I have always set goals on new years or my birthdays, starting with the highest motivation and then eventually discontinuing in less than a month. I have been guilty of attempting goals like read one book every week, exercise every day, eat healthy food, lose weight, and many more! Also, I have successfully failed at each of them to restart the next year and fail again.
You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.James Clear
The inherent problem in setting goals is that they are not our identity. If we don’t eat healthy food regularly and suddenly decide to start it from the next day, then it is not our identity. We are trying to force ourselves into something that we are not. Instead, if we focus on developing habits slowly and steadily, it will go a long way in achieving our goals. Secondly, if we only focus on goals then what will happen once our goal is reached? There will be void, and we will again feel restless. Forcing ourselves to do something which we are not will soon fall out. Forming habits gives us a new identity, and we can stick to this new reality. James Clear has written a book on this topic (Atomic Habits), and if you haven’t read it, then you should definitely look at it. Below are some of the quotes from that book:
The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.James Clear, Atomic Habits
If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.James Clear, Atomic Habits
This is the meaning of the phrase atomic habits—a regular practice or routine that is not only small and easy to do, but also the source of incredible power; a component of the system of compound growth.James Clear, Atomic Habits
Meanwhile, improving by 1 percent isn’t particularly notable—sometimes it isn’t even noticeable—but it can be far more meaningful, especially in the long run. The difference a tiny improvement can make over time is astounding. Here’s how the math works out: if you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done. Conversely, if you get 1 percent worse each day for one year, you’ll decline nearly down to zero. What starts as a small win or a minor setback accumulates into something much more.James Clear, Atomic Habits
I have started embedding this concept of forming habits rather than focussing on goals. Now instead of concentrating on going to the gym, I walk every day for 45 mins and do 6 pushups! I am not focusing on my weight at all but trying to change my identity. I say to myself that I am a person who walks every day, does pushups every day. Merely saying this does a massive change in my identity. It may sound silly to you but do try this bit, and I guarantee that it will surely work! While starting to walk consistently, in initial days it felt boring and I had to put an effort just to go out. Slowly I started enjoying my walk as it gives me time to reflect and now I unconsciously go for a walk every day at 4:30 pm. I have also made it easy for me. There is no decision to make, it’s as simple as my walk time is 4:30-5:15. It has become a part of my routine, an integral aspect of my identity. If I don’t walk, it feels like something is not right. What change did I do? Just going for a walk and saying to myself that I am a person who walks every day. It amazingly helped me add a new part to my identity.
Similarly, instead of changing my whole diet for eating healthy foods, I started eating boiled vegetables for lunch every alternate day. It wasn’t a massive change but impactful enough to get me towards this new identity. Again I started saying that I am a person who eats healthy food. I started with vegetables that I like viz. beans, carrots, chickpeas (chole), boiled
In financial habits, the day my salary comes every month I transfer a fixed amount to a liquid fund and some amount to my brokerage account. This way I first keep some money aside which is necessary for financial independence and then in the rest of the amount I manage my expenses. Not so long ago I used to first spend as much as I can and then whatever was remaining used to go towards investing. This isn’t very effective as I always had reasons to spend money. Instead, focusing on taking some cash out the day salary comes and moving it to your investing related accounts helped me a lot! We can have it invested in mutual funds or put it in an RD account or whatever that helps us to get started with this habit of saving money. After we have moved our money that is paid our future self by investing we are free to manage expenses out of the remaining salary. This will go a long way in forming excellent financial habits which are rewarding in the long term.
Does this mean we shouldn’t have goals? Not necessarily! It’s good to have broad-level goals but don’t overdo it! Focus on good habits however small they might be. Over a long period, every good habit compounds to become massively rewarding and every bad habit compounds to become massively destructive. The choice is ours!