If you’re going big with your goals, chances are good you’re going to have to break some bad habits in the process. But there’s a problem. You have those bad habits for a reason. You depend on them to meet some kind of emotional need. And without finding new ways to meet those needs, achieving your goal will be a lot harder than it has to be.

Set yourself up for success by using these two questions to get clear about how to support yourself as you pursue your goals.

1) What do you want from your goal?

What’s the outcome or result you want from achieving your goal? And most important of all, why do you want to achieve it?

Ultimately, asking yourself this question is a chance to revisit your goal and make sure it’s something you really want. It’s also a chance to get clear about how achieving the goal will benefit you.

I’ll give you an example. Let’s say your goal is to quit smoking this year.

Quitting smoking is a great goal on its own, but getting specific about the benefits you want to gain will help a lot. Benefits like getting rid of your smoker’s cough and being able to hike with your friends without wheezing are great, tangible examples.

This step should be easy if you’re getting really specific about what success looks like, and how you’ll measure your progress.

The next question is all about what you’re doing instead of making progress on your goal, and why you’re doing it.

2) What are you doing instead?

It’s a simple question, but it’s easy to overlook. Whatever you’re doing instead is also something you want. It’s doing something for you. You have two competing desires, and one of them—the old habit—is a lot more comfortable.

Instead, why not stack the deck in your favor and find new ways to meet those needs while you pursue your goal?

Here’s what to do next.

List how your old habit rewards you

It’s time to brainstorm. List everything about your old habit that rewards you or meets an emotional need. Write down everything you enjoy about it. Every way it makes you feel cool, sexy, special or important. Everything about it that helps you cope with the stresses in your life.

As you go through this exercise, you’ll begin to see why quitting your bad habit is so hard (besides chemical addiction, in the case of my smoking example)—it’s actually doing some really important work for you.

Sticking with the smoking example, your list might look something like this:

  • It’s an easy ice-breaker at social gatherings. I can always talk to the other smokers.
  • It helps me calm down when I’m feeling anxious.
  • It makes me feel cool/sexy/tough.
  • I get to take regular breaks from work.
  • When I go out, it makes me feel like I’m living for the moment.

Use your list to make a plan

Now you have a list of how your old habit rewards you. The next step is to figure out how to preserve those rewards without it.

Here are some options I came up with for quitting smoking:

  • Explore a mindfulness practice. This would help with both the need for anxiety management and for living in the moment.
  • Brush up on your conversational skills. There are loads of books available that offer strategies and tactics for better ice-breaking and conversational skills.
  • Budget time for solitude. Instead of a smoking break, taking a 10 minute walk around the block will get you out of the office and get you some valuable exercise.

Whatever the case, your chances of success will be much better if you’re making an effort to take care of the needs that your old habit is providing.

The bottom line

  • Achieving a goal is hard enough without having to break old habits.
  • Maximize your chances of success by figuring out what rewards you get from the old habit that you want to change.
  • Do everything you can to continue to meet those needs in ways that support your new goal.

Can you think of a goal that you’ve tried and failed to achieve that might have benefitted from this approach? Share your experience in the comments and let us know what you’d do differently this time!

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