Why Your Goals Fail
Achieving your goals ultimately comes down to changing your habits. There’s an amazing book called Atomic Habits by James Clear that is all about how to create habits and changes that actually last. In this book he breaks down exactly how you can implement any habit you want, and how you can make it stick. In case you don’t feel like reading a whole book, I’ve pulled the most important points from it here.
We humans are flawed creatures. We wake up one day and decide today is the day we’re going to start a strict diet and a 5 day a week gym routine, even though just yesterday we were a couch potato eating ice cream straight from the carton for dinner.
See the problem? We rarely set attainable goals, so they feel so far away and unrealistic, that we quickly fall off track and ultimately give up. You know those New Year’s resolutions you set every year that don’t last past February? Yeah, makes sense now doesn’t it?
The Habit Onion
This article by James Clear (he has a blog too) goes into depth about the different layers of change; outcomes, processes, and identity. He says you can view them as layers of an onion, with identity being the innermost layer, and outcomes being the outermost layer. The deepest layer (identity) is concerned with changing your beliefs about who you are. Who you are now determines what you do, and your outcomes that your current habits get you. So to make true lasting change, it stands to reason that a change in your identity-the who behind your goals- would be the most effective way to make the change permanent.
The middle layer-your processes-is concerned with your habits and systems, that is the how behind your outcomes. The final outermost layer is concerned with the what behind your goals. Say our hypothetical couch potato-lets name him Bob-wanted to lose 20lbs, this would be an outcome goal. Most people make their goals by working from the outside in by making outcome goals most often, and then figuring out the process and letting identity change happen on it’s own. As it turns out, this is the wrong approach, and working from the inside of the habit onion to the outside, is the way to make a true permanent change.
So...What if You Don’t Know the How or Who?
Phew, okay. So what if you only know the what behind what you want and not the how or the who? That’s okay. Start there and work backwards. James Clear suggests asking yourself “who is the type of person that would get the outcome I want?” So if Bob only knows he wants to lose 20lbs, he can ask himself “what kind of person is capable of losing 20lbs and maintaining it?” The answer is probably something along the lines of “someone who is healthy”. What kind of person is healthy? Someone who eats healthy balanced meals, exercises frequently, and cares for his sleep and stress. So, Bob wants to assume the identity of a healthy person who has these healthy habits, so that he can lose 20lbs. Now all that’s left is to figure out the “how” that is attainable for him. Enter: small wins.
Remember how most goals fail because they are so far-fetched that they’re simply unattainable for the person making them at that point in time? James Clear (aka genius) has an answer for this, which he considers the second part of changing your beliefs (your identity). The first part is deciding the kind of person you want to be. The second is proving it to yourself with small wins.
The small wins will serve a double purpose: reinforcing your identity change, while also serving as the how behind your outcome goals. These are your process goals.
Back to Bob; he’s decided he wants to be someone who works out frequently (among other things). The problem is right now he works out…well, never. This means he needs to prove to himself over time that he is someone who works out frequently through small wins. If he decides to start going 5 days a week to the gym he will probably last a week before he gets burned out and gives up. The smarter way would be to make it a goal to go once this week. Twice the next. Three times the week after, etc. If he continues this pattern this will add up to 15 workouts at the end of 5 weeks, vs 5 if he had given up after one week. Which scenario do you think will get him the most results? See? Small wins will eventually add up to big changes.
The 4 Laws of Change
One last tip on your journey to implementing healthy habits and achieving all your wellness goals; follow James’s 4 laws of change: Make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying. A habit has 4 parts: the cue, craving, response, and reward. Each one of these matches up with one of the laws of change.
Essentially, you want to make the cue obvious. For Bob, his cue to practice the habit of going to the gym could be his alarm going off at 6am. If the habit isn’t attractive (the craving), you won’t do it. So how can Bob make going to the gym attractive? Perhaps he could incentivize himself by having a delicious cup of coffee when he gets out of bed.
Next up he has to make the response easy. Bob could pack his gym bag and lay out his outfit the night before so that he saves time and has as few obstacles as possible in the morning.
Finally, the reward…well that’s self explanatory. Reward yourself with something cool, girl. In Bob’s case, something that isn’t junk food would probably be best.
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