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5 common mistakes that cause new habits to fail

According to a study, somewhere between 81 percent and 92 percent of New Year’s Resolutions fail. This in effect means that, at least 8 times out of 10, you are more likely to fall back into your old habits and patterns than you are to stick with a new behavior.

Behavior change is hard. No doubt about it.

Why is that? What are the biggest reasons new habits fail to stick? And what can we do to make positive changes easier? Here are 5 common mistakes that cause new habits to fail.

PROBLEM 1: Trying to Change Everything at Once

SOLUTION: Pick one thing and do it well.

Generally, behavior change researchers agree, that you should focus on changing a very small number of habits at the same time.

“The highest number you’ll find is changing three habits at once”, says BJ Fogg at Stanford University. To be clear, Dr. Fogg is talking about incredibly tiny habits.

How tiny? His suggested habits include flossing one tooth, doing one pushup per day, or saying “It’s going to be a great day” when you get out of bed in the morning. So, even if you keep your new habits that small, you should work on no more than three habits at a time.

It is best to focus on building one new behavior into your life at a time. Once that habit becomes routine, then you move on to the next one. For example you may want to workout regularly, read an article daily and probably learn something new in your line of work everyday. Because you are not used to this pattern of life, trying to take on all these activities everyday may wear you out and eventually even kill your determination. But if you pick one, and strive to work on it everyday till it becomes an established habit, it makes it easier to add another without dropping the first.

BONUS SOLUTION: Pick a keystone habit.

A keystone habit is a behavior or routine that naturally pulls the rest of your life in line. For example, for some people, weightlifting is their keystone habit. But if they get to the gym, then it creates a ripple effect in other areas of their life. Aside the benefits of working out, they enjoy a wide range of secondary benefits. They focus better after the workout, tend to eat better and sleep better at night and wake up with more energy in the morning.

PROBLEM 2: Starting With a Habit That is Too Big

SOLUTION: As Leo Babauta says, “Make it so easy you can’t say no.”

The most difficult part of a new habit is starting the behavior. It takes a lot of motivation to head to the gym for a workout after an exhausting day at work, but once you actually begin the workout it doesn’t take much willpower to finish it. For this reason, one of the best things you can do for building a new behavior is to start with a remarkably small habit.

New habits should be non-threatening. Start with a behavior that is so small it seems easy and reasonable to do it each day. Consider these examples.

  • Want to do 50 pushups per day? Start with something easy like 5 or 10.
  • Wish you would read more books? Start by reading two pages every night.
  • Want to finally start meditating? Meditate for one minute each morning. After a month, you can move up to two minutes.

PROBLEM 3: Seeking a Result, Not a Ritual

SOLUTION: Focus on the behavior, not the outcome.

Nearly every conversation about goals and resolutions is focused on some type of result. What do you want to achieve? How much weight do you want to lose? How much money do you want to save? How many books do you want to read? How much less do you want to drink?

Naturally, we are outcome focused because we want our new behaviors to deliver new results.

Here’s the problem: New goals don’t deliver new results. New lifestyles do. And a lifestyle is not an outcome, it is a process. For this reason, all of your energy should go into building better rituals, not chasing better results.

Rituals are what turn behaviors into habits. In the words of Tony Schwartz, “A ritual is a highly precise behavior you do at a specific time so that it becomes automatic over time and no longer requires much conscious intention or energy.” If you want a new habit, you have to fall in love with a new ritual.

PROBLEM 4: Not Changing Your Environment

SOLUTION: Build an environment that promotes good habits.

We rarely admit it (or even realize it), but our behaviors are often a simple response to the environment we find ourselves in.

It is almost definitely impossible for a person to consistently stick to positive habits in a negative environment. You can frame this statement in many different ways:

  • It is nearly impossible to eat healthy all of the time if you are constantly surrounded by unhealthy food.
  • It is nearly impossible to remain positive all of the time if you are constantly surrounded by negative people.
  • It is nearly impossible to focus on a single task if you are constantly bombarded with text messages, notifications, emails, questions, and other digital distractions.
  • It is nearly impossible to not drink if you are constantly surrounded by alcohol.
  • And so on.

In fact, you can assume that the lifestyle you have today (all of your habits) is largely a product of the environment you live in each day. The single biggest change that will make a new habit easier is performing it in an environment that is designed to make that habit succeed. For example, let’s say that your New Year’s resolution is to reduce stress in your life and live in a more focused manner.

Here is the current situation:

Every morning, the alarm on your phone goes off. You pick up the phone, turn off the alarm, and immediately start checking email and social media. Before you have even made it out of bed, you are already thinking about a half dozen new emails. Maybe you’ve already responded to a few. You also browsed the latest updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, so those messages and headlines are swimming around in your mind too. You haven’t even dressed yet, but your mind is already distracted and stressed.

If this scene sounds familiar and you want to change your habit, then the easiest way to do it is to change your environment. Don’t keep your phone in your room. The phone is the thing that causes all of the problems, so change the environment. Buy a regular alarm clock (shockingly old school, I know) and charge your phone in another room (or, at least, across the room away from your bed).

You can change the digital environment too. Turn off all push notifications on your phone. You can even remove your email and social media apps from the home screen and hide them somewhere else on the phone.

If your environment doesn’t change, you probably won’t either.

PROBLEM 5: Assuming Small Changes Don’t Add Up.

SOLUTION: Get one percent better each day.

If you listen to nearly anyone talk about their goals, you’ll hear them describe the minimum that they want to achieve.

  • “I want to save at least $5,000 this year.”
  • “I want to read at least 30 books this year.”
  • “I want to lose at least 20 pounds before summer.”

The underlying assumption is that your achievements need to be big to make a difference. Because of this, we always talk ourselves into chasing a big habit. “If I want to lose at least 20 pounds, I need to start busting my butt and working out for 90 minutes a day!”

If you look at your current habits, however, you’ll see a different picture. Nearly every habit you have today, good or bad, is the result of many small choices made over time. It is the repeated pattern of small behaviors that leads to significant results. Each day we make the choice to become one percent better or one percent worse, but so often the choices are small enough that we miss them.

If you’re serious about building a new habit, then start with something small. Start with something you can stick with for good. Then, once you’ve repeated it enough times, you can worry about increasing the intensity.

Build the behavior first. Worry about the results later.

Source: jamesclear.com, Author: James Clear

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