Let’s take the most cliche and universal New Year’s Resolution of the bunch: “I want to lose 20 lbs and look sexy for summer.”
I think almost everyone has had this resolution at some point. In most cases, you recover from your New Year’s Eve binge on January 1st, sign up for the gym on January 2nd, force yourself to go 5-6 times over the ensuing months mostly out of guilt because you spent so much damn money and you feel like you should use it. But you have no idea what you’re doing. And my god, look at all of the skinny sweaty people here. Wow, I feel so lazy just watching them. Can this treadmill go any slower? I’m tired. I want a burger. Or maybe ice cream. Or maybe an ice cream burger.
Diet goals in life: The real reason you go to the gym: so you can eat a burger made out of ice cream.
The real reason you go to the gym: so you can eat a burger made out of ice cream.
Aaaaaaaand it’s February 1st and you’re back to body-melding yourself into the fabric of your sofa, watching awful Maury Povich reruns, and wondering how is it that all of your clothes seem to be shrinking at the same time.
Yes. The struggle is real.
The problems with the conventional pursuit of goals in life (i.e., new year’s resolutions) are well-documented at this point.
People tend to rely too much on self-discipline and eschew forming useful habits. People tend to bite off more than they can chew, so to speak, setting goals that are far above their ability or knowledge level and then becoming frustrated when they make little to no progress towards them. People are tempted to take “shortcuts” to achieve a goal that may actually sabotage themselves in the long-run, like starving yourself to lose weight, or cheating to get a good grade on a test.2
That’s all true. But I’m here to suggest something else.
“Lose 20 lbs by summer” is a shitty goal to begin with. That’s because it’s borne from the same spending mindset that keeps people broke — or in this case, keeps them overweight. They view life in the overly-simplistic terms of “Do a lot of X, eventually get Y.”
Just like forcing yourself to work and save for 20 years is unlikely to get you rich, forcing yourself to go to the gym dozens of times is unlikely to make you lose much weight and keep it off. Goals like this require an intense amount of effort, yet they never seem to “stick.” Eventually, your energy and discipline run out and you fall right back to the same person you were, except now you feel defeated.
That’s because it’s better to invest your limited focus and energy on building habits rather than specific goals. Just like you want to take the money you earn and put it to work for you, you want to take the effort you expend in changing yourself and put it to work changing you as well.
People usually don’t focus on habits because goals sound much sexier in our minds. They feel more motivating in the moment when we think about them. There’s a clear image of a certain result in our head and that gets us excited.
Habits, on the other hand, don’t sound as sexy in our heads. They’re long-term and repetitive, which makes them seem boring. And there’s no clear image one can imagine for “going to the gym every morning for a year” or “only drinking alcohol on weekends.” You don’t get this rush of inspiration imagining yourself eating salad for lunch every day. You don’t lay in bed at night fantasizing about flossing every morning.
Goals are a one-time bargain. They are the spending mindset. “I will spend X amount of energy to receive Y reward.” Habits are an investing mindset. Habits require one to invest one’s efforts for a little while and then take the rewards of that effort and re-invest them in a greater effort to form even better habits.
This is why so many people who lose weight end up gaining it back (and then some). They focus on singular goals in life rather than developing underlying habits. So when their energy and discipline runs out (and it always does because self-discipline is limited) they balloon back to their original selves.
With habits, on the other hand, there’s no single endpoint that must be reached. The only goal of habits is that the goal is never over, it’s a simple daily or weekly repetition that one does until muscle memory and brain chemistry kick in and you’re now performing the desired action on autopilot. With goals, every day you go back to the gym feels harder. With habits, after a while, it feels harder to not go to the gym than it does to go.
Therefore, it is a better investment of one’s finite energy and discipline to focus on building habits. It’s fine to still have goals. Hell, I’d like to lose 20 lbs by summer. But that’s not what my mind will focus on this year. Instead, I will look at the habits that underlie that goal, that would make that goal an inevitability — eating better, walking more often instead of taking an Uber, developing a workout plan — and then focus on those. The weight loss then naturally occurs as a side effect. #goals #habits #lifestyle