Create Habits Versus Goals for this New Year
a usual way of behaving; something that a person often does in a regular and repeated way
Here we are at the New Year, 2023. I have written many articles for the New Year about blank slate and setting things in motion for your new year and what you would like to accomplish. I consider it blueprinting and manifesting what you really want to happen in your new year. I advocate for setting a vision and knowing where we want to go. I love all these actions. The question is, how do we then take action to reach these visions and goals?
We can create habits. It is really our small steps, our habits, that help us reach our goals. Maybe we want to hone in on the habits we want to develop this year. These habits can guide us to become the person we want to be in order to reach our goals. I recently read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear (Clear 2018), and I love what he has to say about reaching goals through small steps. In fact, he doesn’t necessarily talk about setting goals but about making small changes to arrive at and become the person we want to be. It is through developing habits we can create change. Clear’s process isn’t about looking at outcomes (goals); it is about becoming the people we want to be and thereby reaching the goals we have in mind through the small habits we develop. If you want to be a healthy person, then step into creating and maintaining small habits to become that healthy person.
It makes sense that to become who we want to be or to get closer to our goals, we need to form habits. Think about how we often set things up at the first of the year when we find ourselves motivated to make some changes. We set goals – and make radical changes to reach radical goals. We want to lose 20 pounds, so we decide to go on a stringent diet. We want to get fit, so we start hitting the gym daily. We want to be in a better financial place, so we shut down all spending. We go “all in” and stick to the plan for about a month or so, and then the gusto wears off. Our failure to reach our goals or give up only a few months after we start may come from the plan to be “all in”. Missing even one day will set us up for being done. Research shows that about 80% of the goals we set for the New Year fail. (Ali, 2018) Breaking down the process may be more likely to help us to integrate it, so we stay with it, be more reasonable in accomplishing it, and thereby help us to make changes that really are lasting. Lasting change is our real vision.
Habits are behaviors that have been repeated enough to become automatic. Clear states that habits are “Reliable solutions to reoccurring problems in our environment.” (Clear, 2018) Habits are mental shortcuts from previous experiences. Habit formation is very useful and creates freedom. By getting the fundamentals of life in order through structure, and habits, you have the freedom to master new experiences.
Clear promotes the idea that we make true and lasting changes through small changes. He encourages a 1% daily improvement. Do 1% better today than you did yesterday. It may be hard to be satisfied with this as we are a society that wants quick results and often underrates small daily improvements. But he does the math to show us that improving by 1% can be far more effective, especially in the long run. The difference of a tiny improvement of “1% better” each day for one year will end up with you being 37 times better by the end of the year. Conversely, 1% worse will end up at or below your baseline at the end of the year. The little steps matter.
Clear considers habits the compound interest of self-improvement. It may not be a “huge” change in getting where you want to go, but it is a change that will impact if you keep on making small improvements. We don’t need to be perfect in this process. We just need to make small improvements “most of the time,” and then we are making progress toward becoming who we want to become.
The effect of habits gets reinforced the more we do them, and our habits help us recreate ourselves. Every action we take is the process of becoming who we want to be. Decide the type of person you want to be and then move forward to prove who you want to be. If you want to be a healthy person, then ask yourself, “What would a healthy person do in this situation?”
Choose the identity you want to be based on the concept of identity-based habits. Small habits produce evidence of who we are. Let your values – becoming that type of person, not getting a particular outcome- be your map and guidance. You become your habits. Your identity emerges out of your habits. Through your habits, you can change your beliefs about yourself and then move into being the person that you want to be.
So as you venture into a new year, consider who you are and who you want to be. What small thing can you do to change your own identity of who you are? Set some habits in motion and shoot for 1% improvement most of the time. See if you can integrate these small habits to become who you want to be in 2023. Be gentle, but strive for a bit better. You will arrive if you keep making small improvements in your habits.
May you have a blessed and Happy New Year from the staff at Wholeness Healing Center.
Ali, S. (2018, Dec 5). www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/modern-mentality/201812/why-new-years-resolutions-fail. Retrieved from www.psychologytoday.com: www.psychologytoday.com
Britannica Dictionary Definition. (2022). https://www.britannica.com/dictionary/habit. Retrieved from britannica.com/dictionary.
Clear, J. (2018). Atomic Habits. New York: Penguin Random House
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
- Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.
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