The Key to Achieving Personal Goals isn’t What I Thought.

This is part 3 of an 8-part Series on Overcoming Depression, Reducing Anxiety, and Getting More Out of Life.

Today we’re going to cover the nature of habits.

Understanding habits at a fundamental level will help you get more out of life, reduce anxiety and in some cases overcome depression.

We’re going to discuss the most important factor in creating change or setting goals, miss this and  you’re most likely screwed.

Then we’re going to cover the framework of the habit cycle as discussed by Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and BusinessLearning the framework of habits is useful to you if you want to create change without a big struggle or existential crisis.

I can’t suggest that book enough.

By the end of this post, you’re going to be equipped with the information that you need to start creating massive changes and you’ll have a plan of attack to get started today.

Before we begin, I want to remind you that, last week I shared with you “The Beastie Boys Breath Technique” and we talked about the benefits and pitfalls to developing a mediation habit.

It’s important to make Mindfulness Practice a priority.

At least it’s important for me to make it a priority.

In order to make sure you’re on the right track, you have to check in with yourself on an ongoing basis. You need to make sure that your actions and observations create the inner conditions for lasting happiness.

If you’re anything like me your mind has a tendency to go off in tangents.

Whenever I get stressed, tired, overwhelmed or hungry, anger is my set response. Most of the anger is directed inward in the form of an ongoing script that says, “you’re worthless. You’ll never amount to shit.”

I’m learning that, most things in life, including your inner voice work within certain frameworks.

Principles guide outcomes.

If you find the right principles and apply them in your life, you will experience the outcomes you desire.

Let’s discuss the Principles that guide your daily habits, so that you can be armed with the knowledge to create dramatic changes in your life.

Nearly 40% of your Day is a Habit Loop.

If the research that Charles Duhigg quoted in his book is correct, then 40% of your actions on a daily basis happen without a lot of conscious thought.

You didn’t think which foot you’d put down on the floor first when you got out of bed. You don’t think about which shoe to put on or the order in which you get dressed. Things like that are programed into your brain. You do them without thinking, and that’s a good thing.

Our brains can only handle so much.

To process every tiny detail and consciously decide and think about mundane, repetitive tasks would fry the system.

Your brain recognizes patterns of behavior and turns some things into automatic behavior.

The problem is, the part of the brain that controls this process doesn’t really communicate with the part of the brain where logic and reason are formed.

None of this stuff is exactly rocket science.

You want a better body?

Watch what you consume. Get off Your Ass once in a while. Rest and Relax. Unplug from the computer. Drink water.

It’s not difficult on paper, but it seems to be a pretty big challenge.

Go easy on yourself. It’s not your fault.

You are wired to follow programed responses to your emotions. And you’re wired to resist change.

Part of your brain has one goal in mind and that’s to feel safe and secure.

Somehow, for me, Salted Carmel Ice Gelato creates that feeling. Unfortunately, a daily habit of Gelato can also create some love handles. Love handles produce the thought that I’m fat, and for some reason the word worthless is associated with it.

Changing that habit is easy. We only bring home Gelato once every 30 days except for birthday months. We’d throw in special occasions, but my addictive tendency is to make a special occasion out of just about anything.

You need to create systems and rules like that example with the changes you want to make.

Most big changes fail because we don’t implement the right systems for success.

I can’t even tell you how many dreams, schemes and ideas have lived only on white boards, yellow legal tablets and post it notes.

Without the right frameworks, most goals are doomed.

What’s this mean for you?

Well, simple. It means that you if you want to change your life:

  • you need to become aware of your day to day routines.
  • Identify the habits that aren’t supportive of your desires and
  • modify them.

I’m going to walk you through that in the videos below, but first I want to point out something pretty important.

I missed a key part of the equation.

Last year when I filmed the videos below, I glanced over something pretty damn important.

And the other day while reading, “Habits” and researching for this post, it hit me right in the forehead.

If you want to change anything, first check your beliefs.

My first note about The Power of Habit states:

“Small shifts in your perception can create massive shifts in your life.”

Through several different narratives the book shares how habits effect so many different aspects of life, from whether or not I eat chocolate later this evening, to how the store Target can tell when women are pregnant.

My favorite story in the book is about Coach Tony Dungy and his system that helped one of the worst teams in the history of the NFL go on to win the SuperBowl and later helped the Colts become a dominant force with Payton Manning.

Apparently, Coach Dungy’s system was quite different.

His focus was to eliminate decisions for his players by getting them to focus on just one or two cues at a time. Each cue had a very specific decision already tied to it. He helped all of his players create habit loops and automatic behavior patterns that helped them become machines out on the field.

What I glossed over in that was that the players had to “BUY INTO IT.” In other words, they had to believe that the system was better than the way they had played football since they were six years old.

Change is hard.

