purposeful habits
Blog Post

Creating Purposeful Habits

How are you going with your new year resolutions for 2020 so far? Research shows that 25% of people abandon new years resolutions within a week. A way to help combat this, is abandoning the idea of ‘resolutions’ in favour of purposeful habits.

There is a large body of research on goal setting and habits that provides insights into why there is such a big failure rate, and why focussing on habits is more effective. Dr Arianna Uhalde and Dr Benjamin Houltberg research motivation and found that we need to be thinking about the purpose of our goals, rather than just the goals themselves.

Re-frame challenge as opportunity for personal growth.

Think about what it is that you truly want: what your purpose is. Ultimately, you will only ever achieve broader resolutions through specific purposeful habits – practicing steps that will take you closer to achieving your goal(s).

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Here are 5 strategies you can implement to dig into these questions of what you want, what your purpose is, how to create purposeful habits, and what your goals will be and your roadmap moving forward into 2020.

1. What do you actually want, and why?

First think about what it is you actually WANT, and then dig a little deeper into the ‘why’.

So an example: you may want a holiday. Okay. Why do you want a holiday? Is it because you’re craving emotional connection and time with your partner and children? Is it because you’re really not enjoying work and want to be able to look forward to a break from it? Is it because there’s a particular place you’ve dying to explore? When you dig into the primary want behind the goal, it can help to then strategize a plan to get there.

Considering a ‘why’ behind a desire may even prompt you to consider other goals and intentions that can help serve your needs and desires in other, smaller and more tangible ways throughout the year. So if you’re wanting that time for emotional connection as a family – are there ways you could scaffold to create this week by week as you work towards that goal of a holiday?

2. Set goals. Multiple.

Then set your goal – ideally goals. Dr Carla Marie Manly a clinical psychologist says that the psyche can become overwhelmed when presented with one major goal. Which is interesting, isn’t it? This idea that sometimes having tunnel vision on just ONE goal can actually make it more daunting and less likely to achieve.

So what we want – is to have several goals. Or break that one larger goal into separate and more tangible goals that will inch you closer and closer to that bigger one, through embedding purposeful habits into your life. It is also empowering and motivating when you set really achievable goals and this sense of reward and pride can help propel you forward. The ‘SMART’ guide to goal setting can be a helpful way of constructing your goals.

  • Specific: for example, ‘being healthy’ is really subjective. Get specific. Quit smoking. Or walk daily. Or eat something green at every meal.
  • Measurable: so quantify your resolution. Have it as something you can actually measure so then you can recognise when you have actually achieved your goal
  • Attainable: be realistic. Reading a book a week might not be realistic for you if you’re not reading at all right now. Try one a month. Or if you don’t exercise at all currently it might be unrealistic to say you’ll ran a marathon this year.
  • Relevant: keep it relevant – not only to your priorities but also to your values.
  • Time-Sensitive: actually give yourself a specific time-frame and break your goal down at least month by month. Of course you give yourself some compassion and flexibility, but ultimately you will not achieve the year-long goal if you don’t get a move on your daily to-do list. It’s always about the one next step that you can take.

3. Form your purposeful habits

Once you’ve developed your goals, you then develop your habit formation that you will create to achieve these goals. So thinking about each specific goal – what habit are you going to put in place that will help you achieve this goal?

Habits ideally need to be part of your everyday life. They need to be built into your routine. They need to be something relatively easy and realistic and ideally something that you enjoy. You’re unlikely to continue something as a habit if you get no sense of reward, satisfaction, or enjoyment from it.

Habit also needs to include carving out time, space, support, and location. If your goal is to write 500 words a day, WHEN will you actually do this? How will you set yourself up for success? Habits are all about consistency and without matching your goal up with a habit formation, it will be very difficult to see it through to fruition.

Lalley et al found with their research participants, that missing one opportunity to perform a habit forming behaviour did not affect the overall habit formation process.

4. Plan for your failure

Changing our lives through goal setting and forming purposeful habits is of course about consistency, but it’s also about resilience and self-forgiveness. That’s why this next step is about anticipating failure. Because failure is part of your success.

Flip your narrative on failure and see it as actually likely an integral part of you achieving your goals.

Everyone experiences failure.

Failure propels self-evaluation and growth.

Failure keeps us accountable.

Failure is part of life.

It’s also an inevitability with goals that are year-long because you know ‘life’ will get in the way, in various ways… Illness, challenge, relationship issues… Especially if you have kids or have caregiving responsibilities. You had a bad day? A bad week? Fine – accept that. Be with that. Actually see it as GOOD.

See your challenge an opportunity for further growth. Don’t let it form part of a negative self-talk narrative about how you’re failing or can’t do this or may as well give it all in and away not bother. No – don’t self-sabotage. Just keep going. It’s all about your one next step.

5. Celebrate and embrace the present moment

Lastly, celebrate. Being able to celebrate means recognising when you’ve had a ‘win’. When you are proud of yourself. This means that your goals need to be measurable and something that you can hold yourself to accountability for. When you feel you’re getting closer to something you’ve been working towards – do something for yourself that feels particularly nourishing and replenishing.

Be kind to yourself and come from the same place of compassion, empathy, and gentleness that you would come from when encouraging a friend or a child. If we don’t acknowledge where we make great leaps forward and achieve, then it can mean we’re dulling our light. Quelling or turning away from your own power and brilliance. So give yourself permission to celebrate, be present, and be proud.

I would love for us to build a narrative of celebration into our everyday lives, as a way to enable us to connect more with the present moment instead of always chasing the future. Be with what is, right now. And know that it is about every step that you are taking. That is what gets you to the next step, the next moment. And we don’t want to live our lives in a perpetual state of a sense of ‘lack’. I believe we can feel the fullness of our whole selves right now in the present moment, while also striving to better ourselves and our lives with self awareness and reflection.

Listen in to The Good Enough Mother (TGEM) Podcast Episode 16 on ‘Creating Purposeful Habits for 2020’.

When you do nothing, you feel overwhelmed and powerless. But when you get involved, you feel the sense of hope and accomplishment that comes from knowing you are working to make things better.

Pauline R. Kezer