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Habits and Goals for a Successful Life

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When we set our minds to accomplish great things, like running a marathon in 6 months, habits play the main role in reaching these goals.  In fact, habits and goals go hand in hand. While we can have habits without goals, such as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, we can’t really have goals without habits.

 

Those who recognize the role of habits in achieving goals have a head start and are more likely to succeed, the rest tend to stumble through their success, if they even reach it. Integrating habits with goals streamline the path to achieving your goals.  

 

Goals are aspirational, even if they are SMART goals but forming habits to reach your goals are what changes your day to day behavior.  Recognizing the habits needed for success and how to form those habits provides the specific ‘engine’ for change.  A powerful synergy forms between consistent habits and clear goals.

 

Habit Loop

 

The Science of Habit Formation

Neuroplasticity and Habit Building

When we do something repetitively over a period of time we begin to build neural pathways in our brain which help form habits. This is the basis for what we do, how we feel, and what we think.  The more regularly we do something, the stronger the pathways become. But we can still change these pathways and rewire the brain with new habits over time.

 

Neuroplasticity refers to the malleable nature of our brain. Your brain is changing every day through different thoughts, experiences and reactions. It is able to reorganize itself, creating new pathways as new habits are formed. While it isn’t easy to change an old habit, it is possible. As with the original habit, a new or changed habit can form and be strengthened through repetition.

 

Goals can help alter neural pathways through conscious intent, which can help one develop new habits. While habits are unconscious, having a goal to improve your fitness level is conscious and can influence how habits are formed or change.

 

The Habit Loop: Cue, Craving, Routine, Reward

The habit loop involves a cue, something that triggers a change, such as an alarm going off in the morning or the end of the work day. A craving, what helps drive you to act, such as to accomplish something positive early in the morning. A routine, what you do based on the cue, such as making your bed after waking up in the morning. And a reward, which follows from the routine and what motivates you to repeat the process again the next time you are triggered by the cue. In this example the reward from making your bed is a feeling of accomplishment and a neat and tidy looking bed.

 

Having a conscious long term goal allows you to take actions to alter or create new habits. It starts with the cue.  If you are looking to change a habit based on an existing cue, you may do so by changing the routine or the reward.  For example, instead of reaching for the sugar (routine) when grabbing your morning coffee (cue) in anticipation of a sweet caffeine boost (craving), you reach for a healthier alternative such as stevia to sweeten your coffee.  As you sip your coffee you are still rewarded by a sweet tasting caffeine boost, but have effectively altered the routine for a better outcome.  

 

The conscious goal of eating less sugar allows you to alter your habits. You may do so by changing the habit loop or creating brand new habits.  What allows you to do so is conscious intent overriding subconscious habits. 

 

Habits are difficult to change but can be made easier, based on goal driven action such as altering the habit loop and/or using techniques such as using positive visualization, practicing mindfulness activities, or through positive self talk (affirmations).  

 

QUOTE

By simply removing yourself from an environment that triggers all of your old habits, you can make it easier to break bad habits and build new ones.

~James Clear, author of Atomic Habits

 

Environmental Influence on Habits and Goals

Creating an Environment that Fosters Good Habits

The physical space around you plays a large part in how successful you are at completing tasks and achieving goals. When you have a cluttered environment you become distracted by the mess and less likely to focus on developing your habits that lead to success.  And, a cluttered, messy environment is more than likely to cause overeating, leading to obesity [1][2].  

 

This happens because clutter-free and mess-free environments are more likely to be conducive to forming habits and less likely to create stress and anxiety, which can lead to depression [3][4].

 

Similar to your physical environment your social environment can have an impact on the types of habits you form. It also impacts your motivation, and the support you have to improve.  Hanging out with the right people who focus on personal success and will support you will make your efforts to achieve your goals much easier.  They may even have ideas or tips on how you can be successful.

 

SMART Goals

The Power of Incremental Progress in Aligning Habits and Goals

Small Wins and Their Impact on Long-Term Goals

I talk about using micro habits in my article 12 Micro Habits to Improve Your Life: Regain your Edge to make small changes which lead to large results over time.  The idea is to find small but easy habits to put into place which align with your goals.  By themselves, the small habit may have little impact on reaching your goal but can evolve and compound over time. 

 

For example, you may have a goal to lose weight. A SMART goal would be to reduce your body fat % to 17% from 22% in 4 months without losing muscle mass.  A habit you want to introduce is to eat less sugar, starting with dropping sugar from your coffee. This on its own may not allow you to reach your goal. However,  if you stack another habit on top of this one, such as doing 20 pushups immediately after drinking your coffee (you’re now full of energy!), your results begin to compound over time.

 

The Compound Effect of Consistent Effort

A micro habit doesn’t allow you to reach your goal on its own but may have a psychological impact as it may provide a profound change in how you see yourself.  You’re now the person who takes your coffee like a man: black.  Multiply this with the benefits you notice from doing pushups every day, you begin to realize it is possible to lose weight. This provides a strong reinforcement loop which makes you feel good about reaching your goal and encourages you to continue while adding or stacking additional positive habits. Slowly you can begin to align your habits and goals.

