At some point, a lot of people have tried to build a new habit such as exercising more often, eating healthier food or reading more books. They had good intentions. They wanted to improve themselves and by so doing change their lives. After a few days of going to the gym or eating vegetables for lunch, they gradually slipped back into their old lifestyles. They might feel guilty about this but eventually convince themselves they gave it their best shot. Maybe they just aren’t the reading type. What went wrong? Instead of taking small steps, the people in our example wanted to take a giant leap.
Building a new habit isn’t easy. When you start to build a new habit, you are making a commitment to change the trajectory of your life. Naturally, you will face resistance. Old habits die hard. If you eat six chocolate bars and a cake each day, your mind will rebel if you switch to a vegetable only healthy diet the next day. You have spent years reinforcing your old habits. You will need patience to discard them in favour of a new one.
The greatest disservice our love for quick soundbites has done is create the illusion that people who reach the top of their game did so within a very short period of time. We get to see pictures of Olympic athletes as they cross the finish line. What we don’t see is the years prior to that where they trained their body to peak performance. If an athlete has their golden moment when all the cameras go off. It’s because they had the patience to do what many will not.
I recently read about the 21/90 rule. If you are not familiar with it already, it says it takes 21 days to build a new habit and 90 days to build a lifestyle. I’m a bit wary about assigning hard and fast numbers to habit formation. People are different. Every one might require a different number of days to form a new habit.
Goals are meant to help you grow. In order for growth to happen, there must be change. Therefore, an ideal goal should be one that changes you. It’s normal to fear change. There is comfort in staying within the known. That is why you will always find proponents of this is the way it has always been done philosophy. However, if you seek to become a better version of you over time, you must learn to set goals that:
Challenge you to improve
The ideal goal is one that is just beyond your comfort zone. It should be tough enough that you can’t get it done without trying just a little bit harder but not so tough enough that you lose hope and give up. Picture it this way. If you were teaching a four year old how to be a goalkeeper and kept kicking the ball towards him with all your strength, that child will soon give up football (if you don’t damage him first). The ideal thing to do will be to kick the ball towards the child with just enough force that the child can find it fun and actually react to. If it’s too easy, the child will get bored. If it’s just challenging enough, the child will want to try harder. If it’s too hard, the child will give up and cry.