One of the most important pieces that a lot of people miss when creating goals and plans for the future is recognizing the difference between goals and habits. You want to create both, but they are significant for different reasons. They are both useful in helping you reach your ultimate dreams and life objectives. They just work differently.
The Difference Between a Goal and a Habit
A goal is something that you will achieve one day and then be able to cross it off your list forever, the dictionary defines it as “an aim or a desired result”. It’s something you work toward incrementally until you are done. A goal might be writing a book, or running a marathon, or losing 50 pounds, or becoming debt free. All things that have a clear and defined ending.
On the other hand, a habit is something that you repeatedly do. Merriam-Webster defines it as “something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way”. Brushing your teeth every day is not a goal, it is something that is (hopefully) a habit for you. For many people it is the best kind of habit, it is so well ingrained in your daily life that it is largely subconscious. You don’t have to remind yourself to brush your teeth, you don’t need to write it on your to-do list, you just do it, usually at the same time, every day.
I often hear moms say things like, “I set a goal to spend at least 15 minutes a day giving undivided attention to my kids.” This is a phenomenal thing to strive for, but this is also a habit, not a goal.
Why You Need Both Goals and Habits
When trying to achieve your dreams it is important to have both habits and goals. Oftentimes your habits are what will help you achieve your goals. But habits alone won’t get you there. Last year I had a goal of running a marathon. My habit of running every single day helped me to stay in shape and to run on a consistent basis. However, just having a habit of running a mile a day would have never gotten me into the shape I needed to be in order to run a marathon. I had to pair the habit and the goal together to create a training plan that would actually help me reach my goal.
This year one of my goals is to write a book. To help me achieve my goal, I am working to develop the habit of writing for at least 15 minutes every weekday. By writing more often I improve my writing skills and make sure that I have time set aside each day to write, hopefully on my book. But there is a lot more to writing a book than simply writing for 15 minutes every day. So I have set both the habit and the goal this year to work in tandem.
Your habits will help you reach your goals, but you still have to know what it is you are actually trying to achieve. If your goal is to raise kids who are responsible, compassionate, hard working, and kind, it will certainly help to develop the habit of spending 15 minutes with them each day. But there are other things that you will need to do besides paying attention to your kids in order to raise them to be the types of adults you desire.
The habits are the things that help you develop the discipline and the consistency to do the work required to reach your goals. Your habits help you keep your goals at the front of your mind. And your habits are things you do every day to make sure you stay focused on your priorities in life.
Often the habits you are working to develop will be very closely tied to the goals you are working to achieve, like my running and writing habits. Other times your habits will simply be things that aren’t directly tied to a specific goal but are closely tied to your overall life priorities.
My 2017 Goals and Habits
I thought it might be helpful to share a portion of my list of goals and habits for 2017 to help you see how I approach the difference between habits and goals. I split the list into the various areas of my life to help you see how my habits and goals sometimes work together, although that isn’t always the case.
- Run at least 4 half marathons or longer and PR on at least one of them.
- Get stronger, defined as begin able to do the following by the end of the year:
- 50 standard pushups in a row
- Squat my bodyweight (one rep max)
- 2 pull ups
- Deadlift 1.5X my bodyweight (one rep max)
- (Continue to) Run at least one mile every single day.
- Complete my Bible reading plan – I’m following this one this year.
- Have a daily quiet time with prayer, Bible reading, and journaling.
- Have a clean kitchen at bedtime each night.
- Read 52 books by the end of the year
- Write for at least 15 minutes each weekday.
- Send at least 60 cards by mail to friends or family (yes, my goal is to send actual physical cards by snail mail to people this year, because it is such fun to get surprise mail!)
- Go out with a friend(s) at least once a quarter.
- Go on a date at least once a month.
- Honor protected time between 6:30-7:30 both am and pm. (This means my phone is out of my hands and at least some of that time is spent focused entirely on my kids. I’ll probably write more about this in a future post.)
- Write and self-publish a book (Eeek! Stay tuned for more on this.)
- Create and launch an online course.
- Publish a new blog post each week.
- Sent out a newsletter twice a month (if you haven’t already, you should join my email club so you get these newsletters).
So that is my big list of habits and goals I have created for this year. I know, it’s a big list, but I’m all about being brave and reaching for the stars this year. As you can see, I have a good mix of both habits and goals to help me, based on my overall objectives for each area of my life.
One quick note about habits is that it is not the end of the world if you miss a day. If you forget to eat a meal or don’t feel like taking a shower one day you don’t beat yourself up and decide you will never eat or shower again. That is ridiculous. It should work the same way with all of your other habits. Just because you fudge up today, doesn’t mean tomorrow isn’t a new day. Wake up and try again.
If you need more help with deciding your priorities and areas in which you should focus in your own life, you may want to check out this post where I discuss the 8 key life areas and provide access to a key life area worksheet to help you determine where your focus should be.
Today’s action step
If you have a list of goals for this year, look through your list to determine if any of them are actually habits instead of goals or if you need to work on developing some habits to help you reach your goals. Feel free to share your habits and goals for 2017 in the comments.