You want to start meditating, start exercising and hitting the gym regularly, start a healthy diet, become a reader or writer, or anything. You are on it for a day or two or even for a week or two, but after a time it is gone, the prospect of sticking to that good habit is all gone. If you feel that its so hard to stick to good habits, well you are not alone.
It’s the same for most of us. It is the reason why only 8% of people go on to achieve their new year resolutions whereas the majority 80-90% of them fail.
But I don’t mean to discourage you here.
Instead what I want to present is that if only 8% of people go on to achieve their new year resolutions and stick to the good habits, it must be that they are doing something different, something right than the rest.
So what is it that 8% of them are doing right and the majority doing wrong? No, it is not motivation. Motivation too cannot sustain and stick for that long.
So why do we fail to stick to good habits but so easily stick to the bad ones? Why is change so hard?
Well by answering this, I don’t mean to say that I have it all but after much tracking, analyzing my behaviour, and learning and experimenting, I have come up to say that the reason why we fail to stick to good habits is because of these 5 mistakes we so naturally make and neglect.
1. We don’t go easy on good habits:
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The number one reason why we fail to stick to good habits is that we tend to take them too seriously. We want to do it great or not do it at all.
We may do it for a while with zeal and enthusiasm, working hard and grinding hard. And you feel great that you did it.
But the problem here is that after a while, you can’t and won’t always have the same energy and the same zeal. The thing stops being enjoyable and instead begins to intimidate you. You feel you don’t have the motivation needed and you fail to stick to the good habit.
But it is not about motivation but about how you made/ make the change too hard for yourself.
- Don’t try to change your habits all at once. Go easy. Change just one at a time. Cultivate a good habit one at a time. Do just that one thing and take your time with it. Then once you feel sure that you can now do it easily and do it every day, you can move on to form another good habit.
- If it is that you do want to form more than one good habit, you may, but don’t try to change more than three simultaneously.
2. We overestimate ourselves when it comes to good habits
When it comes to good habits, we want to do it like a professional from the start. We don’t allow ourselves to be a beginner. We think we can do it or that we should be able to do it. And then when we realize it is going to take a lot of effort, we fail to stick to it.
But when it comes to bad habits, say for example smoking cigarettes, people start by trying it once and then they try it again the next day. And so slowly a person who never smoked starts smoking every day. From 1 it becomes 2 cigarettes and then 3 cigarettes until it becomes a habit he/she can’t do without.
Why do you think we pick up bad habits easily even when we know it’s not good for us?
Simple answer: Because it’s so easy. Bad habits are very easy to do. And we don’t put any pressure on ourselves.
Imagine if we applied the same formula for forming good habits. You can apply the same to good habits.
- Make it easy. The reason why bad habits are formed so easily is that they are too easy. It’s easy to start smoking, it’s easy to just open social media and start scrolling, it’s easy to eat junk food, it’s easy to lay on the bed and watch Netflix all day.
Hence, to stick with a good habit, you need to apply the same and make it easy too.
In the words of Leo Babauta, ‘Make it so easy, you can’t say no’.
So if you want to make the reading habit, set the goal to read at least 2 pages a day. Or to do 2 pushups a day. It’s easy. You couldn’t say no to that.
- Make it even easier: But in the beginning, you would want to make it even easier. Set the goal to just open that book. You couldn’t say no to open the book.
It might sound silly but it is often the beginning that we resist so much. It is because we simply don’t open the book that we don’t go on to read for days on end. And we keep looking for the right mood to open it. But if we only opened the book, we realize that actual reading is not much difficult, but rather interesting.
It’s the same with other habits. It is because we simply don’t put on the exercise clothes that we don’t exercise. It is because we simply don’t put on our shoes that we don’t go out for a walk, it is because we simply don’t sit at our table and open our laptop or our pen and paper, that we don’t start writing.
So in the beginning, when it comes to sticking with good habits, make your task incredibly easy. Make it so easy you can’t say no. And that’s how you start doing it every day.
