Whenever we set out on a personal development goal, we have a natural tendency to focus on our end result. In Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about the idea of focusing on habits and systems as opposed to larger desired results. In my experience I find this to be particularly true. I have not yet achieved all of my major goals, but I believe I am on the path. Staying focused on my habits helps me for a couple of reasons:
Focusing on Smaller Goals is Inherently More Rewarding
In my experience, whenever I set out to achieve a goal, I find great solace in focusing on the process (or habit) because when your habits are small and reasonable, completion is inherently rewarding. Brian Tracy says that all of us have an “urge to completion”. This means that when we start a task, we naturally want to finish it, and our brains and bodies reward us when we do. Conversely, if we have a big lofty goal, but no small habits as bridges, disappointment is sure to follow.
When I first started lifting weights, I was bench pressing around 135 lbs. I wanted to be able to get to 225 lbs (the look of two plates on the bench is super appealing ;-)). I didn’t know it at the time, but with a little common sense, I stumbled into the idea of focusing on smaller habits instead of bigger goals. I made a habit of increasing the weight by 5% each week (and later each month), and within a couple years of training, I was there!
This process was rewarding because I got in the habit of going to the gym and I learned how to program and what variables were essential to my success. There were many “micro-successes” along the way. Many miniature personal records. If I had tried to do more than 5% (the scientifically agreed upon intensity increase rate) I would have failed and maybe ditched the goal all together.
When you get Overwhelmed, you can come back to your “One Thing”
I think we all have times in life where we feel like the water is rising and we can’t get ahead. When you have small habits leading to your big goal, you can always redirect your focus and get back to your “one thing” for a small win.
Let’s say your goal is to eat healthier. That is a HUGE goal. But let’s say you’re a smart cookie and begin with one habit such as “eat at least one piece of fruit per day”. When you are stressed, strapped for time, or experiencing some other form of difficulty and you feel the urge to backslide on healthy eating, remember your one thing! When the habit is small, you can always get an easy win, even if the bigger parts of your goal go untended. If you can’t get an easy win from your small goal, you need to make the goal smaller!
Thanks for reading!