You’re always being told that the best way to achieve what you what in life—lose weight and get into shape, learn a new skill, spending more time with family—is to set specific, actionable goals. It’s true: goals are essential, but there’s another force you need to become aware of: the power of habits.
It’s important to recognize the difference between goals and habits. You want to create both, but they’re significant for different reasons. They’re both useful in helping you reach your ultimate dreams and life objectives. They just work differently.
A goal is something that you will achieve one day—and then be able to cross it off your list forever. A goal is an aim or a desired result. It’s something you work toward incrementally until you’re done. A goal might be writing a book, or running a marathon, or losing 50 pounds, or becoming debt free. All things that have a clear and defined ending.
On the other hand, a habit is something that you repeatedly do. It’s something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way. Brushing your teeth every day isn’t a goal, it’s something that’s (hopefully) a habit for you. For many people it’s the best kind of habit—one so well-ingrained in your daily life that it’s largely subconscious. You don’t have to remind yourself to brush your teeth, you don’t need to write it on your to-do list, you just do it, usually at the same time, every day.
First, we make our habits, then our habits make us.
Habits are processes operating in the background that power your life. Good habits help you reach our goals. Bad ones hinder you. Either way, habits powerfully influence your automatic behavior.
When combined, goals and habits create synergy
Habits alone won’t get you where you want to be. You might have a goal of running a marathon. Your habit of running every single day will help you to stay in shape and to run on a consistent basis. However, just having a habit of running a mile a day will never get you into the shape you need to be in order to run a marathon. You have to pair the habit and the goal together to create a training plan that will actually help you reach your goal.
The goal sets the direction, the habit gets you there.
Goals can provide direction and even push you forward in the short-term, but eventually a well-designed system will always win. Having a system is what matters. Committing to the process is what makes the difference.
Once formed, habits operate automatically. Habits take otherwise difficult tasks—like saving money—and make them easy. The purpose of a well-crafted set of habits is to ensure that you reach your goals with incremental steps.
By switching your focus from achieving specific goals to creating positive long-term habits, you can make continuous improvement a way of life. Nothing will change your future trajectory like habits.
More about habits:
What’s a habit and why should I care?
The habits of highly inefficient adults
What Are Your Habits Turning You Into?
Time- Wasting Habits — and How to Break Them