Are You Stuck Trying to Make Goals Work?

Nicholas Licalsi
April 6, 2018

Welcome to March everyone, we are officially two months into the year. The excitement of the New Year has worn off, and we’ve all got the hang of writing 2018 instead of 2017. How’s that New Years resolution you set two months ago going for you? Odds are it’s not going too good. Statistics show that less than 10% of resolutions are accomplished. But it’s not your fault. Goals and resolutions set you up in a failure mindset, and that keeps you from wanting to keep working towards them around this time of year. But there’s something out there that is more powerful and more successful than goals. Since we’re a sixth of the way into the year, I want to introduce you to something better. Something we can work on from now until next year. All of March the OpenDoor blog is going to be talking about Habits. We’ll be covering: Why they are important, how to build them effectively and which ones to start with.

Over the past year, I’ve built myself a very powerful habit. I quit my job two years ago and to be a writer. The issue was after six months of unemployment I had only written about 2,000 words. At this rate I’ll write a book every ten years, I thought. So I decided that I would build a habit of writing for an hour every day. Writing an entire book seemed like a behemoth of a task, and getting paid to write was not something I felt qualified for yet. Instead of setting those goals and continually reminding myself of how far away I was from them I set out to spend the next 100 days writing for 1 hour per day. Over 450 days later I have written rough drafts for three books, started a fiction blog and improved my storytelling skills immensely. I could have never done that with goals, but thanks to the habit of writing every day for an hour I knocked all this out and more.

Habit Beat Goals

Habits are far more powerful than goals. Goals put you in a failure mindset. If you haven’t reached them, you’re a failure. With habits, you’re winning every day you do the habit. Winning every day is a far more encouraging brain space to be in. Additionally, goals get more challenging as time goes on. There’s a Chinese proverb that says “The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed.” This couldn’t be more accurate with goals.

However, habits become an itch over time, and your body quits thinking about it. You just do it. Think of your drive to work today or how you made breakfast. There were a dozen minuscule tasks that overwhelmed when you the first did it. But now that it’s a habit you didn’t think twice. Usually, you don’t even think and spend time wondering how you’re going to close your next deal.

Goals And The Failure Mindset

Goals are mountainous. For some people, that’s why they like it. For others, the majority of us, it’s a challenge to reach the top. Every day you look up and see how much further you have to go. The peak is constantly looming over your head, and it can feel draining. There are solutions to this. Some are visualizations of success, affirmations of your eventual success and others. I’m a big proponent of those it’s honestly more work on top of the work you need to do to reach the goal.

My 2017 Goals

I set off last year with the goal of reading 52 books. I succeeded, but until December 28th I was a failure. That means I spent 361 days out of 365 in a failed state. What made things worse was when I checked off my 52nd book I didn’t have a rush of euphoria like I expected. My thoughts were “Okay cool, now what?” When you get to the top of the peak, your options are to hike down or hike up the next one. That isn’t an encouraging endgame.

When working on my 52 book challenge, I broke it down into smaller goals. I wanted to read one book a week. That meant about 40 pages a day. I read in my spare time but didn’t have the schedule to set aside the two hours it took to read that many pages. Best case I would finish my week’s book on Friday or Saturday, but that would give me only two days of success out of 7. Most weeks I wouldn’t complete my book because things came up and then I had to read double the number of books. Things stacked up quick and by March it was looking like this 52-week book goal was never going to be reached. I needed a new system and a better mindset.

How I Win Every Day

I was tired of seeing myself as a failure. I’m a data guy, and the evidence was clear I was a reading failure. Sure I had knocked out a few books, but I still had a long way to go. I needed a mentality that would make me a success every day. The worst part was the solution was sitting in front of me. I had already implemented it by March 2017 with writing. I needed to read habitually instead of forcefully. I wrote the habit of reading every day on an app I used for tracking my writing and started trying to do it every day. It was hard in the beginning, I started by setting the goal as 40 pages, which is huge and I didn’t have the willpower to do it, especially when the alternative was Netflix.

Then I set it small, we’ll get into the details of that next week, but the key was I simply said I’m going to call my day a success if I read a page of non-fiction every day. Sure it wasn’t impressive, but it got me to do it every day. I was successful every day after I read my page and because I was successful, my mind got excited. After winning with one page I would go on to read another one, then another. Sure, somedays I stopped after one page, but more often than not I continued to read. It worked, and I got to 52 books by the end of the year!

With a habit you win every day you do it. The goal may look and feel far away, but the habit is close. Best of all with a daily routine you don’t have to sit down and reinvent the wheel. You get a clear action instead of a vague goal. Here are some examples of how vague goals become clear actions:

  • The vague goal of 6 pack abs becomes the clear action of eating a salad and doing ten crunches
  • The vague goal of writing a book becomes a clear action of writing 100 words
  • The vague goal of improving your sales becomes the clear action of making a sales calls

Goals Get Harder Over Time

Let’s assume you set a challenging goal and hit it. This happens every once in a while. Every year thousands of people achieve the goal of graduating college. People become entrepreneurs which is a lifetime goal for some and people do reach retirement goals.

However, reaching these goals begs the question, “What do I do now?” The graduate answers with the new (more challenging) goal of Get a Job. The entrepreneur answers with improve your new business. The retiree answers with the new challenge of get a hobby. These are all new goals. And each of them is harder than the last.

