Goals Vs Habits

First up I need to declare a bit of a vested interest. I absolutely love goals. I love everything about them. The thinking about what you want to change, deciding to make a fresh start, working towards your goals and then that wonderful buzz that you get when you achieve them. Goals are kind of my thing. I’m not quite sure how people get out of bed in the morning without knowing that they have goals they’re working towards. One of my favourite books is “Goals! How To Get Everything You Want – Faster Than You Ever Though Possible” by Brian Tracy. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve read that book. It inspires me every time I even think about reading it again.

I used to work in sales and I loved having targets. If I didn’t know what I was supposed to achieve then I didn’t feel like I had a reason to go to work. Working in financial services things changed a bit and you were no longer allowed to have targets. Rightly so you should be providing what’s right for the customer. The thing is though that if sales is done right the customer gets what’s right for them and you hit your quota. If I wasn’t given a target then I would just set one for myself.

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As well as targets at work I’ve always set myself goals to work on in my private life. I’m constantly working on my weight, exercise, sleep, studying languages, you name it really. I’m good at achieving goals if I really set my mind to it. My problem has never really been around not being able to hit goals, but rather in deciding what I wanted to work towards. Once I had something in mind then I would do everything in my power to achieve that goal.

There’s been a number of times in my life where I’ve had some pretty audacious goals. When I was in my early twenties I decided that I wanted to go and live and work in Spain. I had just graduated, had a load of debt, no idea how to earn a living over there and I didn’t speak a word of Spanish. Within two years I’d paid all my debts off, had been to night classes to learn enough Spanish to get by and I had been on a two week course to learn how to teach English as a foreign language. Next thing I knew I was over in Spain living my dream.

Another goal that I set myself was around the house that I lived in. After getting divorced I found myself having to start again financially with a two and three year old in tow. The family home got sold and I had to downsize to what I could afford on part time wages with child care thrown into the mix. I made a lovely home for the three of us, and we lived in that house for eleven years. I always knew I wanted something better though. I overpaid my mortgage, scrimped and saved and invested money that was to be allocated for the next home. Four years ago I managed to move us to a much bigger house, with plenty of room for the kids to come back to stay after they’ve flown the nest. It also gives me the option to have my folks come to live with me if needs be in the future. This was a really important goal for me, but not one that could be achieved quickly or easily. I learnt the value of patience whilst working towards this goal.

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Whilst researching financial planning I discovered the FIRE movement which then gave me my biggest goal ever to shoot for. On the face of it I wasn’t the ideal candidate for FIRE. I was in my late forties by the time I discovered it. I was in a position where I honestly thought I could never retire. All my planning had been around surviving month to month and trying to improve our living situation. Every time I thought about retirement and pensions I would feel incredibly stressed and that there was nothing I could do about my situation. In just a few years I’ve gone from that point to knowing that I can definitely retire at sixty, probably on more disposable income than I’ve ever had before, and with it looking pretty likely that I’ll be able to afford to go part time in four years time when I hit 55. That’s quite a turnaround.

The way I’ve been able to work my way towards FIRE is with goal setting. I’ve looked at how much I need to have invested to be able to stop working. As time has gone on I’ve adjusted these goals, and decided that I wanted to have a bit more money in retirement to be able to travel when I want to. My goals have changed as a result and I’m definitely on track to achieve everything that I want to. No doubt there will be plenty more adjustments to make over the next nine years, but staying flexible in the face of new information is one of the things I love about goal setting.

As I’m such a big fan of goal setting I’m not sure why I’d need any other way to work towards change. Then I read James Clear’s book “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way To Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones”. That was a bit of a game changer for me. I am all about habits and routines, probably more than is good for me, but this showed me the benefits of the way that I have naturally organised my life. I already have so many habits that have developed naturally over time, lots of them good, but plenty of them not quite so beneficial.

