“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
The secret to habit change lies in the way we think about the habit itself.
When we first want to change a bad habit or incorporate a new one, we tend to fantasize about what our “new lives” will look like.
We become hyper aware every time we do this habit, or don’t do it, because it seems like such a significant change for us.
Because we use up so much of our brain and willpower to create and stick to these new habits, we give them up eventually.
Once you give up on a habit, you feel pretty awful as you feel like you gave up on yourself. You feel like you weren’t strong enough to implement this habit, so you probably won’t be strong enough to stick to others as well.
All of this failure and doubt however stem from one mistake we are all making.
We are not finding a way to successfully turn the habit, into our norm.
We brush our teeth every morning, and yet we wouldn’t call this a habit because it’s just what you do. It’s normal for you to wake up and brush your teeth. You do it without even thinking about it.
Just like any other habit however, brushing our teeth was one we had to get used to.
When you were a little kid, brushing your teeth was the last thing that was on your mind. Luckily back then, most of us had somebody there to make us do it.
Over time with repetition, you started brushing your teeth on your own without your parents constant reminder.
You have been brushing your teeth for so many years now that this “habit” is just something that is part of your daily routine.
We are completely capable of turning any habit we want into part of our daily lives. We have done it many times before, usually subconsciously.
We may not have the convenience of having a parent there to push us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be accountable for ourselves.
Creating a new habit and sticking to it happens when we make the mental shift of seeing this action as a conscious effort, and turning it into something we do automatically as a part of who we are.
Nobody say’s this process is easy, but with a full proof plan, it is extremely achievable.
Let’s take a look at some of the biggest reasons why we fail at sticking to habits along with the solutions to fix them.
1. We start too big.
Nothing is more of a habit killer than trying to start with doing too much.
This means either trying to start multiple habits all at once, or going after one big habit right from the beginning.
It might seem stupid or silly to some to start small, but changing habits isn’t just about the act of the habit itself.
It’s about building the confidence and trust in yourself to stick to your habits.
If you commit to going to the gym everyday for 30 minutes, you might keep this up for a few days because you are buzzing with motivation of that dreamy six pack, but after a few days, your motivation wares down, so does your will power, and you give up.
You end up feeling defeated, like you can’t even commit to 3o minutes of your day.
But in retrospect, when starting at 0, 30 minutes of your day is a lot to ask of yourself at first. It is a big stretch going from 0 – 30.
But if you go from 0-5, and then 5-15, 15-20, and eventually 20-30, it will feel like you are making a small commitment that avoids discomfort.
All of a sudden committing 30 minutes of your day won’t feel so un natural or uncomfortable, because a few weeks ago you were already doing 20, which isn’t that much less.
The key to sticking to habits is starting small, and working your way up.
Making a single commitment of 2- 5 minutes per day that you can be proud of every time you achieve it.
Same goes for wanting to change your eating habits. If you want to get healthier, don’t overwhelm yourself by cutting out gluten, sugars, and carbs out of your diet all at once.
Start with one and make a small and specific change with it. For example, no gluten at dinner time.
You have created a goal, and set a specific time to achieve it.
Once you get used to this and it becomes normal for you, make another change.
The key is to make one small change at a time.
A hundred successful little steps will always get you further than one big failed leap.
2. We forget about our new habit.
Another top reason most of us forget to stick to our habits is because we simply forget about them!
After a while these habits become automatic, but in the beginning, we need something to put this action right in front of our eyes so we don’t forget to do it.
Setting up reminders is essential when starting a new habit.
Leave post-it notes around your house, car, or office to remind yourself.
By visually placing your habit in front of you, your brain will start to recognize it more and more and suddenly it won’t be so foreign and forgetful.
The best proven strategy to incorporating new habits is to attach them to current habits.
We call these your “trigger habits”.
Your trigger is going to be the thing you do right before you do your habit. For example, your trigger for your morning run could be breakfast. Right after you eat breakfast, you have to go for your run. No questions asked.
Having a trigger that you already do daily will help force you to incorporate this new habit into your daily routine as well.
When trying to quit a bad habit, recognize what your “negative triggers” are as well.
What is the thing that happens right before you want to give up?
Find ways to avoid that thing, or if unavoidable, find a way to observe your urge, and then move past it without acting on it.
The trick to making habits stick is incorporating them into your routine through repetition.
