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  • Barbara Mayfield, MS, RD, LD, FAND

Want to create habits to achieve your goals? Do first things first.


sticky notes on a desk read first things first

When do you most often set goals? At New Year’s when making resolutions is considered the thing to do? In fact, if you don’t set goals at New Year's, you might feel like a slacker. Leading to some serious FOMO.


However, New Year’s is not the only time for setting goals. Goal setting is appropriate anytime, although it is most common when we are experiencing some type of new beginning.


Don’t feel like you need to wait for January 1st or to start a new job to set goals. Start today. The act of setting a goal can itself be considered a new beginning.


Want to achieve your goals? Create habits.

One of the most effective ways to achieve your goals is to create habits that will lead you to your desired results. Read more about habits in What is a proven way to achieve your goals? Create habits.

Habits make goal achievement successful because they automate the processes necessary to reach your destination. However, creating habits doesn’t happen overnight and requires persistence and patience. Good news: Habit formation can be made easier by implementing proven habit hacks.


This post is the first in a series to introduce more than a dozen different tools and concepts that will make building and changing habits more successful. In turn, the habits you create make achieving your goals possible and more permanent.


Creating habits to achieve your goals? Do first things first.

Habits don’t exist in isolation. Most habits are linked with other habits. To be successful, identify which habits are foundational habits. These are the habits that must happen first for other habits to be possible.


Let’s look at some examples.


Many people resolve to eat more balanced meals. However, if they currently don’t eat meals how can they be successful in achieving this goal? They need to do first things first. In other words, begin with the goal to eat meals. Once that is a habit, they can work on making their meals balanced. One meal at a time.


You might argue that they could create both habits at the same time. Yes, that is possible. However, in some situations taking small first steps is more successful than making bold moves. For more on whether to take small steps or bold moves, read the post: To create or change habits should you take small steps or bold moves?


Another example of a foundational habit, related to communication skills, could be a resolution to become a more active listener. That’s a great goal but requires other habits to be in place before one’s listening skills can improve.


A first step might be improving our attending skills – being fully present and giving our undivided attention. In other words, getting in an attending posture and frame of mind that allows for active listening.


Another example could be related to financial goals. One might resolve to form the habit of saving money each month. Making this habit a reality requires having a savings or investment account, signing up for payroll deductions, and/or establishing a budget. Do first things first.


What foundational habits do you need to begin with?

As you consider the goals you want to achieve and the habits that will help you achieve them, work backward to determine what needs to happen first to get you headed in the right direction.


How does one do this? Put into practice the tools of reflection and assessment. We reflect before taking action. We consider where we are now and where we want to go. Reflecting on our current situation, what we know, feel, and do is assessment. Improvement starts with assessment.

Check out these tools to assess your knowledge and skill in nutrition communication.

Your turn to create a habit and take the first steps toward achieving your goals.

  • Reflect and assess to determine your starting point and end goal(s).

  • Select and write down the first goal you want to achieve.

  • Next, describe one or more habits that will help you achieve your goal.

  • Further assess your current situation and reflect on how well you practice each habit listed.

  • Determine which habits are foundational and must be in place for other habits to be successful.

  • Begin with mastering one foundational habit at a time by taking practical daily steps.

  • Add additional steps and additional habits as each one becomes second nature.

  • Reflect on your progress and continue taking action.

The next post in our series will explore the importance of consistent scheduling and monitoring to create habits.


“Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things.” ~ C. S. Lewis


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