I tried to think about all of the habits that I have. I’m sure I have missed a lot, but some of them include

  • Weighing myself every day
  • Doing physio exercises for my neck in the shower daily
  • Making my bed every morning
  • Having the same porridge with raisins and chia seeds breakfast
  • Strength exercises to help with my running
  • Meditating
  • Having a fruit and yoghurt morning snack
  • Drying down the shower to stop mould developing
  • Studying Spanish on Duolingo (900 days and counting)
  • Running
  • Eating a bowl of branflakes after work
  • Taking part in parkrun every Saturday that I’m not working
  • Speaking to my folks every Sunday

Quite frankly the list could go on and on. I am clearly a creature of habit. If I’m brutally honest I’ve always thought that this is a bad thing about myself. I’m stuck in my ways, I’m not good with change and I don’t like to deviate from my norm. After reading James Clear though I’ve started to view things a little bit differently. I’ve realised that a lot of the habits I have in place are really good ones. As I do the same things at the same time every day I don’t have to think about them. I’ve been doing my physio exercises for my neck for about fifteen years since I had a trapped nerve. I don’t give it any thought. I’m in the shower and I do my exercises. I’m pretty sure if I had to make myself do those exercises it wouldn’t happen, but as it is no will power whatsoever is requited. Similarly if it’s 9.30 on a Saturday (9am in England) and I’m not at work I’ll be in a park somewhere lining up to run 5k. No needing to make myself go out for a run. It’s a non negotiable in my life. Saturdays are parkrun days.

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I’ve realised that a lot of the things I do in my life are because of how I view myself. I don’t run for exercise or because it’s good for me, I run because I’m a runner (and I like to eat). I realised recently that I’d stopped viewing myself as a healthy person, and as a result my eating habits had got pretty bad. I’d put on weight and I was generally eating a pretty poor diet. I had a word with myself, remembered that I’m health conscious and started to buy more healthy tasty food. As a result I’ve dropped half a stone without really trying. My new mantra is that I’m eating for health not for weight. It’s all about making consistently healthy lifestyle choices. And a lot of that is all about automating my choices. Not having chocolate in the house, but instead plenty of fruit and veg.

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I think for me probably a combination of goals and habits works quite well. I really enjoy the whole thing of setting goals and seeing myself making progress towards them. In all honesty though every time I achieve a goal it’s because I’ve implemented good habits. My most recent habit I’ve introduced is meditation. I’ve always thought it wasn’t really active enough for me and that it wouldn’t suit me. After my recent mental health struggles though I was willing to give anything a go. Of course I set myself a goal around this of completing all the Headspace beginner courses. I’m well on track to achieve that, but I think that’s probably because I’ve instigated a habit of meditating every morning after breakfast and before I start work. So for me I think I probably need the dopamine hit of ticking things off my To Do list whilst working towards my goals, but it’s the habits that I implement that are going to get me to where I want to be.

More Treat Than Trick For Me This October

As usual I’ve got last month’s figures in brackets for comparison. I’ve got my Defined Benefits Pension in there based on twenty years worth of money if I start drawing it at 60. I track how I’m doing with my mortgage balance compared to my AVC balance. The reason for this is that I made a decision to mostly stop overpaying my mortgage. Instead I use that extra money to put more into my AVC fund. So hopefully I’ll start to see my AVC fund increase in value and more slowly my mortgage balance come down until they meet at some point and I have enough in my AVC fund to clear my mortgage when I retire. That’s the plan anyway.


Mortgage £90,408.16 (£90,900.44)


Cash £28,252.00 (£28,202.74)

Defined Benefits £137,586 (£137,586)

AVC’s £16,754.95 (£15,346.81)

Shares £80,026.26 (£73,460.94)

House £269,000 (£269,000)

Total £531,619.21 (£523,596.49)

Net Worth including house equity

£531,619.21 – £90,408.16 = £441,211.05 (£432,696.05)

AVC Fund vs Mortgage Balance

£16,754.95 – £90,408.16 = -£73,653.21 (-£75,553.63)

That’s a very pleasing set of figures. The markets very kindly did a big jump up just as I was working my monthly figures out. I’m very happy with that increase in the value of my shares. Of course since then the work share price has dropped again a bit, so next month’s figures might not be quite so impressive. For now though I’m happy with the increase. Nice to see the chunk of money that I put in from dividends and the sale of some of the work shares doing so well.

