The worst thing you could ever do to a goal or dream is to keep planning it forever.
Every month, you get a burst of inspiration, pull out the dry erase boards, and map out all your big plans.
You follow through on them for maybe a day or two. Then, momentum slows down.
You go back to the drawing board and keep reading books and tweaking your plans.
Before you realize it, months, if not years, have gone by and you’re still in the planning and tweaking phase.
I know this because I’ve been there too many times. There are some areas in my life that are incredibly easy to map out a plan and then take action on, and sometimes projects seem to get stuck in development hell until the end of time.
Do you think Theodore Roosevelt sat around, looking at his planners, dreaming of accomplishing things? No. He was a man that focused on action which is why his life was so incredibly full.
The importance of habits
Lately, I’ve been reading Atomic Habits by James Clear and it’s been one of the best books on how important it is to take your goals and turn them into systems.
He poses an important idea in the book: If you were to only follow your system, would you hit your goals anyway?
If not, that means your system and habits aren’t good enough.
For example, lets say your goal is to lose 15 lbs. If you’re not keeping track of your food and going to the gym, you’re not going to hit that goal, no matter how much you want to.
The thing about habits and systems is that they’re also mindless. You should be able to do them with ease and fit them into your schedule.
In my career, the only way I’ve been able to make it as a freelance writer is simply due to the fact that writing is a habit for me. I still get writers block and some days the words don’t flow as easy as others, but sitting down and getting it done is what I’ve trained myself to do.
Outlining your habits and systems
If you’re going to set a goal, you need to break it down into the habits and systems you need in place before hitting the goal.
Continuing with the gym example, I’d go even further and say you need your workout outfit laid out the night before. You need your gym bag packed and your workout routine entered into your phone.
There are action steps and systems within every single goal that can help make the process easier.
If you think your goal doesn’t have a habit or system, you’re wrong. There’s always something you can do to get closer to a goal on a consistent basis.
Even when it came to building my business, there was no set dedicated habit that made it happen, but just getting into the habit of working on it while also building systems to make things easier helped and is one of the key reasons my business is still alive years later.
The thing that keeps people from doing this is that habits aren’t sexy. Dreaming of having a six-pack is much more enticing than thinking about the number of times you’ll have to turn down extra snacks at dinner.
Developing discipline and grit
There are few goals out there that are easy enough to make happen without any effort. However, the idea that we have to power through 24/7 even when it’s hard is just as ridiculous.
Building habits is definitely hard, but the more you do them the easier they become.
You’ve probably heard of Jerry Seinfeld’s calendar for habit building. Although the story is disputed whether he actually said that, the gist is that he took a big monthly wall calendar and put a big X on the days when he wrote. After a while, he had a chain of X’s and he didn’t want to break it.
You can also approach your goals with time-blocking. Setting apart one dedicated chunk of time to getting things done and focusing with full intensity, like Roosevelt did.
If you’re not a person who follows a schedule or is particularly disciplined when it comes to your life, it’s going to take a learning curve.
Expecting yourself to execute on your habits perfectly every time is not realistic and is just going to lead to you beating yourself up and falling harder off the wagon.
When you expect failure, you can plan to get around it. “Oh I missed twice this week, great, that was expected!” as if failure was part of the plan all along.
Sitting around beating yourself up is a waste of everyone’s time. I know a ton of people who beat themselves up every second of every day and instead of it motivating them it just ruins their confidence slowly but surely.
Some days life gets in the way, but if you’re working hard to keep yourself accountable, that’s all you can ask from yourself.
On the days we feel motivated, it’s easy to take on extra work and crush it. However, on our bad days we simply fall into our habits. If your habits are video games and sleeping all day, that’s what you’re going to fall back to.
If your habits help you and progress you toward your goals, even in the smallest way, you’ve done an excellent job.
The people around you who seem to continue to progress year after year probably have rock-solid habits and systems to help them grow.
They are in the habit of going to the gym. They have a system to network with people who can help their career. They make a habit of going on a set number of dates each week so they can meet someone they want to be in a relationship with.
Taking action steps first
The next time you feel the urge to bust out the planners and map out your big goals, start by taking action. Just take action on anything small you possibly can.
Want a goal of getting in shape? Go to the sink and chug water.
This seems silly, but in the long run, it’s going to train your mind to value taking action on an idea as soon as it’s in your mind.
Action will always beat out naval gazing, and with the right system and habits hitting your goals will quickly become second nature.