Part of the reason Mindfulness is such an important habit for me to create is that it gives you the ability to check in with yourself. You become the observer of your thoughts, your feelings and your reactions to life as it unfolds.

If you’ve read this far, my guess is that you want to change something in your life, and you’ve not been able to make habits stick in the past. And if you’ve done any study on Goal Setting at all, then you’ve been told to start with the end in mind.

Ask Yourself: What do I want and why?

First off, you need a pretty strong why.

Old patterns are impossible to change.

Once a habit forms in the brain, the pathways for that habit will always exist. We don’t actually change habits, we override them and replace them.

That was important. Let’s revisit that for a moment.

You’re not trying to change.

You’re trying to override automated responses in your brain and physiology. Tricky stuff. But, it’s how it works. Stay with me.

Next Ask Yourself: What do I believe?

You most likely know what you need to do in order to experience that thing you want.

That’s one of the reasons why it’s so frustrating when you end your day and you didn’t take action. Shame creeps in. You vow to start tomorrow.

But, here’s the thing, if you don’t believe that it’s possible and it’s possible for you, then you won’t prioritize the actions you need to create into habits.

For example, if you think that exercising and eating healthy is a form of punishment then, it’s going to be really hard to make those lifestyle changes stick.

You have limited amount of will to use each day. You can only force your will on a situation for so long. Sooner or later Old Patterns, like sitting at your computer all day and watching TV on the couch until you fall asleep, will kick back in.

When I read the story about how Coach Dungy’s team rallied around him after his son died, it all started to click for me.

I looked back over and thought about all of my accomplishment.

For me, every accomplishment starts with a deeply held conviction:

You can do it, and when you accomplish it you’ll feel better.

My paste successes look very similar.

The perception that it’s possible drives you to seek out information, tactics and techniques that will help you get the results you want.

It doesn’t matter if you’re moving away from something or towards something, your goal has to start with Belief.

You have to believe that it’s possible and that it’s possible for you.

In each of these circumstances, I left no doubt in my mind that I could achieve my desired results:

  • Stop drinking alcohol and using narcotics daily (2004). away from
  • Learn to Win Texas Holdem Tournaments (2004) towards
  • Stop Smoking (2005) away from
  • Run a Marathon (2006) towards
  • Write and Publish a book (2009-2011) towards
  • Create a website and a Newsletter (2010) towards
  • Sell books (2011-12) towards
  • Be the Man of Her Dreams (2014-2015) towards

The process for each goal is very similar.

When I wanted to become a professional gambler, I went to Amazon and bought 14 books on poker and joined a Poker Training Website. I read. Took notes. Practiced. Tested theories. And worked out a style that suited me.

Within a few months, in tournaments around 250 people, I would hit top 10 in over 65% of the time. A few months later I would hit the money 73% of the time.

When I wanted to run a marathon I bought 4 books. Read them. Talked to people who had trained and finished a marathon before. Got a training partner. Set a schedule to run 3 days per week 6 miles per run and one run on Sundays that increased running time by 15 minutes each week until three weeks before race day.

I went from a 2 pack a day smoker who threw up after running one mile, to marathon finisher in 7 months.

If I can do that, you can do it too. And if I can do that, damn it I can do anything!

All we have to do is follow those same principles. That’s the next step in the “Things Getting Process.”

Know the principles of Success.

Get books on about the changes you want to make. Read them. Find people who’ve done what you want, and who started out where you are. Model them.

One principle to keep in mind is called Praeto’s Principle.

We’ve discussed this before. Here. Here and Here.

If you’re a fan of Tim Ferriss, then you’re already familiar with the concept as well. It’s the 80/20 Rule and for our purposes, it states that 20 percent of your actions produce 80 percent of your results. What’s even cooler is that it also works in on itself, where 4 percent of your actions produce 64 percent of your results.

Think about that.

If you have a goal that you want to get in the best shape of your life, you can find the principles that help you achieve that goal with as little effort as possible. Identify the most effective exercises, food combinations and practice proper hydration.

You can do the bare minimum to achieve a whole hell of a lot.

But, you still gotta do.

To get started, hone in on the core concepts and principles surrounding the thing you want and do just the bare minimum.

In this video I’m going to walk you through the Habit Cycle and show you how to Hack Your Habits so that you can create the changes you want in as stress free way as possible.

I created that video in 2014. But, the principles are the same.

Take aways.

  • I hate the term “fake it til you make it.” Try authenticity instead. Embody your own truth.
  • Thoughts become things is a stupid thing to say because it’s so freaking ambiguous.
  • You are a robot. You are also the programer who choses the robotic actions.
  • The habit loop = Cue + Routine + Reward
  • I eat too much chocolate!
  • I didn’t want to set goals in 2014. Still don’t, but kind of have to.
  • BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habit Course ROCKS
  • Walkthrough of a Habit Chain of events I wanted to create in 2014.
  • Homer Simpson rocks.
  • Start Small
  • How you can Hack Your Habits
  • Things have changed! There is no more or a Podcast. The schedule for Soul Surfer School is a bit different. There is no podcast, unless you want one 😉 Subscribers, let me know if you do.