I always like to have arbitrary targets to aim for, just to break up the monotony of striving for FIRE. There’s a few coming up that I have in my sights. My mortgage will duck under £90k next month. Still far too high for me to feel complacent about, but I can see my plan working of paying into my AVC fund rather than overpaying my mortgage. Saying that, all this talk of increasing interest rates is making me somewhat jittery, but in the grand scheme of things rates are not likely to change enough for me to adjust my strategy. Investment wise I’ve got £45k in my Vanguard account, and it will be nice to see that hit £50k. And when I combine my shares and AVC fund I’m just shy of £97k. It will be lovely to hit £100k as psychologically that is such a big barrier. A few things there for me to reach in the hopefully not too distant future.

I didn’t set myself any goals for October and I’m going to continue in that vein for November too. I’ve got an ongoing battle with my mental health, which is taking all my focus for now. I made some really good progress this month, returning to work on a phased return. I’m back to full time hours from next week and and back on the phones then too speaking to customers again. It’s been a bit of a bumpy ride getting back to work, but it’s an important step in me learning to live with this anxiety for the time being until I hopefully get back on a bit more of an even keel.

The main thing want to focus on is my health again. The positive that I can take from the difficulties I’ve been having is that I am really drilling down on what is important for my health. I’ve talked a fair bit over the last few years about how important I feel sleep is for our health. That belief hasn’t always translated into me actually going to bed early, but I certainly have recognised how much better I feel when I get more sleep. Getting enough sleep is no longer an optional extra for me. A combination of my feelings and the medication I’m taking are making me absolutely exhausted. It gets to 8.00 and I’m thinking “how soon can I go to bed?” I’m sure I won’t always feel like this, but for now sleep is absolutely crucial for me. I use a sleep tracker and during October there were only four nights where I didn’t get at least eight hours sleep. I’m still exhausted all the time, but at least I’m giving my body the best possible chance to deal with everything that is going on.

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Similarly my eating is going really well. Again this is something I have repeatedly set myself goals around. My weight has fluctuated my entire life, and whilst most people would say I was slim and not notice when I put weight on, for me it’s been a big issue. For now I am not beating myself up about what I eat, but I am focussing on eating plenty of fruit and veg and avoiding sweet food. Without really trying I have lost a reasonable amount of weight. I’m only a couple of pounds away from the lowest my weight ever goes. I feel trim and most importantly it’s not feeling like a struggle. I didn’t consciously set out to lose weight. It sounds ridiculous, but I just started buying more nice healthy food and stopped buying myself sweet treats. We’ll see if I can keep this up once I’m back to dealing with customers all day long and working full time hours. I’m quietly confident. It feels like something has changed. I’m eating for my health rather than for my weight. Of course it could just be stress and the medications causing me to lose weight, but hopefully not.

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My running on the other hand is not going so great. I’m still going out, but only for 3 or 4 miles at a time. Since I went on Prozac I don’t seem to be able to run to save my life. My legs feel sluggish and the anxiety is causing me difficulties in regulating my breathing. It seems unbelievable that I managed to pull the Great North Run out of the bag just back in September. I’m not going to worry too much about this. I don’t have any races until May. I’m treating running as a form of therapy just now. My fabulous running friends (well, you know they are actual friends but we met through running and it’s our favourite thing to do together) are making sure that I get out so that I get some exercise and chat about how I’m feeling. They really are outstanding.

I’ve got a couple of trips out this month. I’m through to Edinburgh with one of the kids for a symphony concert and I also have some comedy to go to with a night out to see Chris Ramsey with one of my friends. It’s nice to have a couple of things to look forward to, and I might even get my favourite boots re-heeled, and possibly even my first haircut in over a year. I’m hoping that’s a sign that I’m starting to feel a bit better and ready to start participating in the world again. Here’s hoping!