Habits vs. Goals

July 8, 2019 • #

As I’ve written before on this topic, separating goal-setting from habit-forming is important to do if you want to have success at either. Often people set goals without defining the daily behaviors that will enable them to achieve said goals.

I felt the goals I set this year were firmly in the SMART category, but it’s required diligence not to fall off the wagon of the daily habits. I set some big numbers down (importantly, only in a few areas), so I needed to break down those into daily and weekly patterns to pace myself in getting there.

This Farnam Street post makes the distinction between the two, and how to think about habit-creation:

Stephen King writes 1000 words a day, 365 days a year (a habit he describes as “a sort of creative sleep”). Athlete Eliud Kipchoge makes notes after each training session to establish areas which can be improved. These habits, repeated hundreds of times over years, are not incidental. With consistency, the benefits of these non-negotiable actions compound and lead to extraordinary achievements.

While goals rely on extrinsic motivation, habits are automatic. They literally rewire our brains.

My recent interest in OKRs (both for personal and professional use) gets to the nuts and bolts of this issue. You define the “Objective” (the goal) and “Key Results” (measurable behaviors, or habits) that you believe will put you over the goal marker. Then at the day-level of granularity, you only have to worry about hitting your marks on the behaviors.

Since you can’t reach your overarching goal in a single day anyway, I find it unhelpful and deflating sometimes to think about the sum total of effort it’ll take to reach. If I took my 500 mile goal for running this year and looked at the remaining miles left, I might think “oh man, that’s huge”. But when broken down into small steps, everything looks much more attainable. With smaller parts, you can work on how to build those behaviors into a healthy habit.