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Got Goals? Work the System with the Power of Tiny Habits

If goals are the destinations we want to reach someday, then the systems we put in place are the paths we take to get there.

If goals are the destinations we want to reach someday, then the systems we put in place are the paths we take to get there. Those paths might be long or short, direct or winding, downhill or up, but we must walk them to reach our goals, no matter what.

The more we commit to the system, instead of just the end goal, the more progress we can make. That’s because, unlike a goal, a system is something we can easily put in practice. A goal is great for motivating us, but it often isn’t immediately attainable. A system, on the other hand, gives us something we can accomplish on a regular basis.

If your goal is to learn how to play the guitar, your system is practicing daily for ten minutes before you go to bed each night.

Setting up a System of Tiny Habits

Tiny habits—a concept pioneered by noted behaviorist BJ Fogg—have a remarkable capacity to generate big life changes. (Click here for more about that.) The power of tiny habits is that they:

  1. Reduce big goals into simple activities you can easily perform
  2. Anchor those activities to something you do every day; and
  3. Reward you with more opportunities to celebrate after the completion of each activity

If you’d like to set up some goal-reaching systems that will take your tiny habits to the next level, here are some simple tweaks you might try.

  1. Simplify, simplify, simplify: If you set up an activity that’s too big, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by it. Try simplifying it until you can nail it with ease.
  2. The when technique: Try anchoring your tiny habits with a when statement, like, “When the commercials come on while I’m watching my favorite show tonight, I’m going to hop up and do jumping jacks.”
  3. Cut down the choices: Too many options can overwhelm and confuse us. If your goal is to do more cardio, choose one activity (like the elliptical) that you can do consistently, rather than brainstorming five different sports leagues to join.
  4. See it, be it: Visualization is a very powerful tool for developing tiny habits. And, again, visualization is most effective when it’s used to imagine the system in detail, rather than to fantasize about the goal in the abstract.
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