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For Better Health, Focus on Habits Rather Than Goals

“Losers have goals, winners have systems” -Scott Adams

Be honest with yourself... do you have a health goal-setting system that is actually working for you? 

Most of us fall into the trap of setting goals based on outcomes rather than focusing on the habits that help us achieve outcomes, particularly when it comes to our health.

We focus on the results rather than the processes.

An important component of my interactions with people as a physical therapist is to discuss and agree upon goals for the course of care. By goals, I mean what they are hoping to be able to do with the help of physical therapy. When I ask people what they want as an end result, most will tell me to be able to participate in hobbies like travel, dancing, or fishing without pain or having the energy to keep up with their grandchildren. These focus on quality of life rather than health metrics, such as pounds lost, blood sugar levels, or blood pressure readings.

However, when most people write out their health goals they focus on the metrics rather than quality of life. For example, one common goal is to lose a certain amount of weight in a specified amount of time. Writing a goal in this way does not focus on the why or what this goal will help them achieve. So what comes after this weight is lost? Does the number on the scale correlate with happiness? There are also many different ways you can go about losing weight, some routes are healthier than others. Writing a goal is this way does not address the why and how. Planning a short term crash diet? Or weight loss through excessive amounts of exercise? Or are you more interested in establishing lasting health habits that would ultimately lead to weight loss as a side effect? For example, eliminating processed foods or refined sugar from your diet is a habit rather than a goal.

We see this metric-oriented mentality most often in health and wellness, however this same mentality tends to shows up in all aspects of our life including career, finances, and relationships. Too often we rely on external factors to dictate our happiness and success in life. We might feel happy with ourselves until we step on a scale and see a higher number than we expected. When relying on a scale to dictate health outcomes, it becomes easy to become dependent on this feedback to determine how we feel. Stop letting the outcomes determine your happiness. Take a step back off the scale, stop focusing on the metrics, and instead let your success be dictated by how you feel.

Try asking yourself, "Would a healthy person make this choice?" with everything you do throughout the day. Over time, this will lead you to build the life of a healthy person. 

How to Form Habits Rather Than Set Goals

  1. Know your why.

Forming habits becomes much easier if we always keep the why in mind. Do you want better eating habits so you feel better? Have more energy? Do you want to be more active?

2. Focus on regular habits and skills.

Brushing your teeth is a daily habit for better oral health. What habits should you have in place to have more energy on a daily basis? Changing your eating habits? Drinking more water? Walking every day? Getting better quality sleep?

3. Incorporate new habits mindfully.

Choose one new habit to start with rather than tackling too many at once, then try to fit it into your day without changing your current routines. You will set yourself up for long term success by moving through this process mindfully. Reflect on a new habit often. Is it getting you closer to your desired lifestyle? If not, change it. If so, stick with it. It can be that simple. A habit needs to be established first before it can be optimized. 

What would your life look like if you instead oriented your goals around healthy eating, healthy movement, conscious spending, saving, and adding value to other people’s lives? Stop focusing on the metrics today and start focusing on the process instead.


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