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Student Opinion: Develop Formational Habits Rather Than Goals

Updated: Feb 20, 2020

By Skylar Bell Brenner, Entertainment Editor

At the beginning of every year, like most people, I take some time to self-reflect. I write down what I learned from the past year, what I accomplished and how I grew. Then I think of a list of goals to set for the next year.

At the end of 2013, halfway through seventh grade, I set goals including get straight A’s, stop drinking soda, make new friends, make the volleyball team, etc. I have continued this practice throughout the years, with my goals always being centered around a desire to accomplish something within the year, so that my year feels like it was successful.

However, this year I decided to do something different. I decided to redefine what a successful year looks like for myself. The book “To Hell with the Hustleby Jefferson Bethke (one of my favorite Christian authors who I highly recommend) inspired me to become more habit-oriented, rather than goal-oriented. Although it is a seemingly small change in semantics, it has made a huge impact on how I view personal growth.

In his book, Bethke explains that the main difference between habits and goals is that goals are essentially all about the finish line. Habits are what form a large portion of a person’s identity, while a goal is just an achievement or accomplishment. Habits are focused on being, while goals are focused on doing.

In 2020, I wanted to be more focused on who I am becoming every single day, rather than setting out-of-reach goals that would overwhelm me. Some of the habits that I am trying to create for myself this year include abiding in the Lord daily, being intentional in my relationships, praying consistently, forgiving quickly and creating a healthy exercise routine to maintain physical health.

All of the habits I came up with were thought up with the person of who I want to become in mind. I am far more motivated by what kind of person I want to be a year from now than I am by wanting to just check an accomplishment off my list.

This goes against the grain of our culture since we often define success as completing one single task. It is very linear, whereas forming habits is an ongoing process with no clear end in mind. While it is not inherently bad to set goals for yourself, it may not be the best way to motivate ourselves.

I cannot tell you how many times I have set a goal for myself that I forgot about after a few weeks into working towards the goal. For example, last semester, I told myself I would go to the gym three times a week. Without exposing myself, I’ll just say that I was not satisfied with my success rate. I also promised myself I would read my Bible every day. A week in and I had already forgot a day and suddenly I found myself left with the guilt of failing to achieve one simple task.

The simple truth is we are creatures of habit who will be more driven with the bigger purpose in mind of wanting to shape our identity, rather than check off a box on our personal to-do list (although I do love a good to-do list). When we focus on who we are becoming through the habits we create, we have a greater purpose driving our accomplishments, big or small. Even if we are only practicing those habits that are set 80 percent of the time, we are still growing 80 percent and that is still growth. With a goal, it’s pass or fail, win or lose. With formational habits, we see a gradual improvement of who we want to become every single day. The good news is you don’t have to wait until the next new year to start creating new habits for yourself.


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