BIG; Behavior Identity Goals


Monday, January 1, 2024 at 7:20:19 AM Eastern Standard Time

Much of the ambitious world is goal-oriented but is not very expert at achieving goals. That is to say, most people fail at reaching their goals, and no amount of goal setting will help them, for there are no reasonable goals.  Today, being the first day of the year, is the day many of these unreasonable goals are declared and immediately begin to unravel. There are two large reasons.  The first one is human beings are terrible at estimating how much time and effort it takes to get things done. There would not be a population explosion if we were. But the second is equally serious. We wish for and set the wrong goals.

It is so easy to contemplate working diligently daily on a goal, but how hard is it to create an automatic behavior, also called a habit? Without habituating appropriate behaviors to seriously shrink the overhead associated with these behaviors, they will always require more of you than you have to give. And although you can have infinite goals, you can not have infinite habits, for they take time every day.

So, the question becomes what habits are needed to achieve what goals, and the only conscious answer comes from the desired identity. Who do you want to be? This is not the same thing as what are your goals. This is more like what framework you want to live within. Seriously, your goal can not be to be rich, to be healthy, or to be well-traveled.  None of these are specific enough, nor do they have meaningful time frames associated with them. What is your desired identity, and how realistic is this? I encounter people wanting to scale up huge businesses every day in order to become rich. Rarely do they understand that you have to make $1000 before you make a million and that you have to make $10 before you make a thousand. They become caught up in the dream of scaling before they have any traction at all. If you can not deliver any value to anyone, you do not have any traction, and dreaming about scaling is a waste of time.

The real question is what do you really want to spend your time on because it is not very likely you can create a habit of doing something you hate. If you want to be a world-class swimmer but do not like getting in the pool every morning, rain or shine, cold or hot, then you are not going to become a world-class swimmer. If you want to be a great musician but do not like playing music, it is not going to happen, no matter what goals you set.

Behavior must be derived from identity, and if you have no idea who you are or who you want to be, then the habits you create will rarely be as conscious as they need to be to stick. Say you want to be an author with a pile of published books. Do you like writing a lot? Do you like writing enough to be alone a lot of, if not most of your time? If you do not derive pleasure or meaning from writing, it is hard to imagine it becoming a habit, so setting the goal of writing a book this year is meaningless. There needs to be some consistency between your goals, habits, and identity, and if they are not compatible, you are wasting your time and your life. Of course, you can stumble into an identity or a career, and in fact, most people do.

But from my perspective, beginning the year with a large pile of goals is a completely unreasonable and usually demoralizing waste of time. It makes much more sense to begin with a very small pile of habits, like one or perhaps two. And consider these extremely carefully. Are these habits derived from who you already are or who you want to be? If you are already going to the gym every morning and decide to add ten minutes to your workout, this is reasonable.  If you have not been to the gym in five years and declare you will go every Tuesday and Thursday for two hours, well, good luck with that. It is not very likely to happen unless perhaps the gym is next to the coffee shop you like to hang out in from 8 to 9 every morning, and you can convince yourself to get up two hours earlier a few days per week.

Do not bother to declare goals until you have derived some habits from who you really want to be and are already showing some evidence of being. This is called identity. Sure, you have one, and it may not be the one you want. So what are you going to do about it? What new habits will get you there? Focus on habits, not on goals, for they are meaningless until you have established the types of habits that will lead you to your goals. 

This is really BIG. Behaviors derived from Identity before worrying about goals. Every day you complete a habit, you are voting for yourself and your future. Every day you miss a goal, you are beating yourself up. Which would you rather do? Vote for yourself or beat yourself up? Focus on habits, not goals.