits can feel pride in what they're doing as they are consistently doing what they are set out to do.
What is Habit Tracking
Habit tracking is a simple method designed to track your consistency when employing a new habit. Through keeping track of habits, you can receive some instant feedback that you are on the right path whilst creating a visual cue that reminds you to execute the habit.
The Benefits of Tracking Your Habits
Benefit #1: Staying Motivated
Creating a streak of achievements can often act as motivation to keeping committed to the habit you are trying to ingrain. One reason for this is you can see you are on the right track and making progress towards ingraining the habit; often people fail to stay on the right track due to not seeing immediate results, utilising habit tracking can help combat this issue.
Benefit #2: Satisfaction
Another benefit of employing habit tracking when building habits is the satisfaction of achievement when logging the habit you successfully applied. It's very easy to get addicted to the feeling of accomplishment when logging or marking the habit. Furthermore, creating a streak of accomplishing habits can be extremely satisfying when you have remained committed to the cause over a longer period of time.
Benefit #3: Visual Cue
Often when people are trying to build good habits or achieve goals, other external factors can distract that person from what they were trying to achieve resulting in them forgetting about building the habits. By tracking habits, you've not only built a visual cue which reminds you about said habit but you are building a micro habit of checking your habit log. This leads to the habit always being in the forefront of your mind on a daily basis.
Ways to Track Habits
Method #1: Journaling
The most popular way to track habits is through logging it consistently in a journal. The reason why this is so popular is because it's highly flexible, you can create a table/list and design it the exact way you want it to look. By creating a personalised logging system, you may be more likely to stay committed as it fits your needs better. Another benefit of utilising journaling is it's simplicity, all that's needed is a pen and paper; the efficiency of logging your habit may serve as extra motivation to keep committed to the habit tracking system.
Despite this tracking system having various benefits, there are also drawbacks to using a journal. Firstly, for those who prefer to travel light, carrying a journal around may be an inconvenience especially if it is a heavier one. Another drawback to journaling is there is no set template for habit tracking, creating your own may be time consuming and deterring.
Method #2: Online Spreadsheets / Databases
Another popular way to track your habits is through logging it in a online spreadsheet such as Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets. One of the reasons why this is a popular habit tracking method is because it's easy to statistically analyse the data. This means you can see exactly how committed you are to your habits and any patterns that help/hinder your progress.
Another benefit of using online spreadsheets when logging your habits is the longevity compared to journaling. A journal can be a liability because: they're easy to lose, pages can rip, ink can spill, they may need to be replaced after longer periods. However, online spreadsheets require very little maintenance, they can be permanently used as long as you have an internet connection and storage.
Similar to Journals, there are also drawbacks to using online spreadsheets to track habits. Firstly, it can be time consuming to keep turning your laptop on and logging into the correct accounts; this could be a deterrent to those who want habit tracking to be as efficient as possible. Another drawback is you may not receive the visual cue that you would from a calendar or journal as an online spreadsheet is not tangible; instead you would only see the spreadsheet when you actively seek it.
Method #3: Habit Tracking Habits
A growing method to track your habits is through habit tracking apps such as Habitify (an app that helps track, analyse and build up routines and habits). A major benefit to using habit tracking apps is its convenience. Nowadays, the majority of people carry their phone everywhere they go therefore their habit tracker is never far away. Furthermore, due to the sole focus being on tracking habits, its highly automated, it takes no more than a few taps to set up and log habits.
Another benefit to using habit tracking apps is the ability for them to send notifications to your phone. You can set these apps to notify you every day at a specific time to remind you to execute/track your habit, therefore it's near impossible to forget about the habit. These constant reminders make it much easier and more probable to stick to a habit/routine.
The only drawback to using habit tracking habits is they're not very customisable. The maximum amount of customisability you're going to get on these apps is changing icons and notification sounds If you're a person who likes designing different designs for their tasks or likes to add their own personal spin onto their projects then this may not be the method for you.
Never Miss Twice
James Clear (author of the critically aimed "Atomic Habits") advocates putting an emphasis on never failing to do a habit twice in a row. This is because singular misses are not important in the long run, however once they start to accumulate habits and routines can be broken. By never missing twice in a row, you are not allowing these misses to accumulate, instead choosing to get the habit/routine back on the road.
How long does it take to build a habit
According to the European Journal of Social Psychology's study in 2009, the time taken to form a new habit ranges from 18 to 254 days depending on the person and various other external factors. The same study found that on average it takes an estimated 66 days for a new habit to become automatic.
However, do take into account that certain habits are harder and take longer to form. For example, making a habit of drinking water before bed is a much easier habit to form over running for 3 miles before bed.