The power of using habits rather than results

Reading time: about 2 minutes

If you want to achieve more with your writing, consider the power of using habits than results to increase your odds success…

By Ann Gomez

Have you ever done a challenging hike where you’ve had to scramble over fallen trees or rocky slopes? It’s so much harder than an easy stroll along a level, well-maintained trail, isn’t it?

Similarly, the path we take to achieving our goals can either be a treacherous climb or a manageable journey. The path we take depends on the strength of our habits. If we don’t first establish solid habits, we’ll be facing a rocky climb.

Goals alone do not lead to success. Yes, goals are essential. They give us a sense of purpose, inspire us, and keep us focused. But goals merely describe our ideal outcome. They don’t put us on the path to reach that outcome. Our goals require practical support to translate into the results we desire. Our goals require habits.

Habits bridge the gap between intentions and results. Habits allow us to do activities automatically, which makes these activities so much easier. And we know that activities we do only occasionally are infinitely more challenging. I think of this any time I’m trying to play a piano piece I haven’t played in a while. It’s a struggle. Any task we haven’t done recently is akin to a change. And as we all know, change is hard.

Thankfully, habits are something we can all use. So I’d like to share three ways you can build strong habits around your most important goals. 

1-Take a tiny step

Ironically, the biggest and most important action we can take toward achieving our goal is one tiny step. Floss just one tooth. Do just one push-up. Write for a mere five minutes.

Getting started is almost always the hardest step. We may have to overcome fear, uncertainty, and self-doubt. Aiming to start with big steps can exacerbate these feelings. In the beginning, it’s not about volume. Instead, it’s about making our habits automatic.

Big steps also require a lot of our energy. Launching into an hour of editing every day may work for a day or two. But when a new project lands in your inbox, there’s a good chance you’ll bump that editing block.

Tiny steps, on the other hand, are easy. And the easier an activity is, the more likely we are to begin. Once we begin, we’re more likely to continue. And this consistent action helps form a habit. Over time, our tiny steps snowball into bigger actions (and in this case, longer stretches of editing). These habits propel us towards our goals, without having to rely on depleting resources like willpower or discipline. And, of course, there’s no need to be a perfectionist, if you’re just focusing on tiny steps.

2-Use prompts

Prompts serve as excellent cues. They remind us to take action. An effective prompt uses this formula. “When I (fill in the blank), I will (fill in the blank).” For example, “When I brush my teeth, I will floss one tooth.” “When I sit at my desk, I will spend five minutes editing before checking email.” Of course, you can floss all your teeth, and you can do more editing, but your prompt will help you take your most important step, your first step.

Some people refer to prompts as habit-stacking or habit-pairing. In other words, you link a well-established habit to your new habit. If you want to drink more water, commit to drinking one glass before your morning coffee. If you want to stretch more, commit to doing two stretches after every trip to the bathroom. The existing habit serves as your cue for the new habit. A prompt helps us consistently repeat the step. Once your habit is consistent, you can slowly build on it.

3-Celebrate success

You’ll experience an immediate boost in positive emotion when you complete your one tiny step, and soon you’ll associate this strong, positive emotion with the new behavior. This combination of positive emotion and repetition helps us build habits. Your brain becomes wired to repeat the activity again and again, and this helps you form your new habit much faster. Success leads to success.

Celebrating our accomplishments is a crucial part of making lasting change. Resist berating yourself for “only” editing for five minutes. Instead, celebrate immediately, and in keeping with the theme of tiny steps, your celebration may be as simple as telling yourself, “I did it!” and giving yourself a high-five in the mirror. This positive mindset is essential to keeping focused on what you will achieve, rather than dwelling on what you haven’t yet accomplished.

For more strategies you can use to set yourself up for success, see Ann’s latest book, Workday Warrior: A Proven Path to Reclaiming Your Time, published by Dundurn Press, 2022.

Scroll to Top