Welcome back! This post is Part II of a series on how I set my habit goals. If you haven’t already done so, read Part I first.
Step 2 – Choose a Time and Frequency Goal for your Habit
I answered a LOT of questions this past year about this step.
For all my habit goals, I defined a specific frequency and time frame. For example:
- Do a strength workout 150 times this year.
- In October, I set a goal to deposit $10 into my emergency fund 15 times by the end of the year.
One of the most common questions I am asked was “how do you decide how many times you are aiming to do your habit?”
How do you decide on a time frame?
I’m going to go over time frame before frequency, because that is easy.
I am a HUGE fan of doing a year-long time frame, for several reasons:
- the whole persistence thing quoted in part I. If we feel we should be doing these things consistently over a long period of time, we should have a time frame that encourages that.
- There are disadvantages to going with shorter time frames, such as the week (example: I’m going to go to the gym 3 times per week this year). Let’s be realistic here. We know that we are not going to do this EVERY week. Some weeks we might go four times. We might get sick. We might get injured. The weather might suck. We might have to stay late at work to finish a big project. We might have to go on a business trip. We might take a few weeks to figure out how to overcome whatever obstacles were holding us back from doing it in the first place. A longer time frame allows for all of these things, while still allowing us not to get discouraged when we didn’t meet our goals EVERY week, because we are human.
- It encourages patience and a macro-view instead of a micro-view. There certain habits that might be easier during certain times of year and more difficult during other times of year. A year-long practice encourages the development of patience and chilling the f*ck out and looking at the big picture….both when things are tough and when they are good. It eliminates the roller coaster of emotions that come with overhauling a lifestyle and then falling on your ass.
My first habit goals were set with a year-long time frame. Then, any subsequent habit goals were set with the time frame of “by December 31.” That way I could reset all the goals as needed at the same time, once per year. Your mileage may vary.
How do you decide on a frequency goal for your habit?
Here is what I did to figure out a frequency goal for each habit. It worked really well for me, as I am on track to meet most of my frequency goals by the end of the year.
First, ask yourself these questions (write down the answers):
- How many times per week am I CURRENTLY doing this habit? For many habits, the answer may be “inconsistently” or “not at all” or “some weeks I get 3 days, then for the rest of the month I don’t do any.” That’s okay. Make your best guess at an honest average. It is okay to put down “zero” or “less than one.” (Also, I know I said I am not a fan of the “per week” time frame, but bear with me here. It’s usually easier for most people to answer this question in terms of weeks than in terms of a year.)
- How many times in an average week would I like to be doing this habit in AN IDEAL SCENARIO, if I was a perfect person with no obstacles to creating this habit?
Now, choose a middle ground between the above two numbers.
It should be a number that is more than what you currently do… and you should be 95% sure that you can actually attain this number over the course of the time frame you’ve chosen.
Before we move on to the next step, make sure that the number looks achievable for you. Be honest. Don’t be a type A person who bites off more than you can chew. You are not aiming for perfection; you are aiming for consistency. Really look at that number and ask yourself if you are 95% sure you can achieve that.
But don’t overthink it. If you choose the wrong number, you can always adjust at a later date.
NOW…..convert that weekly frequency into a yearly frequency
Take that weekly number, and multiply it by 50. There’s your starting frequency.
That is not a typo. I know that there are actually 52 weeks in a year, not 50. And I also know that we all make mistakes when working on new skills, habits, and hobbies. In the case of water drinking, there may be fewer obstacles than say, going to the gym…..but you want to allow for them. The purpose of setting habit goals is to help improve your life, not to set unreasonable standards that make you feel guilty when you fall short. So, we use 50 and not 52 so we can allow ourselves a buffer for to allow for “life happening.”
What if I’m not using a yearly time frame for my goals?
Just adjust the number. Instead of multiplying by 50, multiply by the number of weeks (minus a couple) in the time frame you’ve chosen.
That seems like an awfully…..unexciting number.
I like to view these frequency goals as….goals, not maximums. If you meet your goal early, shoot for more at the end. You’ll be wicked proud of yourself. I sure am! Ask me how much fun it is to smash through goals in November, instead of giving up on my goals in January or February ;).
All right! If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably:
- Made a list of some habits you’d like to work on
- Chosen one of these habits to work on first.
- Figured out a time frame for this habit (choose yearly! Do it!)
- Figured out a frequency goal for this habit and time frame.
In Part III, I will go over my habit tracking system, which I assure you is just as unexciting as my goal setting process, and just as effective. It also requires much less thought on a daily basis than planning and setting the goals!