In this article I want to provide you with a simple framework for understanding habit formation and how to get what you want when you set out for a goal.
Before I lay it out I want to make it clear that this simple framework will take hard work, effort, and consistency.
The underlying goal of habit formation isn’t to just achieve a task or goal but instead to be able to achieve that task or goal over and over again in the future more efficiently than the time before.
When looking to create a habit most people have high desire for the habit or reward but don’t create a base of support that would allow them to maintain the habit once the reward is accomplished.
An example of this may be running a race.
The goal may be to run a 5k or a half marathon so you set out to train but once the goal is accomplished you completely stop exercising altogether.
In this scenario the goal was bigger than the habit so nothing was put in place to maintain this effort once the task was completed.
Let’s fix that. For good.
When creating a habit try using the following framework:
STEP 1: “BE”
A habit is defined as “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.”
When creating a habit you have to set out to be, or to become, something before anything else.
This is potentially the biggest step in the process of habit formation while simultaneously being the very step that almost everyone skips on their way to a goal.
Here is an example of a task oriented goal – “I am going to run a 5k.”
Here is an example of becoming something – “I am going to become a runner.”
In the first example we are irregular and no habits are being formed. We are simply looking to accomplish a singular goal.
In the second example we are becoming someone who runs which allows us to complete the 5k (same as example 1) but now we have the potential to run a 10k, half, or full marathon because we are more focused on progress/habits than an achievement.
By becoming something, we are committing to creating the eventual habit that will take us exactly where we want to go but with less and less effort each time.
Someone who is a hard worker doesn’t necessarily consider it to be work and someone who is disciplined doesn’t necessarily see it as discipline.
By becoming something, the effort it takes to perform that task lessens to a point where it is now second nature.
To me, making a habit so automatic that it doesn’t even register as needing effort is the actual goal more than whatever the end result of that habit is.
STEP 2: “DO”
In December of 2021 Steph Curry broke the NBA 3 point record for the all time most 3 pointers made in a single career. The previous leader made 2,973 3-point shots in his career.
Here is the craziest part, the previous leader achieved this in 1,300 games while Steph Curry achieved this in 789 games.
How did he achieve the same result in a little more than half of the total time?
Leading up to Curry breaking the record his trainer revealed that during their workouts in the summer they only counted shots that landed perfectly in the net.
If the ball touched the rim the shot didn’t count. Ever.
When asked how many shots he had to make by that standard they said that Curry didn’t stop training until he made 500 perfect shots every single day.
Steph Curry didn’t set out to make 3 pointers. He set out to become the best 3 point shooter of all time.
The difference here was that once he decided what he wanted to BE he immediately knew what he had to DO.
His choice to become a great shooter paved the way for the action steps he needed to take in order to be what he wanted to be.
Now I am not saying that to become something you have to have that level of intensity and focus, but I am saying that the next step in the process after you say you will BE something is to now DO the things that someone would need to do in order to achieve what you want to.
For Curry it was perfecting his shot but for you it may be drinking 50-60% of your bodyweight in ounces of water every single day.
Here are a few other examples of how this could play out for you.
Example 1 – Instead of “I want to lose 20 lbs” you may say “I want to become someone who never has to lose weight again.”
This would change our behavior/actions from “I need to restrict my calories as low as possible” to “I need to make food choices that work with my body/goals and prioritize learning how to make protein and hydration my top priorities.”
Example 2 – Instead of “I need to reach my fitness goal by the end of the month” you may say “I want to become someone who could maintain/progress my fitness levels for life.”
This would change our behavior/actions from “I need to train as hard as possible every day this month” to “I need to manage my sleep, nutrition, and training in a way that allows me to exercise every day in some capacity while still being able to get outside with my kids and go for a walk with my wife each night.”
In order to be something we have to take the necessary actions steps that create that specific thing.
Ask what you want to BE.
Ask what you need to DO to be that.
Do those things every day.
Bonus Thought – In the book “Great By Choice” by Jim Collins he refers to this as the “20 Mile March.”
He uses the example of 2 men who set out to race to the South Pole in 1911.
Both of them plotted their routes, assembled their teams, and set out for the same destination but only one team reached the destination.
The difference between the teams was that the team that reached their goal set a standard for the amount of miles they would travel per day regardless of weather conditions or how they felt and the other team changed distances based on external factors and how they were feeling.
The team that won performed what they refer to in the book as a “20 Mile March” where they maintained their standard of effort despite the obstacles.
What most people hear at this point is “they just worked harder than the other team” and in some ways you would be right but there were days where the other team more than doubled the winning teams distance so effort wasn’t the distinguishing factor here.
The separator was that the winning team understood their limits, needs, and knew what they wanted to be.
They wanted to be disciplined in their approach more than they wanted to win and by maintaining discipline they achieved success.
That has been a powerful thought for me and I would challenge you to apply the “20 Mile March” to your habits as a way to understand your needs and to allow yourself to not get swept up in extreme efforts that lead to extreme fatigue.
STEP 3: “have”
Once you have become something and done the things necessary to become that thing you can now have the things you want.
This is where I will spend the least amount of time as it is simply a result of the other two pieces of the puzzle, and I would prefer you spend most of your time considering and acting on those two parts.
That being said, there is nothing wrong with the shiny object at the end of the tunnel that allows you to create an attractive reward for yourself.
In the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear he works through a very similar framework as the one I am using but he encourages you to create a very attractive reward for yourself in order to not only help you create your habit but also to help you break down bad habits.
When we have a strong habit we can’t also have an opposing habit.
I cannot habitually hit 10-12k steps every day and spend 60 minutes in the gym 5x/week and also habitually be sedentary.
By making the habit you have attractive you can maintain the habit longer while avoiding poor habits that may oppose your goals.
When we become someone who does the things that would give us the benefits we are looking for, the benefits become less of a focus as the reward is that we are now something we wanted to become all along.
So when you are setting out to achieve something try this framework out and watch it change your entire perspective on habit formation and what you need to do to go where you want to.
If you need a question list to build out your answers try this:
What do I want to BE?
What do I need to DO to be that?