Why you need to build habits AND set goals

Justin San Juan
5 min readOct 21, 2022

This article describes the benefits of building habits, and why you need to pair them with goals. The underlying force of why we want to build habits and set goals is to maintain high motivation to be productive in our lives.

The benefits of building habits

There are several life-changing keystone habits. These include regular exercise, bullet journaling, reading, and meditation according to Improvement Pill’s video on ranking 32 habits. Among other powerful habits are cooking, writing, socializing, etc.

The reasons these habits are great is because they focus on your health

That is, they generally revolve around physical, mental, and emotional health. This allows you to become more energized, recuperate, and develop better learning from your daily life.

Another reason building habits is good is to exhibit continuous progress

This is another important point from Improvement Pill’s video where our many failures in life can lead to significant demotivation especially when we are aiming for a lofty goal. This is because success and failure are binary results — either we did it or not. Meanwhile, building the right habits contribute the chances of our next attempt being successful.

For example, if our goal is to become an entrepreneur and start a successful business, an important habit to build is to talk to customers, and even if several of our businesses fail, it is crucial to recognize that we are actually closer to achiveing our goal.

A view from a different lens — Failing multiple times is like running in circles, building habits is like rising in a spiral

Building habits is an upward spiral rather than running in circles
What feels like running in circles is an upward spiral if you build powerful habits.

In my own experience in developing a thesis for my Masters program, I had to find a topic that was not yet well-researched. I numerous topics one after another, each time finding that this problem had already been addressed. This felt like running in circles as I was back to not having a topic every time.

However, along the way, I developed strong habits that accelerated my research paper reading skills. Specifically, this is the habit of first developing target questions and then scanning papers first to find the answers instead of reading the whole paper in one go. Because of this, later iterations of this topic-search process were easier. Eventually, after looking through 6 different topics in the field of Serverless architecture and Networking, I settled on a 7th topic involving accelerating GPU cold starts in serverless data centers.

The limitations of building habits

However, just building habits for the sake of building habits will still lead to demotivation. This is speaking from personal experience. In my case, reading papers on a regular basis is a good habit, but it felt like my newly developed skills have only gotten me so far. Remembering and reminding myself of the goal of completing the thesis program and getting better leverage in my industry helped empower me to move forward. It also helps to break such broad goals down into smaller phases to make it feel closer and more achievable.

Without a dream, there is no real reason to build a habit

In this case, you will find yourself with no motivation even if you have build the habit without seeing progress made to some direction. A quick reminder of WHY you are building a habit is important.

It is important to note that busy ≠ productive —just because you are fully occupied, does not mean you will acquire a sense of achievement. It is crucial then to set goals that matter to you.

The benefits of setting goals

Setting goals can inspire you to work towards it

Our goals, whether it is to become an influencer, become a data analyst, or to become an athlete, help motivate us to take action.

The path towards it becomes clearer when we set our goals

By starting with “what success looks like”, it then becomes easier to work backwards, and find out that in order to reach some milestone of say, getting 100k followers, we need to begin writing articles every week.

Why this works so well is because by setting our goals, we fix a point in our future of where we want to be, then any action we plan on taking from now on can easily be deciphered as building towards it, or not.

The limitations of setting goals

Goals give binary results, which can be disappointing

As mentioned before, because we either succeed or fail in meeting our goals, it can lead to demotivation when we fail. Goals have no means of showing progress, and thus are limited in that way.

Goals can and tend to be too broad

Some argue that you should make your goals as wild as possible (e.g. aim to make 10 million this year instead of just aiming for 100 thousand (Ferris, 2009) in the book “The 4-Hour Workweek”. Whether your goal is wild or not, analyzing this goal and working backwards to define next steps is crucial to gaining the motivation to work towards it.

Reaching your goal can lead to demotivation

Upon climbing to the top of a mountain, we can breathe in the fresh air and a great view, but from there, if there is no other mountain in sight, the path ahead is only downwards. When we meet our goals, especially after an immensely long journey, focusing on the lack of further goals, and not paying attention to the positive habits that we have built and is fuel for pessimism.

Some claim that talking about your goals makes you less inclined to doing it

Derek Sivers in a 2014 TED talk says this because when you talk about your goal, you picture yourself more in your completed state, allegedly causing you to be more complacent and not work towards it.

Arguably for me, discussing my goals with my peers helps me refine them and energizes me to work towards it.


Overall, the path towards meaningful productivity rather than wasteful occupancy looks like setting a high-level goal for ourselves, working backwards to what our next steps should be, then building the habits to maximize our chances of reaching that goal.

I hope these tips can help you become more productive and motivated. If so, I really appreciate your clap :)

If you have more ideas that you think can help, send me a message or comment down below!



Justin San Juan

Award-Winning Software Engineer | Business and Web Consultant