Habits are those hidden powers that rule our lives. Useful habits help us to achieve our goals and bad ones hinder it, accordingly. In any case, habits have a great influence on our unconscious behaviour.
The difference between a habit and a goal is not semantic – they work differently. For example:
You want to learn a foreign language: this can be a desire to learn to speak fluently in six months (a goal) or a decision to practice for half an hour every day (a habit).
You want to read more books. Set yourself a goal to read 50 books until the end of the year (a goal) or always carry a book in your bag and read a little every day (a habit).
You want to spend more time with your family. Save 7 hours a week to your nearest and dearest (a goal) or sit at the same table with them every day (a habit).
Problems in setting a goal
When we want to change something in our life, it is logical to begin with specifying a goal. Every book on psychology and self-improvement blares it out, leaving out the obvious drawbacks.
Goals have an expiration date. That is why having reached the top, many people go back to where they have started. A sportsman runs a marathon and then gives up training. An office worker saves every penny and then wastes everything in one go and turns out to be deep in debt. A housewife keeps a strict diet and loses weight and then celebrates her victory with a cake with whipped cream.
Achieving goals sometimes depends on factors that we cannot control. It is pointless to deny that there are simply unachievable goals – no matter how many efforts you put, you will never get what you want. A trauma can ruin a career in sport. An unforeseen expense can put paid to the savings. A family tragedy will destroy the inspiration and creative urge. Setting a goal is an attempt to structure chaotic life processes.
Goals depend on willpower and self-discipline. Charles Duhigg writes in his book “The Power of Habit”: “Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.”
You have to constantly keep in mind the set goal not to lose your way. Always keeping your eyes on the target is no easy task because life is constantly changing and its other sides require our attention too. For example, saving money requires your discipline when going shopping. But depositing a hundred or two dollars out of each salary in a bank is not difficult. Habits make fulfilling our desires much easier.
Goals make us arrogant or cast prudence to the winds. Recent research shows that the human brain sometimes confuses setting a goal and achieving it. This often happens when we share our plans with others. Besides, setting unrealistic goals can end up as reckless and unethical actions.
Advantages of habits
Stephen Covey writes: “Habit is the intersection of knowledge (what to do), skill (how to do), and desire (want to do).”
Following a habit, we act automatically. This way a goal is reached gradually which simplifies the process. Such a systematic approach has a number of advantages:
Habits help to overfulfil the plan. Imagine that the person set a goal to write a novel. They decide to write 200 words a day to finish the book in 250 days. 200 words are very little even for a very busy person. They can even write more than 1000 words on a very successful day – as a result, the book will be finished much earlier. However, a threatening phrase “to write a book in 4 months” can easily discourage a wish to become a writer.
Habits come easy.
Duhigg writes: “Habits are powerful but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness or can be deliberately designed. Habits often occur without our permission but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize—they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.”
You can gain a new habit in 30 days: in a month it will be easier for you to perform a usual action than to miss it.
Habits change our lifestyle. Our whole life shapes to habits many of which are unconscious. According to Duhigg’s research, habits take 40% of our day. Habits define our personalities. William James (the psychologist specializing in problems caused by bad habits) says: “All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits – practical, emotional, and intellectual – systematically organized for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.”
An ingrained habit can last a lifetime unless you decide to get rid of it for some reason.
Habits change the life itself. Stephen Covey has paraphrased Gandhi’s words:
“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”
In other words, a single habit can change the life dramatically – Duhigg calls these habits “keystone” ones. For example, everyday training can stimulate a healthy diet and help to give up alcohol. A bad habit can be replaced with a useful one as well.
It is not necessary to gain radical habits, you should start small. Professor of Psychology at Stanford University BJ Fogg recommends so-called “small habits” – for example, you may not clean all your teeth with dental floss at once, just start with one. When you gain the habit, you can pass to the next level and make the task more complicated. If you want to read more, start with 25 pages a day. When it becomes a norm, increase the number of pages – the goal will be achieved.
Why the systematic approach really works
Charles Nobel writes: “First we make our habits, then our habits make us.”
Many successful people point out that we can improve our life by setting course on gaining long-term habits instead of setting goals.
Warren Buffett reads every day gaining new knowledge which is necessary for his investing activities.
Stephen King writes 1000 words every day (he calls this habit “something like creative sleep”). The athlete Eliud Kipchoge makes notes after each training to understand and eliminate his weaknesses. Repeating one and the same thing over and over again, you can achieve impressive results.
To go for your goal, you will have to get your courage and put every effort into it. Habits work like autopilot and do not require excessive energy costs. Gaining a couple of habits is like rewiring your own brain.
If we want to achieve something in our life, we need to stop dreaming and imagining beautiful goals and pass to gaining useful habits.