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Goals, Metrics, Habits... Wtf?

Last updated Apr 8, 2023 Edit Source

I am someone who struggles with ADHD, as well as a distinct inability to proceed with something I do not understand. I can’t just “roll with it” in the hopes that I will succeed. That is simply not something that I am capable of doing, despite my efforts. So instead, I divert a significant amount of energy into reverse engeering the function behind why things are, and why they exist. It is not good enough for me to hear something, apply it, and then discover the value of it in the process. Application of a concept and seeing its inherent value is step one for me, which inevitably delays a significant amount of my goals.

This got me thinking. Why are goals always measured by metrics, and then executed through “plans”? Doesn’t this seem screwed up? Think about the goal of losing weight by using calorie counting.

GoalI want to lose weight so that I look better when I look in the mirror, feel healthier, and can feel more confident in my body
StrategyI will lose between X and Y pounds per month by calorie counting, and adjusting my goals as I go so that I am able to meet that goal by Z date
PlanEat less junk food, eat more salads, try to go for walks, and never eat chocolate or sweets.

You may think for a second that this sounds like a good “plan”, but it’s really not. It’s actually a really bad plan that has the highest likelihood of developing an extremely unhealthy relationship with eating in general. You don’t want that, because the struggle of an eating disorder is likely more of a problem than where you find yourself now. Not to mention, the act of knowing you are restricting yourself is going to sabotage your plans, and you are inevitably going to eat more food than you really want. You want to “lose weight” after all, so what gives?

I have tried this repeatedly. It does not work, and so I am back to the drawing board of where I went wrong. This is where I realized the “obvious” problem. I am not focused on the strategies, I am focused on the metrics. Saving money, or paying down a credit card? I am focused on the number, not my habits. Now I want you to know that this may seem blindingly obvious, but think for a second about all the goals that you failed to achieve. Were you focused on what you were doing, or were you too busy chastising yourself because you were not able to reach the metrics that you wanted? I know that’s definitely the case for me.

It occurred to me that perhaps I am looking at it under the wrong light. The specific identified things may be correct, but the way I thought of it and the way I treated it was all wrong. I’m going to run you through a line of thinking instead. Let’s say you do want to lose weight, or pay off a credit card. I want you to instead consider you traded places with someone who didn’t have the sum total of habits that got you in this position in the first place, but they were struck with your exact circumstances.

You may think your goal is “I want to pay off my credit card”, and I want to propose that is not the goal. That is the metric of your goal. Your goal is actually that you want to develop a system of habits that contribute to making paying off debt simple, and as easy as it possibly could be. You may think your goal is that you want to lose weight, but perhaps your goal should be that you want to adopt a system of habits that make “losing weight” easier. I want to refine “losing weight” to be “having a body shape that I like, that is healthy, fit, and comfortable to show off”.

Now we’re getting somewhere. We are no longer defining the goal as a metric. The goal is in fact a more realistic, objective reality that you want to accomplish. Losing weight? That’s a metric by which you can measure progress. Paying off your credit card? That is also a metric by which you can measure your progress. Obviously you don’t know how to do these things, or they wouldn’t be a goal. The real question is: Who would know? You remember that good ol’ saying people use “What would Jesus do?”

I want you to consider this new goal for a moment.

I want to lose weight. I want to develop a system of habits that contributes to overall health in a way that improves my confidence, and is more attractive to my eyes

I want to pay off my credit card I want to develop a system of habits that contributes to financial success so that I am not encumbered by my finances.

What kind of people find “losing weight” easy? What do they do to accomplish that? What habits do they employ, and more importantly, what is their mentality on the subject? How do they see the overall sphere of information surrounding what you want to accomplish?

Someone who has the system of habits that contributes to overall health values their health first. They value the opportunity of being able to find new foods that are healthy for them, and they give themselves the pleasure of exploring new activities they can try. They allow themselves the possibility of being bad a new sport that they are curious about, and to use the “embarrassment” of being bad at it as an in to be more closely associated with the people in that sport. If they find they really don’t like it? That’s a good thing! They’re one step further in their journey of celebrating their health because they now know one more way that they do not like exercising and they can move onto something more fun.

Before you read this next part, I want you to stop and think about this for a moment:

What if money was fun, and you could use money as a tool for your well-being that was fun?

Bring this mindset into the next paragraph, because a lot of people reading this will likely find this boring. Bear with me and wonder for a second “Can finance be fun?” If you answer is no, read on with a skeptical curiosity.

Someone who has the system of habits that contributes to their overall financial success would reconsider what debt is to them given whatever set of circumstances. They would be curious about the subjects involved with money, finances, and the ways that money works. They’re interested in learning about how they can make money work for them, which means they learn the meaning behind investment. They are interested in finding ways to make more money as a part of their lifestyle, and reconsidering how they can utilize their money as a resource. That means if you take out a loan to get something so you don’t have to spend savings, and use those savings instead as collateral for the savings, that’s considered good because chances are you can also make the overall act of borrowing less risky for a lender while improving your credit score.

To break the common misconception of what an “investment” is, you are not investing when you put money into things that do not give you a solid chance on a return of financial gain. You are not investing in a nice plant, a game console, a nice TV, or a good sound system. Those are considered expenditures, which are things you expended (spent) money on.

