If you want to achieve a goal, focus on habits.
Goals are simply accumulated habits.
The products of millions of tiny, daily decisions made and actions performed over an extended period of time.
For example, if your goal is to become a professional golfer, the only way to achieve it is to define the habits you must embody that will ultimately translate into that level of performance on the course.
Habits such as eating healthy, working out, hitting 100+ balls on the range, practicing putting and chipping for at least 30 minutes each, and playing at least 9 holes of golf — every day. 365 days a year. For years. A lot of years.
It’s easy to set goals. It’s a lot harder to ingrain habits. And even harder to stay committed to them.
To give a more tangible example of what it takes to become a professional golfer, let’s take a look at Tiger Woods’ daily routine — i.e. the daily habits he’s defined as the method for becoming (and staying) the #1 golfer in the world. Let’s also not forget he’s been playing golf since he was 2 years old. Meaning he’s been committed to some version of these habits for almost four decades:
6:30 a.m. — One hour of cardio. Choice between endurance runs, sprints or biking.
7:30 a.m. — One hour of lower weight training. 60-70 percent of normal lifting weight, high reps and multiple sets.
8:30 a.m. — High protein/low-fat breakfast. Typically includes egg-white omelet with vegetables.
9:00 a.m. — Two hours on the golf course. Hit on the range and work on swing.
11:00 a.m. — Practice putting for 30 minutes to an hour.
Noon — Play nine holes.
1:30 p.m. — High protein/low-fat lunch. Typically includes grilled chicken or fish, salad and vegetables.
2:00 p.m. — Three-to-four hours on the golf course. Work on swing, short game and occasionally play another nine holes.
6:30 p.m. — 30 minutes of upper weight training. High reps.
7:00 p.m. — Dinner and rest.
Intense, right? You be it is. And it has to be because the goals he sets for himself are intense (and to think that this schedule doesn’t even begin to highlight the millions of smaller habits and techniques that go into actually playing the game of golf: pre-shot routines, swinging a golf club, hitting chip or bunker shots, reading a green and hitting a putt, accounting for wind and changes in elevation, mental psychology, course management ect. ect. ect.).
Of course the goals we set for ourselves aren’t always going to be as as far-reaching as becoming the #1 player in the world at a given sport. But the method of achieving them is universal.
If you want to be a writer, then you need to develop the habit of writing every day.
If you want to be a brilliant designer, you need to have a daily habit of designing something every day.
If you want to be an incredible piano player, then you need to develop a daily habit of practicing every day.
If you want to be a great father/mother, then you need to develop the habit of being present and spending quality time with your kids every day.
There are no shortcuts.
Overnight successes don’t exist.
We all have to put in the work of defining and committing to the habits that add up to the people we want to be.
When we do, the goals have a magical way of working themselves out.
PS – One method I’ve been using lately to help ingrain new habits into my life is to use a simple spreadsheet as a Daily Habit Checklist. I list all my daily/weekly/monthly habits down the left hand column, the days of the month across the top, and then I simply check off each habit/action as I perform it throughout the day/week/month. It’s super simple, but it’s been a surprisingly effective tool for me.
Case in point: I’ve never flossed so regularly in all my life (like I said, not all goals in life are going to be far-reaching). After all these years of being lectured by my dentist about not flossing, who would have thought that simply listing it in a spreadsheet would change everything for me.