Habits are critical to becoming who you want to be, but goals can be just as important

I just watched an interview/discussion with Tim Ferriss and Leo Babauta about goals. Check it out, its worth the 18 minutes. [Seriously, click the link and watch the interview, this post will still be here afterward]. I agree with much of what Babauta said – I really see the importance of not getting lost in the long-term vision, and in the importance of enjoying “now”, but I had one issue that I’m not sure how to resolve. Near the end of the discussion he make the following statement:

“A lot of people are driven to improve themselves and improve their lives, to reach and achieve these goals because they are dissatisfied with who they are and where they are, and they just don’t like life, and they think it can be made… they can become the next Tim Ferriss if they reach all these goals.”

I see myself in the person who is unhappy where I am, because my engineering career is forcing me to conform to a type of person that I am not, and is making it hard for me to be the parent I want to be (due to lack of time and stress from the situation). Babauta’s personal story consists of him getting out of debt, an unhealthy lifestyle (over-weight, smoker, over-stressed from work), and an unhealthy job. I wonder if he would go back to that person he was to tell that person to not have goals, but focus only on small habits?

If the goal is to “be the next Tim Ferriss” – I agree that’s a bad goal. Its never good to be exclusively focused on being someone else. But, if the goal is to change your life so that you are able to live honestly with yourself and support your family in a way you feel confident with, I wonder if that is a bad goal? Obviously this goal shouldn’t be pursued to miss out on the good that may exist now despite the challenges, but I really get angry with the suggestion of giving up goals, because that language says to me its about giving up ambition to make the changes that I desire, that will allow me to live in better alignment with myself.

I like how Babauta talks about his perspective of goals vs. habits in his most recent post, saying not to focus on achieving goals, but to commit to habits instead. I can see this as a powerful shift if your goals are around things that are habit based – such as being more physically/emotionally healthy. I’m focusing on making Meditation a habit for January, committing to meditating twice a day, and I have a calendar where I am going to check off and track every time I meditate. But, I have bigger goals this year that are not habit based, and will require focused attention and work beyond just changing my habits. I think there is something in the middle, in times when a goal is focused on completing a task because it will serve you. At that point, the goal is worthwhile as it gives you direction and helps guide your actions. Its the habits that will help keep those actions in line with who you want to be, and how you want to live.

So, with that in mind – look at your goals you have for this year. What are the goals where the outcome is a result of specific behavioral changes? Do you want to loose weight, exercise more, meditate more, read/learn more? Name the habit, and make short term stakes to take on this habit. If the goal is around something like “being a better parent” – what’s the habit you could take up to make this into something actionable? I’ve already shared that I’m planning to read a chapter a week of a parenting book, so that I can be constantly learning and adding tools to my kit as a parent (so I’m focused on the habit, rather than the specific outcome, as I don’t know how to fully define being a “better parent” other than to be saying yes more, to be finding compromise more, and to be yelling less). But some of my other goals are specific tasks that need to be done, not habits to be taken up.

Don’t get lost in the goals. Don’t miss out on your present circumstances which likely have a lot to be grateful for even if you are dealing with significant challenges. There is immense value in the present, in walking away from your work to have a pillow fight with your child, or to enjoy a coffee with your wife. Keep track of what you have control over, and make the choices to be the person you want to be now, rather than assume you have to wait until you’ve reached the goals to be that person. But, make decisions based on the goals, both the long term, and the short term goals. I think there’s a balance to be found, and you can only find it through experimentation.

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