Goal Coaching: Turning Actions into Habits

By Scott Rosberg

The third post in our Goal Setting for Coaches series discusses the process of actions evolving into long term habits. 

In the last couple of weeks, I have been discussing goals. In the post, “Be Goal-Driven,” I started the conversation by discussing the importance of setting achievable, challenging goals. In last week’s post, “Be Action-Oriented,” I continued the conversation by talking about the importance of then taking action steps to achieve those goals. Today, we move into the concept of creating habits to help you achieve and sustain the achievement of your goals.

We need to establish actions necessary to achieve our goals. We then need to work at those actions on a regular basis for us to see the accomplishment of the goals that we seek. Only by taking action will this happen.

However, we need to develop habits with our actions. The key to actions becoming habits is the phrase “on a regular basis.” We must consistently perform certain action steps for us to achieve the success we seek. The more we consistently perform those actions, the better the odds are of success.

But also, the more we consistently perform those actions, the more habitual they become. As we ingrain in our mindsets and our bodies the repetition of certain action steps, the more we not only accept them as part of the necessity of our actions, but the more we also begin to embrace them. They become part of our everyday existence. The more they are part of our everyday existence, the more we feel the need for them. The more we feel the need for them, the more they continue to be part of our everyday existence. It is a cycle that gets created and begins to perpetuate itself.SUCCESS

While you will hear all kinds of statistics on how long it takes for something to become a habit, ultimately, the number doesn’t matter. The mindset is what matters. The more you do something, the more it becomes a part of you. The more it becomes a part of you, the more you do it. Whether you do it for weeks, months, or years, the key is in the habitual repetition of doing it.


Another key to creating habits that stick is to create triggers for them. In order to make an action become a habit that sticks, it needs some kind of a preceding event that makes your mind (and often your body) step up and say, “Oh, now I’m supposed to do this.” These triggers are usually action steps in and of themselves. The idea is that once you perform that action, your mind automatically expects for you to do the next action.

Triggers are powerful. Once you have created enough action steps that you feel like you are “in a habit,” it becomes almost like second nature to you to do that thing. But what so often creates that second nature feeling is the trigger.

There is kind-of a Pavlovian element to this. In the famous example of behavioral conditioning, when Pavlov rang a bell and then gave his dog a treat, his dog started to expect the treat every time he heard the bell. After a while, every time the dog heard the bell, he started to salivate in anticipation of the treat, whether he was given a treat or not.

In that experiment, Pavlov showed us the power of a trigger. The trigger was the bell. The action that the bell created was the salivating in anticipation of the treat. But what this shows us is that we can also use the concept of a trigger to help us create habits, not just respond to triggers involuntarily.

For example, let’s say you have a goal to lose 15 pounds. In order to achieve this goal, you will need to adjust your diet and your exercise schedule. Let’s say you are pretty good with being able to change your eating habits, but you struggle being consistent with exercising. However, you are determined to lose that weight, so you start on a path of working out on a more consistent basis.

You decide that your best time to work out is in the early morning before you go to work. You know that you have struggled in the past to get to the gym after work because you are tired, have a family, have other obligations, or a myriad of other reasons that have easily swayed you to not go. So you have decided that early in the morning will be your time to hit the gym.

As you start on your path, you are energized and excited. Your goal is fresh in your mind, and you feel determined that this time will be different. However, like with anything else, you will have moments that will step up to try to stop you from going. It is precisely because of this that you will want triggers to help you.

Your first triggers will actually occur the night before. You will want to lay out your workout clothes in a convenient place for you to see them and then put them on when you wake up. You will want to also put the clothes that you will wear after your workout in a gym bag, so you are packed and ready to go when you wake up. You will then want to make sure you get to bed at a decent time, so as to help you wake up at the right time. You should also consider saying some kind of affirmation before going to sleep about how much you like the new you that you are becoming and that getting up and working out is enjoyable and the best thing you can do for yourself.

Your next trigger will be your alarm clock the next morning. You will want to treat it like your opportunity to improve. Use it to be the impetus to almost jump out of bed and start your day. You might choose to put the alarm clock across the room, so you force yourself to get up. Once you are up, there is no reason to go back to bed. Head to your workout clothes that you laid out the night before and put them on. Once your workout clothes are on, you are in “workout mode.” Take care of any morning needs, such as using the bathroom, brushing your teeth, and grabbing a light pre-workout snack and coffee or tea.

Then you are out the door and on your way. At this point, your triggers should have done their job for you. However, once you are at the gym, you may need a whole different set of triggers to make sure your workout goes the way you want it to. The point is that your day will be filled with all kinds of opportunities for habits to be created that will lead you to success. For each of those habits, you may have multiple “trigger points” that will help you maintain those habits the way you need them to be.

Habits for Coaches

So how does this work for coaches? In exactly the same way. Once you have established your goals and decided on the necessary actions to take to achieve them, you will want to start to build in habits for those actions. For example, consider the importance of practice on the success of your team each season. Without good practice, you have no chance at success.

But what are you doing to ensure that you have great practices? Hopefully, you are not just “winging it.” (See my post “I Just Wing It” for more on this problem.) Make sure you are writing out your practice plans. Get in the habit of taking the necessary amount of time to plan out a great practice. Your trigger might be the practice that you just had. Some coaches finish practice and immediately sit down and write out their next one, while the plusses and minuses of the previous practice are fresh in their minds.

Another trigger might be when you arrive at your practice facility. You start to set things up – equipment, scoreboards, water coolers, practice plans for coaches, sweeping the floor, etc. – to trigger the optimal setting for a great practice. Whatever triggers you choose to help you, the point is that you are being intentional about setting up a great practice. You are not going to leave anything to chance. While you are not guaranteed a great practice, your preparation for practice will NOT be a reason why your practice was not the best it could be.

Now, take this concept of creating triggers to develop good habits and apply it to any and every element of your coaching. What kind of habits have you created that help you to achieve your goals to the best of your ability? What are some other habits that you can establish that will help you be even more successful at achieving them? Consistently developing and enacting action steps that will lead to achieving your goals will help you to create the kinds of habits you need to succeed.

Next week I will wrap up this mini-series with the final post. Until then, keep working on your action steps to create the habits necessary for you to achieve your goals.

More from Scott Rosberg: Intentionally Create Your Culture | Locker Room Culture Tips

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Teaching and Coaching have been two of my greatest passions since I began my career over 30 years ago. I have always believed that as coaches, we are teachers just like any classroom teacher. However, we are entrusted with so much more than just teaching skills and techniques of our specific sports. We are role models, counselors, and educators of the many life lessons that sports can teach young people. Therefore, it is imperative that we intentionally work to teach those lessons to our athletes. You can find more articles like this at: http://www.greatresourcesforcoaches.com/
December 29, 2018 – Los Angeles, CA, U.S. – LOS ANGELES, CA – DECEMBER 29: San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon looks on during a NBA game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers on December 29, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire) (Credit Image: © Brian Rothmuller/Icon SMI via ZUMA Press)

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