Why habits (not goals) are the key to success

Why habits (not goals) are the key to success

“Our character is basically a composite of our habits. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character.” ―Stephen Covey

Habits account for roughly 45% of our daily activities — and success, or lack thereof, is a culmination of strong habits over time. There is no such thing as overnight success; professional athletes succeed not only because of superior athleticism and skill, but also from countless repetitions performed during practice. These repetitions become habit and allow them to perform at the highest level under immense pressure in a split second.

The good news is that you can start cultivating good habits now and succeed in creating better health, performance and happiness.

Why We Need Habits

Habits are essential to our survival and ability to function efficiently. Imagine if you had to stop and think about what you should do after you woke up every day or after you went to the bathroom; your brain would soon be overwhelmed. Habits emerge through “associative learning” — meaning they are triggered by anything in our internal or external environment that we associate with the habit. For example, the clock turning noon triggers many to be hungry for lunch.

Your brain is not capable of long-term behavioral change without creating habits; it would have to work too hard without them. That’s why you can force yourself to change behavior for a short period of time, but anything longer-term is much more challenging. For example, if your goal is to eat healthier, you could come up with a new, custom meal plan every day — or you could create a habit of yogurt for breakfast, salads at lunch and a protein/vegetable combination at dinner. Which seems more sustainable?

Goals vs. Habits

Goals are aspirations you set for yourself, and can be small or big. Goals are a great way to prioritize behavior and measure success; however, they are not very effective at creating changes in behavior.

On the other hand, habits are the routines you develop through constant practice, and they happen subconsciously. Habits create the behaviors you need to achieve success.

Why Goals Aren’t Enough

While we initially set goals to achieve success, they don’t create the behaviors we need to get there. Here’s why goals will never be enough:

  • Goals are temporary. Setting goals can be helpful, but what happens next? As soon as you feel depleted or like you want to reward yourself, you may be tempted go back to your old ways.
  • Goals are all or nothing. If you fail to reach a goal, that can cause you to become demoralized and give up, reaping no benefits from your efforts.
  • Goals demand too much discipline. We are not robots; we get tired, we feel emotions and we become distracted. The primary reason most people fail to reach their goals is from a lack of self-discipline.
  • Goals limit you. Once you set a certain target, you focus on simply reaching it — without considering that you can surpass that target.
  • Goals can be unrealistic. People tend to aim so high that if they come up short, it could still be considered a success, but we seldom see it that way. Setting unrealistic expectations makes people feel like they are failing even when they’re getting ahead.

Why Habits Create Greater Success

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t set goals – this is to say that habits are far better investments to focus on when shooting for success. Habits are the incremental steps to reach your goals, so it’s essential to develop the right habits. Here are the reasons why habits bring greater success:

  • Habits are forever. The behaviors you develop will stay with you for life. Not only will they help you reach your goals, but you will also improve the chances of sustaining your success.
  • Habits are easier to accomplish. Goals are long-term achievements; habits are behaviors you can begin and realize success with immediately.
  • Habits often exceed goals. Habits become part of your lifestyle. Once ingrained, they will help you continue to succeed even after achieving your goal.
  • Habits are sustainable. Even if you are not successful in reaching your goals initially, you can still improve your life by creating healthy habits — then continue to build upon them to set yourself up for success down the road.

A Habit-Based Approach to Health

A common health goal is to lose weight. Many start with a goal of “I will lose X pounds by this date,” and a typical strategy to reach that goal may involve a plan such as:

  • Going to the gym three times a week.
  • Eating less carbs.
  • Drinking less liquor.

Sound familiar? Conversely, you can create a habit-based approach to weight loss and focus your efforts on creating healthy, sustainable behaviors, such as:

  • Going to the gym every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6 a.m.
  • Bringing a homemade lunch to work every day.

Once you’ve mastered those habits, you can build upon them by adding new habits, such as:

  • Going to your favorite fitness class every Saturday morning.
  • Switching from lattes to black coffee.

Which seems more achievable and sustainable in the long term: losing 10 pounds, or packing your lunch every day? A habit-based approach is not only more likely to help you achieve your goals, but to also sustain your success — because it becomes automatic and requires less mental effort.

Join Our Healthy Lifestyles Program

If you are tired of quick fixes and ready to create long-term success, Flow Fitness is now offering our Healthy Lifestyles Program. This program will teach and reinforce habits around nutrition and fitness that you will incorporate into your lifestyle over a 48-week period.

The Healthy Lifestyles Program uses simple, everyday concepts that increase the chance of success, and does not involve behaviors such as calorie counting, meal planning or specific fitness programs. This program is available on a one-on-one basis with a Flow coach or in a group setting. You can learn more here.

 

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