Lots of people misunderstand what exactly goal setting can do for them. I think Seth Godin sums it up perfectly here:

Your audacious life goals are fabulous. We’re proud of you for having them. But it’s possible that those goals are designed to distract you from the thing that’s really frightening you – the shift in daily habits that would mean a re-invention of how you see yourself.

- Seth Godin

We all have our big, fat audacious goals. Me? I’d like to be the next Hugh Howey. I want loads of readers hungry for the next part of my story. And the royalties that would come with a best seller wouldn’t hurt either. And when do I want it? Now! But the sad truth is I’m not going to get it unless I do the small daily steps that lead to that big, audacious success.

If Not Goals, Then What?

Habits, not goals, are the more direct route to productivity and success. What exactly are habits? Habits are something that you don’t have to think about. You just do them. Taking your conscious mind out of the equation makes bad habits very hard to change and good habits very hard to develop. So, why bother with habits? Simple, once you make a good habit yours, it’s no longer a chore that your subconscious mind targets for procrastination. In Charles Duhigg’s book, “The Power of Habit” he talks about what he calls the Habit Loop:

  • Cue: the trigger, what causes you to do the behavior
  • Routine: the behavior itself
  • Reward: then benefit you get from the behavior

The Golden Rule: Do This to Change Bad Habits

The most important concept from Duhigg’s book is his Golden Rule of Habit Change. The Golden Rule says the most effective way to change a habit is to keep the Cue and the Reward the same. Only change the Routine.

I wanted to apply this to developing the habit of writing every morning. How does that happen? First, I had to make space in my life for some extra writing. I wanted to write every morning when I get out of bed (before my daughter gets up). The old morning habit:

  • Cue: 6:30 am, time to get up
  • Routine: drink coffee and stare out the window, 45 minutes
  • Reward: caffeine and relaxation

That’s a pretty comfortable habit. I decided to start small to maximize my chance for success. Here’s the first change:

  • Cue: 6:30am, time to get up
  • Routine: write for 15 minutes on previously outline material
  • Reward: caffeine and relaxation

I was skeptical that I would be able to carry this out. I like my coffee. Coffee in the morning is not optional. But, following the Duhigg’s Golden Rule, I didn’t do something crazy like try and wake up 30 minutes earlier to get my extra writing time. Let’s face it, 6:30 is early enough, don’t you think?

It Turns Out I Can Write the Words AND Drink the Coffee

Making sure that I had something outlined made writing for 15 minutes pretty easy. There were no plots to ponder, no places to research, just words to write. I could do that! Then I kept my reward the same, my beloved coffee in my favorite chair. But a funny thing happened on the way to the comfy chair. My “required” 45 minutes of coffee time in the morning was reduced. I found myself ready to start the next part of my day in more like 15 minutes. Eventually, I painlessly transitioned this time to writing. So, I harvested 30 minutes of “free” writing time from my day!

It turns out that morning is a peak brain power time for me and for most other people. That 30 minutes of writing is usually my best of the day. That time writing with no external influence has become crucial to my work. Actually, any period right after a recharge/rest period is good time to do your more challenging work for the day. If you are considering transitioning a less desirable habit into something more productive, I encourage you to look at your morning. You may be surprised, like I was, to find you already have the time you need for your new endeavor.

Featured photo credit: Coffee/David Leggett via flickr.com

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