April 21 2022
A goal or a habit?
We had this discussion at home today, and it feels worth sharing here—though with a few details obscured for your own sakes :)
Oftentimes, we start on a pathway because we have a goal to achieve. An example would a weight-loss journey or a degree-based learning journey. You know what you want: to weigh X number of pounds or to complete Y diploma/certificate/degree. Those markers become the answer to whether or not your work is going well or going poorly. If it’s weight loss: did I lose a pound or not? Education: did I make an A or not?
After all, as the management mantra goes: you can only manage what you can measure, so you have to measurable deliverables or it’s no good. Right?
Well, right, some of the time.
After all, there is a time to need to make specific weight-loss drops. There are definitely moments that you need to be finishing a training course for your life goals. Or in other areas: you need to make X amount of money to pay off the car or you are starting a business and you need it to be profitable before you get evicted.
Goals are not bad things is what you need to hear me saying, and evaluating decisions against your goals is also not a bad thing. I am choosing, today, to not make a quick donut run because I have actually lost a pound and a donut run will undo that. Further, I have specific education requirements to complete so that I can finish my degree—just like the last two degrees!
However, in the long run, these goal-oriented processes should produce something different from simple completion of the goals. They should produce life changes that look like habits.
For example, many of you may know people who attained a level of education and then just…quit learning. All of their thought patterns and learning base, even in their field of preference, just stops with the year of their graduation. (Which, practically-speaking, means it stopped wherever their professors stopped. And if it’s a school that engendered a ‘you’re done learning’ mindset, then those professors probably stopped learning a generation before.)
Or someone who lost a truckload of weight before the high school reunion but then packed it back on the next year. Maybe you pushed hard to complete your first creative project like a painting or a sewing idea.
The question now is this: do you want to have done it that one time, or is this something you want to continue? Did completing your PhD make you someone who wrote one thing one time, or do you convert it into a lifelong habit of writing and learning?
Do you say “I lost my weight” or do you become someone with healthier habits?
If it is all about the goal, then the habits will always wrap themselves around the goal. Weight loss is a great goal, but you can lose weight in unhealthy manners—personally and socially. I’m a Baptist, after all, and we like to eat together. I could refuse to eat anything but nut grub trail mix for a month and drop weight fast, but who would I be living my life around to do that? Not many Baptists. So when I get down to my goal weight, I toss the trail mix and get back to deep-fried and covered with gravy…and the cycle continues.
Instead, I need the habit of eating healthier and, if deep-fried feeds the soul today, maybe going ahead with it. Because living a long-term healthy habit life is better than being 10 pounds lighter next week.
Same with learning: I will finish this degree. But if the long-term effect is not that I now research, study, learn, and share on an ongoing basis, it’s a dead-end.
You would do well to consider your goals and whether or not they help you develop better lifetime habits. Maybe reconsider how you are evaluating your progress: did I stick with healthy choices this week even though the scale didn’t move? Am I making space to be creative even if I didn’t make a retail painting?
Am I blogging every day to make the writing habit start up again or did I stress about a lack of followers and so I gave up?