GOAL SOBRIETY & HABIT FORMATION
Do you love setting goals and imagining what your life will be like when you achieve them?
And then do you spend so much time living in this imagined future that you skip the part where you actually have to, you know, build the habits required to achieve that goal?
If so, you’re not alone. But you’re also missing the crucial ingredient for success.
Setting a goal is exciting. It’s like a new love affair – you imagine how amazing it’s going to feel to have the goal accomplished. To have made all that money, to have run that marathon, to have become that perfect mom, to have written that novel. Whether the goal is specific or vague, it’s fun to fantasize about how amazing it’s going to feel to achieve it.
But this is what I call “goal intoxication.”
Just like with a new partner, we expect the goal to deliver the warm fuzzy feelings to us. We think the goal will make us feel good forever. We get high on the fantasy of having completed the goal.
And unlike in relationships, this phase can last forever, because there is no shortage of goals you can dream up. You can jump from goal to goal, dabbling in one until reality starts to creep in and you skip over to another. You can stay drunk on your future potential forever if you want to.
But doing so has a cost – because when you are goal-intoxicated, you actually undermine your ability to achieve them.
By clinging so tightly to the “endpoint” of having achieved your goal that you completely bypass the work it would take to get there.
If you’re committed to actually changing and growing in your life, the work is actually more important than the finish line.
That’s why I invite you to try goal sobriety on for size.
Goal sobriety is when we shift from being infatuated with the endpoint of our goals, and whatever we think we’ll get to feel then – and focus instead on the habits we’ll need to develop along the way.
I know, I know. “Habit formation” seems way less titillating than getting off on the fantasy of becoming a millionaire and opening an animal rescue in France.
But it’s where the true magic is. Because habit formation is where real change happens.
Let’s say that you want to exercise consistently, so you set a goal to go to the gym for 45 minutes three times a week.
Goal-intoxication would have you focus entirely on perfect adherence to this goal, with the expectation that you can only feel proud, happy, and excited when you actually achieve it perfectly.
And so when you miss a workout, or don’t have it in you to do the full 45 minute workout, your goal-intoxicated brain will start thinking in all-or-nothing terms.
“It’s not worth it, you’ve already failed, just give up on today’s workout and do it perfectly tomorrow instead.”
This is because you’ve oriented yourself around the content of the goal as though that’s what matters, rather than the process of building the habit of consistently moving your body.
And of course, the more you think in these extreme terms, the more likely you are to fall short of your own standards and give up entirely.
Goal intoxication will have you thinking that taking imperfect action is basically the same as doing nothing.
But goal sobriety means that you understand the point of a goal is never to achieve it perfectly. The point of a goal is to build the habit of taking consistent, imperfect action toward something you want to create. It’s about shifting your beliefs about yourself and the world, and building an identity as someone who consistently builds habits in service of their goal. And when you build that identity? You can create anything in your life.
THAT is way more important than whether you work out for 10 minutes or 40.
Just look at the impact of goal sobriety on your life beyond the short-term.
Sure, if you’re only looking at the next three months of your life, it may seem important to achieve your goal perfectly.
But what happens when you take a 5-year or 10-year view of your goal?
Over 5 years, does it really matter whether you spent December working out for 15 minutes instead of 45? Or does it matter more that you created the HABIT of going to the gym when you said you would?
Which is going to have more impact on your life: Taking consistent imperfect action for a decade, or clinging so tightly to taking “perfect” action toward your goal that you give up after six weeks because in your mind, anything less than perfection is worthless?
Creating new habits is how you actually change your life. To do that, you have to be willing to trade goal intoxication for habit formation.
The process of achieving a goal is actually not all that sexy. Habit formation can feel tedious and boring and difficult. It doesn’t sweep you off your feet like the fantasy of goal achievement does. Because real commitment isn’t about fun and excitement. It’s about showing up for yourself imperfectly, over and over again, in service of your dreams.
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