Every year, we go ahead and set our goals to achieve. Within a week or so, sometimes days, those goals are immediately forgotten. That’s not always a bad thing! At times, this is due to sudden changes you could never have been prepared for. This can lead to new goals that you strive for. However, for those that feel as though they can never stick to their New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve decided to check in with you all and kindly push you to stay persistent. Throughout this blog, I will be referencing one of my favorite authors, James Clear, who is best known for his book, Atomic Habits. A book that I strongly recommend anyone read in full, as it has been a game changer in not only building habits, thus helping me reach my goals, but also by breaking bad habits. We’ll be focusing more on building habits throughout this read.
One of the most powerful suggestions from James Clear, in my opinion, is that rather than setting goals, you should be forming habits. Goals come and go, and once that goal is accomplished or abandoned, it no longer serves a purpose. Habits, on the other hand, become a part of your identity. There is no end date for it, as it has now become something you do without thinking. I’m paraphrasing, but Clear writes in his book, “Winners and losers share the same goals, so setting goals cannot be what differentiates success and failure.” Which is true, both teams in a basketball game want to win, but the one that habitually practices on their shot or runs their offense over and over again in practice is more likely to be victorious because of the habits they’ve set in place. Of course, winning is still the goal set in place, but the idea is that once the proper habits are formed, the goals reach themselves. The point I am making here is that the first step in beginning your journey, whether it be for the first time or the hundreth time, is to ensure your perspective is in an opportune place for you to succeed. Because the next big hurdle you will have to face is the motivation behind it all.
Now that we’ve shifted our outlook on New Year’s Resolutions, or any goal/habit at all for that matter, you are better prepared to begin progressing. This doesn’t mean there aren’t still challenges, and that first challenge is finding the motivation to begin. Procrastination and giving up are real things that happen so often because we don’t put ourselves in postitions to win. We won’t even know that we would win because a lot of the time, we don’t even get started! It is so often that we don’t start because we “couldn’t find the motivation” to do so. James suggests, and I agree, that motivation is more often found once the task has actually begun. How many times have you become upset with yourself because once you finish a task you had set out to do, you think to yourself, “Why did that take me so long to do!?” For me, personally, more times than I’d like to admit. But, it’s true. The proposed solution to overcoming this procrastination is to build yourself a pre-game routine, or a ritual, if you prefer.
If someone has set out to go to the gym more often, they should first change their perspective. Rather, they should want to become an active person. That simple change now creates a habit rather than a goal. But in order to become an active person, you have to sit and wait for motivation to strike? No. Because by doing so, you will always be going about your days hoping for that spark of motivation. Instead, a schedule should be made so that you have a window of time you have dedicated for the progression of your habits. Let’s create a scenario. From 5:00AM to 7:00AM, you have dedicated time to being an active person. You have also dedicated time for you to form a ritual for yourself that will lead you closer to completing this task. That’s the key part of this ritual. It must bring you closer to beginning. Waking up and making a huge stack of pancakes does not bring you closer to your goal. It actually furthers you. However, upon waking up, you immediately go to the kitchen to drink a glass of water and eat a banana, followed by changing into workout clothes. You live close to your nearby gym, so you’ve decided to walk over there each time. Once you are changed, you exit your place, and begin your walk.
Seems easy enough. Well, it should be! The next point is that your ritual needs to be so easy, that you can automate it and not put so much thought into it. It’s the easiness of the ritual that automatically brings you to the gym. Once this ritual has been established, going to the gym, or whatever means of activity you choose to do, becomes much easier to accomplish. The motivation and momentum begins to build throughout this routine and leads into the main part of the goal, which is to be active. On a larger scale, once being active has been established, you now begin to hit goals within this habit without you even having to set them! In no way does this mean setting goals is unimportant of course. Rather, it simply means that your habits can take you further than you even imagined.
A cousin of mine gave me a great example one time involving Tetris. Little did I know, he was describing what James calls “The Goldilocks Rule”. The example is that if you are naturally a good learner, you may immediately be bored of Tetris if you were to start on Level 1. It’s too easy for you and provides you no satisfaction. On the contrary, you begin on Level 90, and you instantly get frustrated with the game because you don’t stand a chance. Too easy, too hard. Too hot, too cold. When you begin on the extreme sides of any spectrums for anything, you are likely to not be motivated to continue on. It is best for you to find the challenge that suits you the most so that you can be “optimally challenged”. This challenge leads to a higher motivation because you are aware that you are fully capable of completing the task at hand, even when looking into the face of defeat.
Let’s continue with the example of being active. You’ve completed your ritual, and are now in the gym. It does not benefit you to go and deadlift 400lbs when you’ve never deadlifted in your life. You may possibly see someone across the room able to lift it thus causing you to immediately become unmotivated to keep at it. Nor does it benefit you to lift a weight so light, that you never break a sweat. You put yourself at risk questioning the point in all of it. Instead, you work up to a weight that challenges you to complete a set of about 10 reps. Your heart rate rises, your breathe a bit heavier, and your beginning to sweat, you even sometimes fail at rep 8 or 9. But you are progressing. And it is the progression that keeps you motivated. Not the daunting task of doing something you are not ready for or the task that leaves you scoffing. Keep the habits you are trying to form manageable enough to where every now and again, you DO fail. These challenges will evolve through time, and you will eventually hit that 400lb lift. Just like you would eventually reach Level 90 through consistent efforts and progression. But you also don’t have to start at Level 1 EVERY TIME either.
Keeping your goals and habits within a “optimally challenging” window creates the opportunity for you to enter a Flow State. Flow State is a common idea that when you are so locked in, nothing in the world could possibly distract you or break your focus. We all would love to enter a flow state at any point, but if that were the case, we’d all always be in that state. The Goldilocks Rule coincides with this so much if you think about it. How could you have such a high level of focus if you are barely putting in any effort into completing a task. Or how could you be in such a flow state if you are extremely frustrated due to countless failed attempts at something. It is important to understand that these strategies listed above all go hand in hand and help lead you closer to that flow state.
The biggest takeaway in this is there truly is no secret trick to hitting your goals easier. Creating a routine for yourself is not some secret hack, but it is absolutely something that we all overlook so often. Because it requires you to acknowledge that it is time to get started on your goals. It will still require work and belief in yourself, but it is crucial that you know how to put yourself in a prime position to succeed. We may have used an example of fitness throughout this, but this is applicable to all habits and goals you want to achieve. Creating this system and workflow for yourself becomes engrained into your identity, and it becomes easier to apply this to your future goals that you set as well.
The New Year’s Motivation is beginning to wear off, if it hasn’t already. Be sure to practice these strategies so that moving forward in your life, you don’t even feel the need to wait for the calendar to tell you when it’s time to strive for your goals. You can create goals and habits at any point throughout the year. The momentum will build, and you will be thankful for it in the end.