How to Create Sustainable Momentum Toward Your Goals

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There has been some confusion in our house lately around two different words. Whenever my 1 year old sees a picture of a goose, we usually tell him it’s a goose and that it says “honk”. Honk, it seems, sounds very similar to a word he’s an expert in— bonk. So, instead of mimicking the goose sound, our little guy leans forward and bangs his head against the book. We should probably clear this up for him, but in the mean time, it’s really funny.

I’ve found that as many of us approach our new years resolutions there is some confusion around the words we use. This confusion can actually slow down our momentum and hinder our pursuit of the goals.

So let’s break down these words and talk about how to create sustainable momentum toward your goals and new year resolutions:

A goal is a point on the horizon. It’s a destination to arrive at. It’s helpful to have a way to measure progress and a way to help you recognize when you’ve completed the goal.

A task is an action, or series of actions.

A habit is a task, or series of tasks that are repeated regularly.

As we set goals, it’s helpful to keep these distinctions in mind. Goals should be goals, not habits or tasks. This allows you to take small steps toward your goals and build habits to support them.

Let me break down how this works out:

Let’s say you wish your house was more clean and tidy. At New Years, it’s easy to decide to do everything all at once.

We make commitments with zeal and declare: “This year I’m going to keep the house clean and tidy! I’m going to keep the dishes clean, the clothes put away, the surfaces tidy, and the bed made!”

And then in February the house is a mess, nothing feels like it’s working, and we give up on those commitments.

A more helpful process is to recognize that while keeping a tidy house is a goal, the rest are tasks and habits.

Habits can serve that larger goal, but they take time to develop.

So let’s tackle this problem from the goal down to the task.

What’s the goal? To keep a tidy living space.

How will we measure that? A tidy home to me means that the bed is made, the dishes are done, clothes are put away, and the surfaces are clear.

What habits will help you get there?

  1. Making your bed every morning.
  2. Putting clothes away when they’re clean or used (no clothes on the floor, dresser, or wherever you tend to leave them).
  3. Dishes done after each meal.
  4. Surfaces cleared before bed.

Now, we’re getting somewhere! We have a goal. We have a measure of that goal. And we have habits that build toward that goal.

What we have to realize next is that humans are resistant to change, and to make new habits, we have to first break the old ones. If you’re in the habit of living in a messy space, it’s going to be hard to change all of these things at once. But if your goal in the New Year is to keep a tidy home, then you have a plenty of time to get there.

Instead of tackling all of these changes at once, a better approach is to take them on one at a time and add on the next one as you are able.

This means you could stagger them out, like this:

  • January: make your bed.
  • February: make your bed and do your dishes.
  • March: make your bed, do your dishes, and put away your clothes.
  • April: make your bed, do your dishes, put away your clothes, and tidy your surfaces.

A month per each habit may seem like a lot of time, but I guarantee you that you’ll find more success by breaking your goals down into repeatable habits than you would by simply setting a new years resolution.

As you think about your next year and goals, you’ll have much more success if you focus on setting goals first, and then gradually easing into habits that lead your toward them.

If you have a goal you’re excited about, share it in the comments below.

Or simply wish me luck in helping my son not bang his head on books.

If you’d like to level-up your goal setting and achieving game, check out Operating Instructions. I made it for exactly that purpose.

Dan Cumberland is on a mission to push you into the places meaning, life, & work intersect. He is the author of The Meaning Manifesto. Read more about him here, and connect with him on facebook and twitter.

There Are 3 Comments On This Post.

  1. Hi Dan, my goals each year revolve around creating something and saving money. The latter I work extremely hard at. For each I have tasks and habits. Matt @ http://www.thebookreviewblog.com. Lovely post and very timely.

    • Dan

      Sounds like you’re set up for a great year, Matt! Thanks for reading.

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