The Focus Course

Routines Are a Safety Net for Your Goals

I hated pop quizzes as a kid.

Fresh off summer break, first day back to school then BAM, nailed with a pop quiz. Worst feeling ever.

Maybe my teachers were just mad their summer break was over, so they took it out on us.

As an adult, I can have a little more appreciation for a quiz. They are meant to check for understanding.

You may hate me for this, but it’s time for a pop quiz of our own. Don’t worry, it’s open-book.

1. What is something you want to be or have in the next 12 months?
2. Can you identify a current habit or routine that is directly related to this desired outcome?

Hopes, dreams, desires, ambitions, goals — whatever you want to call them — without action, they will never become a reality.

Can you draw a line from your goals to what you do on a daily or weekly basis?

Know What’s Important

Let’s start with the first question of the quiz. What is something you want to be or have in the next 12 months?

Forget about the word ”goals” for a second. Picture yourself 12 months from now. What do you want your future self to have accomplished?

  • Pay off credit card debt
  • Run a 10k
  • Start a new degree
  • Closer relationship with your spouse
  • Landscape the yard
  • Go camping as a family
  • Get a new job
  • Have read more books

I know this is a challenge for me. There may often be things I think about doing or hope to do but never actually say out loud.

The greatest hinderance to making progress on your goals is a lack of clarity.

To state a goal feels like committing to a goal, but it’s not the same thing. You’re off the hook. List out the first few things that come to mind. There’s no wrong answer.

Routines and Habits

The second greatest hinderance to making progress on your goals is a lack of action, hence the second question of our quiz. It’s one thing to articulate a dream or desire, but it’s another to take action.

Habits and routines automate progress. Whether it’s progress in the right direction or not is another matter. Routines are a powerful force.

Every night before I go to bed, I set out what I need to make coffee the next morning. I put water in the kettle, I weigh and grind the proper amount of coffee beans needed, and I set my mug and coffee filter on the scale. All I have to do when I wake is turn the water kettle on and make my pour over when it’s hot.

This little routine not only helps me get ready for bed, but also helps me wake up in the morning. I’ve made a small commitment to myself by getting the coffee ready. I like to wake before everyone else in the house to get a few minutes to myself. Not always easy to do with three young boys. Having my coffee ready to go is one thing that helps me achieve this desire.

What routine or habit could you put in place that would inch you toward your goal?

  • Never use a debt or credit card for payment. Cash only.
  • No late evening snacks.
  • Work in the yard ten minutes a day. No matter how small.
  • Check out one book from the library per week, regardless if I read it all or not.
  • Spend ten minutes a day sitting with my spouse on the couch.
  • Create a camping checklist, then create a camping bin.
  • Read for ten minutes before turning on a show.

The right routine creates something similar to railroad tracks. Before you know it, you’ve built up momentum that is hard to stop and you are well on your way.

But the wrong routine can have the same effect. When you’re stuck in a rut of doing the same thing day in and day out, it can be hard to snap out of it. Routines become a default behavior, and if that isn’t in line with your short- or long-term goals, it can be frustrating.

How do you break out of a habit or routine that you don’t want to keep doing? Get crystal clear about what it is you want to be doing instead.

People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures. — F.M. Alexander

Get Clear

Aligning daily or weekly routines with your goals starts with clarity. Don’t be afraid to get detailed about exactly what it is you’d like to accomplish. In some ways, the more clear you can be, the better.

But, don’t let the ambiguity surrounding your goal keep you from getting started. It’s impossible to know the exact process of how you’ll get there. Spend time clarifying what you’re trying to accomplish, and then get started. Clarity will come through action.


Once you’ve done your best to get clarity about what it is you are trying to accomplish, brain storm a list of activities that will help move you in the right direction. The best case scenario is identifying something you can do multiple times per week — even if it’s a really small activity.

To gain momentum quickly, choose something that is readily accessible — meaning, you could accomplish it right now. The more frequently you do this thing, the more successful you will feel. The more success you feel, the more likely you are to continue building this new routine or habit, which leads to my final point.

Make it Easy

One of the challenges we face when trying to form a new habit is the obstacle of the unknown. The activity we are trying to engage feels foreign or unfamiliar. We usually default back to the behaviors we don’t want to be doing.

Give yourself a chance by making your new routine super easy, and make the thing you want to replace it with more difficult.

  • Put the unhealthy snacks in the basement pantry and have easy healthy snacks close at hand.
  • Put your phone in a designated spot out of the way and put a book in every room of the house.
  • Leave your credit cards in the car and carry cash with you.

Whatever your ultimate goal may be, find a way to support it by increasing your likelihood of engaging in healthy habits and making it increasingly difficult to do the not-so-good habits.

In closing, there’s nothing more frustrating than when our actions don’t align with our desires.

The right routines and habits move us toward our vision and values, while the wrong routines move us away from them.

Get clear about what you’d like to accomplish in the next 12 months and decide what you’re going to do about it. Action brings clarity: decide, and get moving. You’ll figure it out along the way.

Photo by Denny Müller via Unsplash.

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