 

Cognitive Techniques for Habit Reinforcement

Using Visualization to Strengthen Habits

As I discuss in Positive Visualization For A Great Life, positive visualization can help you clarify your goals, boost your motivation, improve your focus, reduce stress and enhance performance.  This technique helps build positive habits, leading to accomplishing your goals.  

 

Positive visualization allows you to create a clear vision of the habit(s) you want to form. It allows you to build consistency, self discipline and helps build the neural pathways you need to form a habit. By regularly visualizing yourself doing a habit in great detail and with strong positive emotion you begin to experience what it would feel like to establish the habit and reach your goals. This leads you to a greater chance of success.

 

For example, if your goal is to build muscular strength in your upper body you may decide you want to do push ups daily. Clearly visualize yourself doing push ups after the cue you select.  Do this everyday, perhaps twice a day and add the feeling of strength, vitality and immense energy to your visualization from doing pushups. This will make the effort of actually doing pushups easier as you have mentally rehearsed doing pushups many times in your mind, which begins to build the neural pathways needed for success.

 

cigarettes in McDonalds fries container - Habits and Goals

Breaking Negative Habit Cycles

There are many habits we do subconsciously that we prefer we didn’t. Why do we grab for the freshly baked donuts on the countertop besides the coffee, especially when we want to lose weight? Or, sleep in when we intended to get up early? We are battling our subconscious and the cues we react to without thought.

 

It is difficult to change or drop negative or bad habits.  Because cue driven habits have neural pathways ingrained in our brain and occur subconsciously, they are usually more powerful than intent driven, value based goals. But similar to the strategies for developing habits or changing habits, the act of breaking bad habits is possible

 

Firstly, write down the habits that are counter to your goals. Identify the habit loop for each, including the trigger (cue) or event that kicks off a bad habit.  For example, when faced with an alarm to wake up do you press the snooze button?  The alarm is your cue. Similarly, do you put sugar in your coffee after pouring it?  Pouring your coffee is the cue. 

 

Supercharge Your Habits

Focus on how you might change either the action (pressing the snooze button or putting sugar in your coffee) or the reward (sleeping in or the sweet tasting coffee). Use positive visualization, and affirmations to help you reinforce a more positive habit loop.  For example, think how you want to act when the alarm goes off.  Think about how energized you will feel about getting up.  Tell yourself you can easily get up and look forward to it.  

 

Similarly, for the coffee example, imagine pouring your coffee and walking away with it. Think about how good the coffee will taste without sugar and how awful sugar tastes and makes you feel.  Think about how good you will feel going without sugar for a few days and how you will lose weight.  Now tell yourself how much you love black coffee and are really just looking for the caffeine buzz.

 

There are other things you can do to make it easier to change these bad habits.  When faced with the alarm you dread hearing each morning, how about changing the screeching sound to classical music that increases in volume gradually. Also, consider opening your curtains before bed so you bathe in the warm sunlight in the morning.  How about hiding the sugar or simply giving it away so you aren’t tempted by it when pouring your coffee.  

 

Be imaginative and make sure you use as much clarity in your visualizations.  Similarly, speak out loud when affirming your thoughts about your new habits. Finally, be sure to use these techniques continuously as they begin to rewire those neural pathways that built the bad habits in the first place.

 

Conclusion: Aligning Habits and Goals

Habits control much of what we do on a day to day basis from our morning routine to things you don’t think about, like driving to work each morning.  They structure our day and help us accomplish things.  Habits can be positive, like brushing our teeth when we wake up and before going to bed.  They can also have a profoundly negative impact on our lives, such as when we snack on junk food or drink a glass of scotch in the evening to wind down. 

 

While habits are subconscious actions based on established neural pathways formed through repetition, goals are conscious aspirations that rely on habits for success.  Goals can be used to change or create new intent driven habits and thus build or change neural pathways. Rather than hoping to drop a negative habit that is in the way of achieving your goal(s), you have the ability to change the components of a habit. 

Using techniques such as positive visualization, mindfulness and positive self talk you can slowly form new habits that help you achieve and align your habits and goals. As long as your environment is conducive to your new habits and they are small enough to manage without giving up on, you have a perfect tool to help accomplish lasting success.

 

Take a look at your current habits and goals – do you have habits that can be aligned to support your goals?  Start now to regain your edge!

Check out The Fastest Way to Lose 10 Pounds in a Month.

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Daily Tip

Alcohol? Red Wine is the Better Choice

Pouring a glass of red wineChoose red wine when drinking alcohol for a number of health benefits. First, it contains antioxidants like resveratrol, which support heart health by improving cholesterol levels and blood flow. Additionally, it can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that boost overall health. Plus, moderate consumption of it may help improve gut health and support longevity. With these benefits, it stands out as a healthier option compared to other alcoholic beverages. So, next time you want to drink alcohol, choose red wine for its health benefits.

Check out Easy Choices Hard Life, Hard Choices the Best Life.

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