Leaders Know Habits Are the Path to Meeting Goals

I’ve been reading Atomic Habits by James Clear, and I love it. Clear emphasizes our accidental efforts to sabotage our goals by focusing too much on them.

We keep trying to make goals better.

For example, if our goal is to make more sales, our first inclination is to create a SMART goal. Simply making more sales does not meet the SMART goal criteria. We have to measure the goal.

So, let’s say we make the goal measurable by being more specific—make 20 sales. Now, even though making 20 sales is measurable, it is still not enough. We need it to be time-based.

The make 20 sales goal needs a deadline, so we move revise it to make 20 sales by the end of the month. Now it’s got a measurement and a deadline.

Good enough?

No, because making a sale isn’t really something I do. In fact, it’s something a customer chooses, and I can’t control the customer.

What can I do to make 20 sales?

Well, I can make calls.

I’ve done my analysis, and I know I generally execute one sale for every five calls I make. After I do the math, I have an even better goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-based, and includes a behavior I can control:

Make 100 sales calls by the end of the month, so I end up with 20 sales.

Then, I look at my new goal with all the correct pieces, and I think about how I tend to procrastinate. So really this goal isn’t as great as I thought. If I’m being honest with myself, I’ll probably make 20 calls on the 30th of the month and 80 calls on the 31st. Then I won’t have time to give my best during the calls. So, how about if I change the goal to—

Make 25 sales calls per week, so I end up with 20 sales for the month.

Oh wait. I can do one better—

Make 5 sales calls per day, so I end up with 20 sales for the month.

You know, I can make this a little more strategic. I know my best sales calls happen in late morning. Both the client and I have cleared our plates of our most urgent matters, but we still have a lot of day left. We’re both a little more relaxed in the late morning. So, how about—

Make 5 late-morning sales calls per day, so I end up with 20 sales for the month.

Yes, that’s a good goal. I’m going with it.

But after a couple days of trying the new goal, I realize I have a tendency to want to clear my email inbox a second time and check on the markets before lunch. Some days, I end up putting off those sales calls or making them too short. So, what if I make a couple conditions for myself?

I’ll say this: before I check the markets or my email inbox, I’ll make 5 sales calls. Wait. I just realized. I’m always tempted to do those things right after I go refill my coffee at 10:00, right after the daily stand up. Okay. Let’s do this:

Each day, after refilling my coffee and before I check markets and email, I’ll make 5 sales calls, so I end up with 20 sales for the month.

Huh. Now that I look at my goal, that last phrase doesn’t fit. I still can’t define exactly how many sales I will get. Let’s eliminate the last part—

Each morning, after refilling my coffee, I’ll make 5 sales calls. Then, I’ll do the rest of my late morning routine of email and market checking.

Now the goal is no longer a goal. It’s a habit.

And it will likely result in more sales.

Simply setting a goal doesn’t move us into a new habit. However, adopting better habits can help us meet our goals.

The next time you’re tempted to set a goal like make more sales, go through the process of creating a supporting habit and see what happens.

If you are a regular on this blog, you know this—every time I read a new book, I share a few ideas. This won’t be the last time I refer to Atomic Habits.

Thanks for reading,

Alan Feirer

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