In this next video, I go a little more in-depth showing you how habits form.

I created that video a week later. But, the principles are the same.

Take aways.

  • Spyros kicks ass.
  • Your basal ganglia runs the show
  • You’re a bit of an addict
  • It’s not 2014, but I still want to Hack my Habits and become the best version of me, and I want you to do the same.
  • Science is cool. You can learn why you do things and how to control the things you do.TriuneBrainUpdate-8.9.2012
  • Triune Brain Theory—you have 3 brains and you need to get them all on the same page.
  • I love Ginger Juice!
  • You are a Reward SEEKING MACHINE!
  • Your basal Ganglia is an idiot!
  • Still no podcast on Thursdays… unless you want one… (subscribers email me if you want me to start a podcast).
  • I’m not a scientist, and need to research more about triune brain theory.
    This article on Scientific American is a great place to start.

Lizard brains aside, armed with this information…

You can start to make tiny improvements in your life right now.

You can be and do anything you set your mind to, you just have to set your mind.

Let’s bring this all together.

  • We’re all wired pretty similarly.
  • We have a need to seek out pleasure and avoid pain. And
  • If we pay close attention what we are getting out of life right now, we can devise a logical way of changing things up so we can get more out of life.
  • Hacking your Habits is all about finding the right rewards.

You may want to list some things that bring you joy and use that list as motivation to reach certain behavioral milestones.

What do I mean by that?

Let’s say you want a new electronic device like an iPod or a Desktop or something. You can afford it, and you want it like a kid wants christmas presents. Dangle that reward out in front of your behavioral milestones.

Here is an example: I want to get into shape, because the Carolina Cup Race is in the second week of April. (what and why)

And I want to start today. (when)

I need to eliminate as many choices as I can, so I will start with bodyweight exercises, squats, pushups and pull ups. (how)

And I’ll start a tiny habit and commit to doing 1 pull up and 5 each of the pushups and squats. And I’ll do this at 4pm (a better when)right before I walk the dogs. (reward)

I love walking our dogs. They crack me up how excited they get to walk the same path day after day. When we return from the walk I give them treats and treat myself to a snack. The walk is a treat in of itself.

The reason I chose bodyweight exercises is that you don’t need equipment to get into shape.

You need to eliminate your excuses.

Put your shorts on. Get to work.

My “Behavioral Milestone Rewards” will look like this:

  • 5 consecutive days in a row gets a small reward.
  • 10 out of 14 days gets a bigger reward and
  • on the first day of next month if I accumulate 20 days of exercise I get another reward.

And there you have it, a simple framework and a suggested action step that will help you start exercising.

You can mad-libs this process to do just about anything.

  • Describe the end you desire and why.
  • Look for the principles and core habits that lead to those results
  • Reduce the number of choices you have.
  • Reduce complexity.
  • Create your own rules and regulations by scheduling the actions you will take.
  • Reward yourself for taking the actions after you take them, when you accumulate consecutive days, and at the end of each 30 day cycle.

Replacing habits has a natural progression, once you know exactly what you want, and why.

Then you need to explore your deeply held beliefs about that subject, if it’s possible and if it’s possible for you.

That’s why I started this series out with the “Beastie Boys Breath Method for Coping with Life and Brining Your Awareness to the Present Moment.

Because, in the end, I really just want to be free of anxiety, happy with what I have and doing what I love.

Next post, we’re going to discuss A Simple, but Effective way to Get Back on Track.

I’m going to share with you a few ideas about finding keystone habits that will lock changes in place.

Now, if you want to, you should join the conversation by getting on the list so you can get your

This is part 3 of an 8-part Series on Overcoming Depression, Reducing Anxiety, and Getting More Out of Life

Part 1: The Over View to Happiness 101 and a Little About Me

Part 2:  My Favorite Coping Mechanism to Overcome Stress and Anxiety.

Part 3:  [You are Here] The Key to Achieving Personal Goals isn’t What I Thought.

Part 4:  A Simple, but Effective way to Get Back on Track.

Part 5: [coming soon] Rituals and Routines that Make Getting More out of Life Second Nature.

Part 6: [coming soon] What are Your Keystone Habits?

Part 7: [coming soon] Know when to Stay the Course and When to Pivot because Time is too Precious to Waste.

Part 8: [coming soon]  How to be Fluid and Calm During Challenging Times so that You Can Get More Out of Life.

About The Author


Hi, I'm Tim McAuley the founder of Soul Surfer School where I help people learn how to get out of their own way so they can create the life they deserve by sharing proven techniques to create better habits so they can do the work to actually deserve the life of their dreams.

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