Saturday Morning Rounds January 11, 2020 - Why habits are better than goals

Posted by BossB, MD on January 11, 2020
BossB, MD

Saturday Morning Rounds
A weekly round-up of everything that captured our attention over the last 7 days

What we're reading

Habits vs. Goals: A Look at the Benefits of a Systematic Approach to Life

All around the US and the world, as you read this, 10,000 people a minute are falling off the New Year's Resolution bandwagon.

Ok those numbers are made up but they're bound to be high because it's only the second Saturday of the year - which means people are, at this very moment -breaking diets, skipping the gym, having coffee before they meditate and then feeling too jittery to do so, sleeping in instead of reading, etc.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do our goals and resolutions so often elude us?

Easy answer - they elude us because they exist in the first place.

There's a lot of great research & writing that's come out in the past decade (and especially the past year or two) about the importance of focusing on habits & systems > goals & resolutions.

This article does a great job of succinctly explaining why - it's only a 5min read (worth the time investment!) and the writing is hard to summarize because it's so economical to begin with. That being said, we'll try anyway. In the author's words

"The Problems with Goals
  • Goals have an endpoint - This is why many people revert to their previous state after achieving a certain goal
  • Goals rely on factors which we do not always have control over - It’s an unavoidable fact that reaching a goal is not always possible, regardless of effort
  • Goals rely on willpower and self-discipline - During times when other parts of our lives deplete our supply of willpower, it can be easy to forget our goals
  • Goals can make us complacent or reckless - Studies have shown that people’s brains can confuse goal setting with achievement. This effect is more pronounced when people inform others of their goals. Furthermore, unrealistic goals can lead to dangerous or unethical behavior"

That last one resonates especially - anyone else ever crash dieted to fit into a dress? 👰🖐️

Definitely against doctor's orders.

So goals suck. We get it. We'll burn our vision boards and wander this earth untethered, lacking any direction for our lives, right?

Nope! That's where habits and systems come in. Again, in the author's words:

"The Benefits of Habits

  • Habits can mean we overshoot our goals - Let’s say a person’s goal is to write a novel. They decide to write 200 words a day, so it should take 250 days. Writing 200 words takes little effort, and even on the busiest, most stressful days, the person gets it done. However, on some days, that small step leads to their writing 1000 or more words. As a result, they finish the book in much less time. Yet setting “write a book in four months” as a goal would have been intimidating.
  • Habits are easy to complete - Once we develop a habit, our brains actually change to make the behavior easier to complete. After about 30 days of practice, enacting a habit becomes easier than not doing so.
  • Habits are for life - Our lives are structured around habits, many of them barely noticeable. According to... research, habits make up 40% of our waking hours.
  • Habits can compound - [See our quote of the week for an explanation on this one]
  • Habits can be as small as necessary - A common piece of advice for those seeking to build a habit is to start small. Stanford psychologist BJ Fogg recommends “tiny habits,” such as flossing one tooth. Once these become ingrained, the degree of complexity can be increased. If you want to read more, you can start with 25 pages a day. After this becomes part of your routine, you can increase the page count to reach your goal. 

If you want to learn more about this topic, Atomic Habits is a book that got a lot of accolades in 2019 and is currently sitting on our "to-read" list. The Power of Habit is also a classic in the space.

Who we're following

Shane Parrish (@ShaneAParrish) is the founder of Farnam Street - a spectacular blog (and podcast) that "helps you master the best of what other people have already figured out."

His Twitter is chock-full of simple-but-not-easy, timeless, and potentially life-changing if you take them to heart, insights. He talks a lot about mental models and frameworks that are about as widely applicable as can be. Here's a quick sample from just his most recent Tweets:


Definitely one of the more valuable general-concept follows we've made on Twitter.


BBMD tip of the week

Some of our most powerful career & negotiation advice can be boiled down to a series of habits.

A lot of this might seem pithy, but in any field, it tends to be those who have truly mastered the basics that become world-class. As Bruce Lee once said,

"I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks 1 time, but I fear the man who has practiced 1 kick 10,000 times."

So in that vein, here are 3 simple "kicks" - ie habits - you can start implementing today to have an exponential positive impact on your skill-level and results:

  • Silence - Pause for 3-5 seconds (these are "one-Mississippi" seconds, btw) after literally every exchange, just past the edge of what feels comfortable, and watch people divulge everything you need to know in order to tip the negotiation in your favor, just so they can avoid a semi-awkward pause
  • Ask for Stuff - Get in the habit of asking for what you want literally 10x more often than you do today, and it'll come a lot more naturally when the stakes are high. Just look for opportunities everywhere to make reasonable, relational asks so that you get more comfortable with it (and get some great stuff/experiences in the process). Here's our primer on how to do so
  • Assume Best Intent - A shortcut to keeping all of your conversations positive & productive (and improving the relationships with your conversation partners as well), is to simply assume best intent at all times. Better yet, add intelligence to the assumption by asking yourself, "how could an intelligent, well-intentioned person <say that, come to that conclusion, etc>?" Not only will this make your interactions far more productive, it'll also make you a much more effective thinker because you will be able to more quickly home in on where you and your counterpart have a meaningful gap in understanding/agenda, and then focus your efforts there, where they'll actually be useful.

For our regular readers, this stuff might be repetitive. And it is. Because it's that important, and that difficult to master.

The knowledge itself is only 20% of the battle - the key motion here is turning that knowledge into action, and habits/systems are a great way to do so. Even the best negotiators on the planet still have lots of room to improve on the above points, so we encourage you to look for opportunities this week to do the same :)

Quote we're contemplating

"Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny." - Ghandi


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PPS - As always, please let us know your requests and suggestions by replying to this email (we read 'em all) or getting at us via Twitter. Which section above is your favorite? What do you want more or less of? Just send a tweet to @BossB_MD and put #SaturdayMorningRounds in there so we can find it.
Have a wonderful weekend, y'all!