Routines over goals

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Why choose routines over goals? Because routines are about the journey, whereas goals are about the destination.

For each item below, select which one you think is easier:

  • Workout 3 times a week, or lose 30 pounds.
  • Read for 30 minutes a day, or read 30 books.

As you can tell, the one on the left is a routine, and the one on the right is a goal. The problem with goals is that sometimes the bar is set too high, which leads to dread, guilt, and/or pushback.

Routines, on the other hand, won’t penalize you for failing to meet expectations. For example, if you set a goal to lose 30 pounds by the end of the year but don’t accomplish it, you’ll feel like a failure. But if you set a routine to go to the gym 3 times a week and miss a week, that’s okay as long as you keep to it the next week.

Therefore, the real benefit of routines is that you make small, incremental progress over time. You’re not expected to succeed overnight. This means that you can relieve yourself from any pressure that comes with goals. To make the most out of your routine, all you have to do is to be as consistent as possible. Actions first, results second.

Also, if you do the math, you might achieve a goal quicker by going through the routine. For instance, if by hitting the gym 3 times a week, you lose 3 pounds a week. Then by the end of 10 weeks (or 2.5 months), you’ll have reached your goal of losing 30 pounds. Isn’t that great?


So how did routines help me? In the past, I set a goal to be more active on GitHub. However, that only burned me out. As a result, I developed a routine to commit once per day (at minimum). Now take a look at my contribution graph in 2020:

1,707 contributions in 2020
GitHub contributions in 2020

This not only improved my contributions in open source, but I was also able to on my . The unintended consequences were:


So how can routines help you? Follow the steps below to create a routine for yourself:

  1. Find something you want to achieve.
  2. Work backwards to identify a set of routines and behaviors that can take you there.
  3. Stay disciplined with your routine (check it off your calendar every time you do it). And over time, you’ll accomplish your goal.

What routines are you going to create (instead of goals) this year? Let me know in the comments below!




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