I have watched dozens of patients and athletes at HRCF set goals and fail to achieve more than anyone involved would like to admit. I personally have failed gloriously in achieving my own goals, as well. After reading "Atomic Habits," by James Clear, for the 3rd time, I now understand why:
Clear offers a different approach: Rather than setting a goal and chasing it, define the person you want to become and develop systems that help support that person. He argues that identity-based goal setting (i.e. becoming the person you want to be) is much more likely to achieve the desired outcome (i.e. the goal), not only once, but repeatedly. Getting the identity involved with goals involves the ego in the process far more than just focusing on the goal. And it turns out, we all have egos, whether we want to admit it or not. Beyond just the argument of ego, he offers a practical reason for identity-based goal setting by stating that goals only solve problems once if at all, whereas systems, which are needed to support the identity, solve problems repeatedly. Here are examples to help differentiate what this looks like in real life:
Goal Setting Example: Nancy sets a goal to lose 10 pounds. She decides to use the Whole 30 approach to help achieve this goal, which is a temporary system in that she is unwilling to eat according to the Whole 30 for the remainder of her life. She ends up losing 5 pounds in the 1st 2 weeks, which she is thrilled about. However, 2.5 weeks into the Whole 30, she misses a deadline at work, and falls off the metaphorical wagon by going to a fast food restaurant that evening to self-sooth with food, considering she did not have time to food prep for that week with the looming deadline. She ends up stopping the Whole 30 after feeling de-motivated due to the interruption of progress and the stress at work and puts the weight back on over the next 2 weeks.
Identity Change Example: In a parallel universe, a different Nancy decides she wants to lose 10 pounds. She is inspired by her friend, Jackie, who has always exercised and eaten well (The original Nancy in the 1st universe did not have Jackie as a friend). Nancy decides that she wants to become the type of person who consistently eats well and exercises. Learning from observing Jackie's behaviors, she decides to start small by working out for 15 minutes per day and food prepping 1 meal per day during her work week. She uses a calendar to mark of the days she successfully accomplishes these 2 behaviors. Marking the days on the calendar, consistently provides her with a sense of satisfaction that she is casting votes towards becoming more like Jackie, but in her own way. Even when this Nancy misses the same deadline at work, she only falters with exercise and food prep for 1 day because these tasks did not take up as much time and energy as the Whole 30 and she looked forward to getting back on the wagon with marking the next day on the calendar.
Overall, these behaviors feel achievable to Nancy, and she progresses them in the next month to exercising for 30 minutes and food prepping 2 meals per day, continuing to use her calendar as a reward system for the behavior. Eventually, the actual act of food prepping and exercise becomes a reward, as she realizing in those moments that she is casting votes towards becoming the type of person who eats well and exercises. She is well on her way to making a lifestyle change.
This quote stuck out with me the most from Clear's book and speaks to the difference between the 2 Nancys:
"You don't rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems."
What are the systems you have in place? Do they serve your goals? If the do not, then what is a different system you can set-up that will serve you goals? Or rather, help you become the person you want to be?
If you would like to learn more about this topic, consider the following sources: