Set habits, not goals

I’m doing something different and sharing 10 simple lessons with you on how to get the life you want. Think of this as a free, crash course on setting goals and achieving them.

If you missed the previous installments, check them out here:

Lesson 3: Don’t set goals

For years I set goals and never achieved them. It was horrible.

I’d write them on scraps of paper, put them in a drawer, and forget about them.

What’s the saying? A goal without a plan is just a dream?

Well, I like to dream… a little too much.

But I like accomplishing things even more.

For the greater part of a decade, I would set goals — I mean, dreams — and never achieve them. I was drifting through my life, fantasizing about living another way but doing nothing to make that fantasy a reality.

Honestly, I didn’t know how.

Eventually, I got so burnt-out that I just gave up the entire process. Resolutions, goals, dreams — those were for suckers. I was content to just live my life without any big ambitions.

Except that I wasn’t.

Secretly, I was disappointed with my life and with myself for building such a life. I felt trapped and didn’t know how to make things better.

What’s worse, I was certain the problem was me, so that led to feelings of shame and inadequacy. If only I could just not want anything, I thought. But that didn’t seem to work, either.

Start small to get big results

Eventually, I got sick of feeling this way. I got tired of dreaming. I wanted to be doing. So I started small — not with a goal or a resolution, not even a dream, but with simple habits.

  • I started running every morning because after a few years of newlywed home cooking, I was getting fat.
  • I started writing every morning because I figured that’s what real writers did, and I wanted to be a real writer.
  • I started carving out little blocks of time to work on the things that mattered most to me.

And gradually, these little habits grew into a part of my daily practice. They became the thing that made me feel like me.

I distinctly remember one morning getting up before dawn, running five miles, eating breakfast, taking a shower, and sitting down with my cup of coffee and writing 1000 words — all before 7:00 a.m.

Who was this person I had become?

It felt good.

In fact, it felt so good I never stopped doing it.

And those little habits changed my life.

The power of daily habits

That year of writing made me a better writer. It helped me build an audience. It even led to a book deal and successful writing career that continues to astound me.

This didn’t happen, because I set some goals and forgot about them. It happened because I learned the importance of habits. I got serious about what I wanted to see happen and worked that into my daily life.

This was something I learned from my friend Michael Hyatt who is probably the most disciplined and organized person I know. He crushes goals. And I was amazed to hear that he reviews his goals on a daily basis.

I guess that makes sense. Once I learned the power of daily habits, I started setting goals again.

And you know what? It’s been years since I’ve set a goal that I haven’t achieved.

It’s possible to get the life you’ve always wanted, to set big goals and achieve them, as long as you understand this isn’t magic. It just requires daily practice.

It’s been said that you are not what you do, and I believe that. But here’s the thing: we become what we practice. As Annie Dillard once said,

“How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.”

What you do today defines what you become a year — or even a decade — from now.

Spend it wisely.

This article first appeared on Goins, Writer.