The key here is that you have to know or find out:

  1. What is the name of the subject you are interested in improving? (Finance, Fitness, Nutrition)
  2. Who are experts in the field? (Bankers, investors, nutritionists, gym trainers)
  3. What do they do to contribute to their habits on that subject?
  4. What is their perspective on that subject?
  5. How much of their perspective is realistically possible for you to adopt?

The key? Your habits and your perspective. The whole shabam that makes all this work together is that your perspective and your habits have to align with the goals that you set, and that your goals are not metrics themselves. This may be hard, but it is critically important because you want your goals to be centred around what reality would be like if you were the “kind of person who could”. I’ll use myself for example when it comes to my spending habits, and my eating habits.

I spend a decent amount of time browsing Amazon for ways to improve my lifestyle, and on staying up to date on the costs of things I am interested in. This is useful under some lights, but it is not being used correctly in the way that I do it. I blindly browse it like some kind of social media feed, hoping that Amazon has some magical algorithm that’ll introduce me to something I will need. This exposes me to the temptation of spending more money on things that I really don’t need right now, and so I have a system in place to prevent such a thing.

If something is truly important, I will think about it a lot. I will think about it over a span of time depending on its importance to me as an individual. If I am finding myself lacking something that is critically important and urgent such as having broken something I use on a daily basis, then it gets a pass. I have a system that weighs the importance, usefulness, cost, and longevity of a thing. If something is important, useful, will last long, and has a low cost, then the time I have to wait is very low. If something is not important, incredibly useful, won’t last that long, and costs a decent amount of money, then I will allow myself to get wrapped up in wondering if I really want it until I am exhausted thinking about it, and dismiss it from my brain entirely.

This is a habit that I developed in order to contribute to financial success. Not the browsing Amazon, but the delay of my purchasing to be absolutely certain that a purchase should be made. This is habit I acquired from someone I asked for tips from, because they didn’t find themselves in my position of struggling for money anymore. They had a way out, and it doubled as a way to increase the certainty that they are making better decisions. It was a win-win for them, and for me because I adopted this pattern too.

However when it comes to my eating habits, I do not let myself enjoy cooking, or discovering ways to make eating fun. I do not find ways to make grocery shopping engaging, and I do not pose challenges for myself to make better choices when buying groceries. This often means that I have a mismatch in the kinds of foods that I have around the house, and no idea why I can’t seem to make something that I want to eat. What does this lead me to do? It leads me to ordering food which means that I am not able to finely control how healthy something is, and I am spending money that I do not need to be wasting. This sabotages two goals of mine at the same time, and is a destructive habit.

Another thing to note, I hate using digital devices for reading. I absolutely hate it because I have constant distractions from notifications, and it always pulls me away from the important thing that I want to do, which is to absorb the content I am reading. This means that I like having physical books. One of the things I could do to solve multiple problems simultaneously is that I could think of types of cookbooks that are not overly complicated, find them on Amazon, and then base my grocery shopping habits around that. I’m going to get all excited about this new food I want to try, but I can’t eat all these things all at once. What does this mean? I have to schedule it, which means that I can consider what my shopping trips would be like, and have more control over whether or not I am going to have the things I need in my fridge or pantry when I want to make these things.

Do you see what I did here? I am going through the process of analyzing the difference between the realities of my habits from the habits of those who do not struggle with the problems I do because of the realities of their habits. I had to get creative to realize where the problem was, but it means that I am able to hit multiple birds with one stone. I can spend less money on delivery that costs way too much, I can eat healthier, have an understanding of what I am putting my body, find a way to enjoy cooking, and have a greater ability to understand what is on hand for when I inevitably want to eat.

I had to consider closely what specific things I am doing that are sabotaging my progress towards the metric of losing weight, and paying off debt. Since these are two things I am focused on, and both of these things happen to have a relationship, it means that I was able to bring them together. Since I spend a lot of money on food that I do not need to be ordering, and that food sabotages my health goals, they go hand in hand. Asking myself what people who are better at dealing with these sorts of problems than I am means that I was able to apply a fresh perspective to accomplishing the metrics of my overall long-lasting goals of personal health and financial success.

Let’s boil it down into something concrete that you can use:

  1. Reframe your goals so that they are not metrics, but are instead “realities” that you want to shoot towards
  2. Define the “metrics” (lose weight, pay off credit cards, etc.) that can positively identify that you really have adopted the habits you need
  3. Identify the mindset and system of habits of people who excel in the categories you struggle
  4. Consider the differences in your habits from those who excel
  5. Think of ways to make a change in habit actually enjoyable (you won’t stick to something you hate, and you can’t tell me otherwise)
  6. Try it out and measure your progress towards the metrics

Remember that a lot of the things you may have already learned about settings goals isn’t actually wrong, but your application towards those goal might be. You are not “trying to pay off your credit card”, because that is a metric for what you are actually trying to accomplish, which is not having the habits that make you struggle with credit card debt in the first place. You can pick a system that works for you, and give it a go but remember to keep your focus on the right things. You are focusing on forming the sum total of habits that get you there, not actually getting there.

Let’s give you some new definitions to make this clearer:

GoalA reality oriented objective that has value to you, and is motivated by a set of circumstances, struggles, interests, and/or logic
MetricA thing you can measure, whether that is a checkbox, a number, or the reality you find yourself in changing
HabitA thing you do consistently and without thinking (key point) because you have done it consistently enough that it is automatic
Realities“The way things are”, “the things that are correct about a given situation”