Goals are important. They are not just aspirations to attain, but also the generator of habits. This principle was revealed to me this year, as I tried a different approach to my goal-making. This past January, I set one goal for various aspects of my life that I wanted to improve - physical health, nutrition/diet, spiritual walk, education - and wrote them on a piece of paper that I posted above my desk. Each day, I forced myself to see them and as a result, act upon them. At the end of each month, I took a few minutes to reflect on the progress I made toward the goals, good or bad, and prepared the goal set for February. Wash, rinse, repeat.
After reviewing my progress from August, I realized that my goals were doing more than getting me to a milestone, they were creating new routines in my life. Many of my goals were to be better than I was the previous month, however 'better' was quantified. My goals uncovered an underlying mission - to be the best person I can be. Despite its simplicity, this was a great 'ah-ha' moment for me. I know what kind of person I want to be. All that is standing in the way of me actually becoming that person is a decision, or a set of decisions, that propel me in that direction. Those decisions ultimately create habits that work in my favor.
Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit, concludes that once an individual can master their habits, they can accomplish anything. (**Highly recommended reading for anyone who wants to understand the mechanics of habits and how to change them.**) For instance, if you want to become more organized, it's going to take more than a cursory decluttering session and purchasing plastic bins or baskets. You have to identify the habits that make you dis-organized and change them to ones that maintain organization. Willpower is a skill that must be exercised. Likewise, discipline is learned and will not come easily.
It's also important to remember there is not one single formula to change all habits - some are easy to change and others are difficult. (I am mainly speaking to the 21-day routine, which has failed me on numerous occasions.) The saying "old habits die hard" testifies to our resistance to change. It's all about making conscious decisions to override the unconscious ones. And no matter how minute, our choices dictate so much of our lives.
To make those choices easier, it helps to have a mission. As we determine the main purpose(s) for our lives, careers, roles and more, we are better able to set goals and procure habits that propel us toward it. Think back to all those new year's resolutions, those goals to lose/gain/stop/improve whatever was highlighted at the moment. But life is messy and unpredictable, despite our best laid plans. Priorities switch, obligations shift, emotions flare up, and motivation tested. The nature of these unknowns is why many businesses craft a mission statement: as markets and trends change, a company should always know its purpose. In the midst of all that uncertainty, a mission statement gives DIRECTION and reminds us of why we do what we do. So, when those inevitable challenges come, we can revise our goals so that we are able to stay on target.
Decartes famously wrote "I think, therefore I am." But I would amend his quote to this: "As I think, so I am." Not only do my thoughts confirm my existence, they dictate the parameters of it. Thoughts become Actions. Actions become Habits. Habits become Character. Character determines who you are.