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Stop Setting Goals. Focus on Your Systems Instead

Woo it's 2024!

This blog wouldn't be complete in 2024 without some discussion about goal setting in dog training...

There's nothing like a nice shiny fresh start to the year to give you some extra motivation to reach your dog training goals!

So I am a bit obsessive when it comes to "goal setting" or really what I would call habit creation...

Honestly almost all of dog training is habit creation which turns into reaching goals for you and your dog!

Over the years I have found time and time again that reaching your goals actually has nothing to do with goal setting, but it has everything to do with creating daily habits that take steps toward your goal. It also has to do a lot with eliminating "bad" habits that work against your goal.

If you haven't read James Clear's Atomic Habits go purchase it right now... it will change your life!

He states, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

This quote blows my mind.

Reaching goals is all about creating systems that support daily consistent effort toward reaching your goals. NOT about will power.

(I will describe in more detail what a system is and how to build it farther down the page)

I think the biggest disappointment people face when training their dog is creating a goal and being wholly focused on the goal and especially the time stamp.

Obviously you don't want to be working on the same thing forever, but trying to put a time frame on training isn't predictable because we can't predict the future, and the time isn't really what matters. Actually the goal doesn't matter either.

The future is completely out of your control so why give it so much power when all your power resides in this moment right now?

Your consistent daily effort over time is what matters.

What you do in this present moment that's what matters.

That's what builds momentum.

Put your power, presence, focus, and attention on what you can build now and your power will

reside at the center of a wheel. As you give off power from the center, the wheel spins and you gain momentum, energy, and power and suddenly you're rolling off in the right direction!

When you put your energy into the future goal, or on the time it takes, it's like putting your power into each spoke on the wheel which dissipates the power and has no hub so you can't get very far.

But building new habits can be really hard!

Why is that?

Often it's because people think it's about will power, and research shows, it's not!

So stop calling yourself lazy you're actually just being human and you just need a different system and maybe even identity (not anything drastic like changing your name! But be the guy who goes to the gym, rather than the guy who skips the gym)

Research shows that creating a new habit or eliminating a bad habit literally just has to do with setting up your system in an optimal way to reach your goals, and changing core beliefs you hold that stunt your growth.

Some suggestions Clear makes in Atomic Habits to do this (based on tons of research )are described as:

  1. Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.

  2. If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.

  3. The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become.

  4. The Four Laws of Behavior Change are a simple set of rules we can use to build better habits. They are (1) make it obvious, (2) make it attractive, (3) make it easy, and (4) make it satisfying.

  5. Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior.       

I want to go into more depth on these...  

1.)So habits built over time, don't just grow, but compound! Meaning they become easier and easier, and also intensify!

2 &4.)Your system means taking advantage of cues in the environment, the environment its self, and stacking your new habits on old habits.

So for example:

If everyday you come home and grab a glass of water, you could stack a small habit on that like playing your workout playlist on spotify as you drink your water (that's the new habit).

Now you have a cue (the music) that indicates working out. Oh and you already set up your environment by laying out your gym clothes next to the water, oh and you have a space set up nearby with everything you need to work out!

And actually since you're just starting all you have planned is 1 push up. You'll start doing 2 pushups next week and so on... Starting small is important.

And after you work out you get to have some kind of treat like you get to watch your favorite netflix movie or show. If you don't work out you have to vacuum (or do something you don't like)

This is what he means in #4 by make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying.

Environment plays a huge role!

3.)Don't focus on what you want to achieve focus on what you want to become.

Phew! That one gets me!

So don't focus on doing 10 pushups, 10 curls, 10 rows, and going for a run, become a "gym rat" or a person who is into fitness as your identity. Someone into fitness doesn't skip. They don't smoke. They don't eat bad food.

In dog training terms this would look like:

1.)New habit= fill treat pouch with treats when you feed your dog in the morning (habit stacking treat pouch on already formed habit of feeding your dog breakfast), then put pouch on

2.)Set up environment by always putting treat pouch away at night next to your dog's food (make it obvious and cue in environment)

3.) Plan on training your dog for 1 minute to start. If you do this, you get to go out for a walk or play (or something else you both like)- (make it attractive & satisfying)

4.)This is a super simple step towards the goal of training your dog throughout the day. You will find since you are already wearing the pouch that you are suddenly prepared for all training throughout the day. Now you are training whenever your dog acts up, and pretty soon your dog is improving from your consistent daily effort which is compounding!

5.)Lastly think of yourself as a trainer for your dog! Be the trainer! Or if that feels like too much, then be your dog's biggest support and their biggest fan!

And as you change your habits, your dog's habits change in the same way. Even the cues you are giving to your dog by wearing your pouch, or setting up their environment to work on something specific (like a bed for place command) will start to change their behavior. And as you change your dog will change.

Well I hope this post gets you as pumped up about goals for 2024 as it does me, lol!

Can't wait to see what 2024 holds!

I am already so grateful for and so impressed by all the growth and change made by all my amazing training clients out there! You guys make my day everyday!

For more information about Valerie and her animals check out her About Me page at

Or take a look on instagram!

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