Repetition is the only way we turn something new, into something normal.
3. Our minds tell us “NO”, and we listen.
Often when trying to start a new habit your mind will tell you things like, “This is too hard!”, “You don’t need to do this”, or “Skipping it this time won’t hurt.”
These are all things we tell ourselves to talk ourselves out of making changes because sometimes it feels easier not to, but the important question to ask yourself is, “Does the pain of NOT doing it outweigh the fear of doing it?”
Meaning, does the fear or laziness of exercise outweigh the pain of poor health and a shorter life span?
Would you rather face your fear or suffer the consequences?
We pick our habits because we want to live a certain way of life. We know what is good for us and what kinds of things we should be doing in order to lead that kind of life.
But we let fear and discomfort get in the way.
We are not creatures of consequence. Most of us care more about the right now then the future.
That is why we choose to be comfy and lazy on the couch, even though we know going out for a 20 minute jog is better for us in the long run.
The answer to solve your inertia is simple: Don’t give yourself a choice.
Don’t make doing your new habit a “yes”, “no”, or “maybe” activity.
Don’t wait for motivation to be your reason to do something. On those days you are going to have to use your willpower.
Somedays you will have motivation and will not need to use any willpower to convince yourself, while other days you may be lacking in motivation and will need your willpower to make you get up and do it.
4. We don’t have anybody to hold us accountable.
Habits can be hard to stick to if you are doing them on your own.
Especially if your habit environment, which you will read about below, is constantly tempting you to break them.
When we were younger, we had our parents standing over us making sure we brushed our teeth and took showers.
They did the difficult part of habit formation for us.
But since we are adults now, we have to take charge and be responsible to stick to our habits all on our own.
Or maybe not?
A great tool to help you form a habit is to find somebody who will hold you accountable to your commitment.
This can be a friend, a family member, your significant other, or even a co-worker.
Somebody who will check in with you and make sure you are sticking to your commitment, whether its by doing it with you which is the most effective, or simply asking you if you did your habit today.
So when starting a new habit, tell the world! Make sure that if you slip, people will know and they will shame you for it!
You can even make an embarrassing bet with somebody, like if you give up your habit, you have to wear all pink for 2 whole weeks, or buy everybody in the office lunch.
Anything that seems bad enough for you so that you will not quit your habit, and somebody will be there to in force your punishment if you do.
Having somebody there to help you in no way suggests your lack of strength to do it on your own.
Everybody gives in to that voice inside of us sometimes.
It doesn’t make us flawed, it just makes us human.
5. We don’t change our habit environment.
We can’t always rely on willpower to be enough of a driving force in order to change our habits.
If you are trying to quit eating sugar, living in a house stocked with cookies and ice cream is probably not the best thing for your will power.
When creating a new habit or trying to quit a bad one, it’s important that we create the kind of environment around us that is conducive to this change that we are making.
If you want to exercise in the mornings, put your shoes and your work out clothes next to the door so in the morning you don’t have to spend 10 minutes finding your shoes and deciding which shirt to work out in. All of you have to do is put them on and walk out of the door.
Make it hard to do the things you don’t want to do.
If you want to watch less TV, unplug your TV and hide the cable box so the act of watching TV now requires you to get the box out of your closet and plug everything back in.
Be smart and figure out how to change your environment so your habits will succeed.
When you make your habits easier to achieve, they will feel less like a chore, and more like something that is a part of who you are.
6. We forget to be be kind to ourselves.
You will fail sometimes, and you can’t be hard on yourself or feel guilty for that.
Being kind to yourself is also a good habit to form.
So be kind to yourself even if you fail at first.
Remind yourself of how hard it is to be happy and healthy.
By choosing to better yourself with your habits, you are being brave in your struggle to find that happiness despite all of the obstacles you face along the way such as stress, anxiety, and disappointment.
Implementing habits is hard. Especially ones that don’t feel natural or good to us at first.
So have some empathy with yourself. Be understanding and compassionate.
If you fail at first, learn from your mistake and adjust your approach.
Know that you can adjust your “normal”, and be the person you want to be.
The person who wakes up early, or the person who lives an energized life because of their healthy eating habits. The person who doesn’t take away years from their life, but actually adds to them because they quit smoking and found the joy in regular exercise.
It is through our habits that we choose to become who we are.
Choose for yourself.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi