It’s said that the only certainty in life is that it inevitably ends in death. Nobody can beat the sands of time and we’re all subject to an existence that has a limited duration. It sounds a tad morose but bear with me, for a moment if you will. Life is unpredictable which is simultaneously its most discerning quality (because that’s what makes life exciting) and distressing (fear of the unknown) attribute.
You’ll also have surely heard that life happens outside of your comfort zone. Sounds adventurous and thrilling doesn’t it? But here’s the thing, most people enjoy the comfort of certainty.
When it comes to setting and achieving goals, we often feel that if have our sights on a goal, set a deadline and arm ourselves with a plan of action that as long as we stick to “The Plan”, we’re certain to reach our goals, right? We’re all guilty of thinking it’s that simple. Just stick to the plan, Stan.
I don’t know Stan but I do know that life is anything but certain and the future holds no guarantees. So it’s no surprise that we often find ourselves at an impasse when it comes to our earlier ideals of achieving our goals because goals by their very nature exist in the future. And if the future is uncertain then by default achieving our goals by sticking to “The Plan” doesn’t seem nearly as comfortingly certain as we previously thought.
In our pursuit of them, we set a date and prescribe to a strict (often unrealistic) regimen of tasks that we need to complete in order to reach our goal. Often we bite off more than we can chew and after a few unexpected hurdles and lighthearted attempts we get frustrated when we don’t see any progress. The pursuit of our goals quickly turns into an insurmountable ordeal and we either give up then and there or we push our deadline even further into the forgiving comfort zone of the future. There’s very little accountability towards ourselves and we might even be lured into our latest foray of self-sabotage and despondency. Rarely do we take into account that reaching our goal was never assured. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely not saying that achieving your goal is impossible or unobtainable. (You’re forgiven if you’ve jumped preemptively to the opposite end of the certainty spectrum.) What I am trying to get at is that you should definitely join me over here on middle ground and look into why we sometimes don’t follow-through with “The Plan” or why we’re too intent to concede or back down when the path towards our goal is beset with challenges.
Why is it sometimes so easy to give up or get hopelessly derailed in pursuit of our goals? Why is it easier to justify pushing our goals further into the future or giving up altogether? I’m sure you’ve heard people saying that it’s as simple as “wanting it enough” (they’re often the same people who say it’s as simple as sticking to “The Plan”). Of course, you want it enough- if you didn’t you wouldn’t be concentrating on the goal in the first place. But, we’re all human and we’ll more often than not be tempted by “short-cuts” to achieve a goal or to be insanely creative with our excuses when rationalizing dropping the goal like a hot potato. By their definition, goals require an intense amount of effort and investment of time, energy and discipline. Life happens and time passes and our true nature comes into play. Eventually, we run out of energy and discipline, losing interest in “The Plan” aimed towards our goal, and instead, distract ourselves with all the wonders of immediate gratification.
If it’s inevitable that life’s unpredictability will impact the course we find ourselves on with respect to our goals (goodbye Stan, there goes your plan) and we’ll at some point or another have to battle it out with our inherent disposition for distractions- then it would appear that we have the odds stacked up against us. But appearances can be deceiving- not all hope is lost.
So what’s the solution you ask? How can we switch things up and in true Hunger Games fashion declare that the odds be ever in your favour?
By building habits.
It’s better to spend your time and energy on building constructive habits that will set you on the course towards achieving your goals, rather than focusing too much on the goals themselves. Grand schemes and enticing goals take on a sex appeal in our heads while we associate habits with effort-laden chores of everyday life. Here’s a textbook example:
GOAL: Lose 5 kilos and unlock Banging Bikini Goddess mode for beach-time bliss.
HABIT: Dragging your butt religiously out of bed every goddamn morning, at the crack of dawn to attend a crossfit class where your sadistic trainer takes a little too much pleasure in seeing you struggle to keep down your kale and chai seed breakfast smoothie after your 50th burpee.
What sounds sexier, the goal or the habit?
The image of your toned and bronzed body, resplendent in all its bikini glory obviously seems like the more motivating image. Few people spend any time picturing themselves as a sweaty, burpee-bashing, kale-crunching version of themselves (and who can blame them). It boils down to the enticing image of an end result that gets us excited.
Habits are long-term, repetitive actions that require a killer combo of dedication and discipline. There’s nothing glamourous about that statement is there? But habits hold the key to reaching our goals. They have a higher return on investment if you stick to them. Instead of focusing on singular goals rather spend your time developing underlying habits to get to those goals.
Habits are continuous, there’s no endpoint that needs to get reached. You have to stick with them until your body kicks into auto-pilot and you’re performing the desired action almost as second nature. Research shows that you only need about 30 days of consistent effort to cement a habit and have it installed your brain. Once you hit that 30 day mark, they have a higher chance of becoming an automatic function. By adopting supportive habits in relation to your goal, you start increasing the possibility and/or probability of you achieving them. Cementing congruent habits in efforts to achieve your goal might not be the groundbreaking (if not suspiciously convenient) life-hack you’ve been looking for but they sure do yield a more favourable outcome.
If you understand how to build underlying habits that lead to your intended goal and begin to become comfortable with the uncertainty, ambiguity and unpredictability of life then you’ll be able to better adapt and recalibrate your approach.