Let’s face it: We all have goals - and we all procrastinate. Some goals are haunting us for years: Remember the language you wanted to learn? Or the book you wanted to read? For some reason we keep ourselves busy doing other stuff; whether it’s eating out with friends, watching this hot new series on Netflix or doing our Job - it’s hard to make progress on your goals without getting distracted by the overwhelming possibilities and responsibilities in your daily life.

tl;dr

Setting SMART goals is a good thing - but it’s not enough. You should intentionally design habits which lead you to your goals. Start small and design habits to be forgivable. This way it’s easy to get used to the new behaviour and you don’t feel any guilt, in case you have to skip due to an unforeseen event. Goals and habits serve different purposes - team them up to achieve what you want!

Why the concept of Goals is not enough

Setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals is known as best practice, but it’s not enough and here is why:

Goals don’t last - No doubts, the feeling of achieving a goal is uplifting. But there’s a catch: Once you reached a goal such as “pass the Math exam in March” your done. You pat yourself on your back and usually drop back to old patterns. There is no urge to adhere to your reaching-the-goal-behaviour any longer.

Goals can be paralyzing - Having huge goals means you are ambitious which is a good thing. At least that’s the perception of today’s society. But if you have a goal which seems to take much of your time, you seem to favour one behaviour: Procrastination. Paradoxically the bigger the goals we want to achieve, the lesser the chance we actually start working on them.

Goals can make us feel guilty - If you don’t reach a goal then feel like you should have done better. This nags on your motivation and hinders you to achieve what you want.

Don’t let me fool you, setting SMART goals is a good thing. But it’s only the first step on your journey of actually achieving what you want.

Why you should design habits to reach your goals

Habits become effortless - most of the habits we adhere to are executed in auto-mode. We are not even aware of them. And there is a good reason for this: The human brain demands about 20 percent of the total energy our bodies expend when at rest - and during hard thinking this amount increases even more. Thats huge! Naturally the human brain seeks for ways to save energy - either by future avoidance or by automation. That’s why learning a new skill is hard for a novice, whereas for an expert the task at hand “feels natural”.

Habits add up - A goal of reading 1000 pages may seem huge. But establishing a reading habit of 10 pages per day is easy. If you do this an entire year, you end up over-achieving your goal by reading 3650 pages in total. This Compound Effect makes habits so powerful.

Habits last - The longer you stick to a habit, the easier you trick your instant gratification monkey. Over time the habit becomes a natural part of your behaviour and an ingrain part of your personality.

Conclusion

Goals and habits complement each other. If you leverage the power of both, you have a high chance to achieve what you want. The key is to start small. New habits should be almost impossible to not stick to them. Once a habit becomes a natural part of your routine, you can increase the pace. This strategy seems tedious and unspectacular. But you have to acknowledge that each big impact in life needs time and a lot of work. You are free to choose: Do you want to pursue the road of pressure and frustration - or do you prefer to make achievement a natural part of your life?

One more thing

Celebrate each and every milestone you reach thanks to your habits. And don’t punish yourself, if you don’t stick to your plan 100% in the beginning. The Compound Effect will lead you where you want eventually.

If you use Apple Reminders to organise your to-do lists, Progress for Apple Reminders can help you to achieve what you want. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Download on the App Store

Further reading: Habits vs. Goals: A Look at the Benefits of a Systematic Approach to Life, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy

Photo by Mikito Tateisi on Unsplash.

Marco Betschart

Marco Betschart loves the never ending journey of exploration, self growth and tech evolution.