Once you’re at the peak, you can hike down or climb the next one. Most of the time we force ourselves to hike the next one. We forget the challenges of the first peak or don’t account for new difficulties, and we make our lives harder.

There’s a better way. What if instead of focusing on the peak we concentrated on the next step in front of us?

Habits Are One Step At A Time

How do you make the journey of 1,000 miles? By taking the first one. Habits are the embodiment of this concept. Don’t think about the next chapter in your novel, think about the next sentence. Don’t think about the next 30 mins of working out just think about the next rep. Don’t think about the next sale you have to close just think about the next call you need to make.

At first, some of these things seem hard and even unbearable. Everything fights to put that sentence down, do the next rep or pick up the phone. But, the more you do it, the more it becomes a habit. I can write the next sentence because I know I’ve put down a dozen like it before. I can do more reps because I’ve done them in the past. And picking up the phone is easy because it’s 10 am, and that’s when you make sales calls. They’re all habit. There’s virtually no thinking involved.

How Long Until It's Easy?

Most people say that it takes 21 to 30 days to create a habit. That’s absolutely and completely incorrect.

Well, it’s not so much incorrect as it is uninformative. There are a lot of things to bring into account. The habit of brushing your teeth is quicker to build than driving to the gym because it’s easier. Matter of fact, the two habits aren’t even playing in the same league.

The average is 66 days, but it varies from 18 days for simple habits for disciplined people to 254 days for people who were new to forming habits and attempting complex habits. But you can count on one thing. After doing the 60th day of your habit, it will be much easier to do the 61st day. Habits compound, making them easier to do as time goes on.

What To Do When You Get There?

What was the last goal you set for yourself and reached? What was the last milestone your business hit? How did it feel?

It was probably pretty awesome. Maybe you hosted a party. For me, finishing the rough draft of my first book was my most memorable milestone. My girlfriend took me out to dinner at Book Club Cafe, and we had burgers. It was a lot of fun. I remember it vividly. The other thing I remembered was that nagging question, “Now what?”

The excitement only lasted the night. I told a few friends I had hit the milestone, and everyone congratulated me. I had read that you need to let the novel breath and come back to it in a month with fresh eyes. So that’s what I set out to do.

But again the question echoed in my mind, “now what?” I started working on the next novel because I had a habit of writing. But honestly, if I didn’t have that habit I might have taken the month off and never come back to the book, or writing at all.

Reaching your goals gives you a quick hit of excitement, but it doesn’t last very long. Lottery winner get used to their new money, amputees get used to life without a limb, and goal reachers get used to the success of their goal. That is the hedonistic treadmill at work, and it’s an awful enemy.

Many people reach their goal weight. They spend months dieting and exercising to get their beach body. They see improvements but summer comes and goes and they aren’t at the goal weight. Then they hit it, it’s December, and they’re there. They celebrate for a bit and then what? Most go back to what they were doing before. Summer comes again and once again the beach bod isn’t there.

Follow Through With Long Term Focus

Alternatively to focusing on your weight imagine focusing on what you eat. Logging one meal a day is a keystone habit, and it can have profound results. We will talk about keystone habits in a few weeks. If you focus on this habit of measuring what you eat you may reach your goal in no time. You’re focusing on what you can control, and that’s great. But let’s consider the worst-case scenario. Weight loss (or any goal) becomes a slog for you. Everything in your body wants you to do the wrong thing, eat the pizza, drink the soda, and avoid the gym. But you power through on day 260 you’re habitually logging food with ease. It becomes your obsession. Sure you’ve only lost a few pounds over the past 200 days, but you’re in it for the long haul. You’ve got your habits built, every day it gets easier, and you know you’re going to hit your goal. It’s not a matter of if but when.

Habits, as opposed to goals, give you a long-term view of your life. With habits, you ask yourself “what will I do tomorrow and every day following?” Then you have a long-term plan. The best part is that adjusting a habit is super simple once they’re setup. Goals are short term, even the long-term ones. My ten-year goal as a writer is to have written ten books. I’ll hit that and pass it because I have the habit of writing every day for an hour. I don’t even have to worry about how I’m going to write those ten books, or what they’re about because I know I’ll achieve it as long as I write today. Habits magically bring the long-term goals into focus giving you action you can take today.

Final Thoughts

I hope that I have at least made you rethink how goals are working for you. If your goals are going great, I’m happy for you. I would like to talk to you about them because I am always looking to learn more about the things I am weak in. If, like me, you’re weak at achieving goals I hope that this article has inspired you to take a step back and look for an alternative.

Over the course of March, we will be talking about habits, their anatomy, how to create them, and which ones to start with. I hope that you subscribe and come along with us on this journey. Habits are the steps on your trip to the top of your achievement mountain.

If you can maintain them, built them, understand their value then you will be on your way to success. It might be a slog, it won’t be easy, but you will reach success even if it’s decades away. With habits, you’ll know what to do day in and day out for the rest of your life.

Come into the OpenSpace or comment to talk to us more about habits. Do you have any questions or disagreements about what I said above? I have ideas about what to write about for the upcoming weeks, but I’m always open to feedback. Most importantly, what goals do/did you have for this year and how can you change those into daily habits? I’d love to talk to you about them, come into the OpenSpace any time this week or comment below.

Nicholas Licalsi