3. We underestimate the power of tiny changes
The reason why we fail to stick to new habits is that we don’t allow ourselves to progress and progress happens with tiny small changes.
The ones who stick to their habits are the ones who start small but who gradually increase their level every day.
It’s better to read even 10 minutes a day than nothing at all. It’s better to exercise even 5 minutes a day than nothing at all.
You think it’s nothing and underestimate its power but think of how many days you go on without ever moving your arms high and low, without ever moving your body even for 5 minutes.
As you start, start small and then gradually increase. This makes it interesting as well as challenging.
Walk 1000 steps every day then increase a little the next day.
Work out for 5 minutes today and then 1 minutes more the next day
Meditate for 2 minutes today and then 1 minute more the next day.
Read for 5 minutes today and read 5 minutes more the next day.
Even if you read for just 10 minutes every day you will have given 300 minutes to read in a month which is enough to complete an average-sized book.
If you are still underestimating the power of tiny changes, here is an article by James Clear about a coach who improved every tiny thing by 1% and what happened.
4. We don’t set up a schedule:
Think of all the habits that you have, good and bad. Do they have a specific time for when it happens or when you do it?
Like when you wake up, when you brush your teeth, when you drink your coffee, when you smoke your cigarette, when you watch your favourite show or when you are most likely to have junk.
All of these habits that you have are almost always done at the same time. And that is why it became a habit in the first place.
But the reason why we fail to stick to a new (good) habit is that we don’t set up a schedule for it
We only say, “ From tomorrow I will work out every day. From tomorrow I will study every day. From tomorrow I will read every day or meditate every day.
And this is the reason why we fail. We don’t set up when we will do it and what time we will do it.
You see our minds are very lazy. You have to make it easy for your mind. You have to help your mind to help you.
Once we have this set it becomes easier for our mind to process so it doesn’t have to think every day. This makes you more likely to stick to a habit than when you have no idea about when you will do it.
Small tip: One way you can set up a schedule for your new habit is to do them before/ after something that you always do.
Like after brushing my teeth in the morning first thing I do is read for 20 minutes
Before breakfast, I write in my journal
After dinner, I watch one episode of a series.
This way by attaching your new habit to something that has already become a habit, you will stick to your new habits.
Another tip: You would like to read this article on ‘How not to set goals’
5. We don’t take care of the environment:
If your room is messy, will you ever want to sit down to meditate? If you just can’t find your gym clothes or your running shoes, would you be exercising every day? If your phone has all the apps and the notifications all turned on would you be able to stop checking your phone? If your fridge is filled with junk food and all your friends smoke, would you be able to say no?
The answer is a plain no. Hence as much as anything, our environment too highly determines whether we stick to our habit or not.
Lay down your clothes so you don’t have to search for it every day. Robin Sharma mentioned in his book that when he first started with the exercise habit he used to go to sleep in his exercise wear.
So take care of your environment as if you want to stick with your good habit.
Keep the book you want to read close to where you can easily see and open. Don’t bring home junk food so you don’t keep it in your refrigerator. Don’t renew your Netflix subscription if it is making you waste away your time. Log out from apps so the notifications won’t come time and again.
The thing is your environment should make it easier for you to do the good habit and make it difficult for you to do the bad.
Most of the time it is because the opposite happens that we don’t stick to good habits.
6. We get too focused on the result:
Yes of course you do want to lose weight or you want to read many books, write a book maybe but for that, you need to build a habit first.
And you can build a habit only when you focus on the doing, focus on the performing and not on the result.
I know your mind your time and again wants to distract you by making you think about the result but you simply have to bring back your focus to performing the task.
Respect your pace. Allow yourself to go slow. You want to do it for a long time and let it become a part of you. This can’t happen if you rush.
It doesn’t matter how you do it or how much you do it, what only matters is that you do it. Especially in the beginning.
If it is that you miss it (which is most certainly that you will) don’t miss it for more than 2 days in a row. Do your best to not allow yourself to miss more than 2 days in a row.
So these were my tips on how you can stick to good habits.
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Cheers and I wish you a wonderful week ahead!