Habits are more effective than goals

Hands up who’s decided they wanted to make a positive change in their life but didn’t manage it? Exercise more, eat more healthily, save money or cut back on booze?

One thing the above examples have in common is that they’re not specific goals – they’re just aspirations. We need measurable targets and timeframes for them to become goals. ‘Lose weight’ is vague but ‘lose half a stone in 2 months’ is achievable.

But even if we do achieve success it can be fleeting. Once the goal has been met there’s a tendency to slip back into our old ways.

That’s where habits come in. We need to make changes to what we do on a daily basis for the benefits to be sustainable.

Instead of setting lofty and short-lived goals, I managed to make some long-lasting positive changes by tinkering around the edges and establishing habits.

Here are my rules of thumb:

  • Do a bit of research and ask some knowledgeable pals about the habit you want to establish. Make it ‘real’ and arm yourself with info.
  • Make the targets ridiculously low; so low that there’s no excuse not to achieve them. Build from there.
  • Commit to a short period of time. Give it a month and see how you feel. Research suggests it takes about 21 days to establish a habit.
  • Track your achievements. It’ll give you a regular dopamine hit and a sense of satisfaction. Keep a chart on the fridge or use a habit tracking app.
  • Importantly, if you slip up and miss your target, don’t worry and keep at it. We’re only human.

Want to read more books? Get recommendations from friends and set an easily achievable target of 30 pages a week for a month. Bingo, it’s now part of your routine. I (re)started reading by doing that and get through a couple of books a month now.

Want to eat more healthily? Look up the health benefits of fruit and veg and go for at least 3 portions a day for a few weeks. Once you’re into the swing of things and feel the benefits then the recommended “5-a-day” will be no bother. I upped my game to include 5 portions in a morning smoothie and get a couple more in through the day, and feel pretty chuffed with myself.

I’ve also established habits of yoga, exercise, meditation and other good stuff I used to think sounded dreadful. By quietly sneaking them up on myself I seem to have tricked me into quite a healthy lifestyle.

Then there’s the ubiquitous 10,000 steps a day target. I cheat a bit because my activity monitoring watch registers me playing the drums and thinks I batter along to Led Zeppelin for 1/2 a mile a night. Shhh.

Published in Shetland Life magazine in August 2018