The 5 Biggest Mistakes When Creating New Habits (And How to Avoid Them)
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Do you know the feeling?
You’re all fired up about a new habit.
And for a couple of weeks, the inspiration keeps you going.
But at some point, that initial motivation starts to fizzle out.
And before you know it, you’ve quit your new habit. Again.
When this pattern has repeated itself enough times, it’s easy to get discouraged.
But you don't have to feel that way because creating new habits doesn’t have to be so hard.
The 5 Biggest Habit Change Mistakes made When Creating New Habits
There are 5 big habit change mistakes people tend to make when trying to change their behavior.
If you can avoid these, establishing new habits becomes much easier. And even a lot of fun.
Let’s have a look at what they are.
1. Relying on Willpower
Most people want to make big changes right away. They want to go from zero to four gym sessions every week, switch to a healthy diet overnight, and meditate for 20 minutes every day even though they’ve never done it before.
The problem, of course, is that this requires a tremendous amount of willpower. And research has shown that willpower works a lot like a muscle. If you use it a lot, it will get tired, and you’ll have a much harder time sticking to your habit.
The solution to this problem is to start so small that it hardly requires any willpower at all. Go for a brisk walk two times a week, add a vegetable to one of your meals, and meditate two minutes every day.
Focus on establishing your behavior first. When you’re consistently showing up and following through on your small habit, you can start to make it more challenging.
2. Having Vague Intentions
”I’ll probably work out tomorrow after work” unfortunately won't cut it. Research has shown that you’re much more likely to stick to your habit if you decide exactly when and where you’re going to do it. Here are three powerful strategies to do this:
Create an ”implementation intention.”
That means reframing your habit as an ”If —> Then” statement. For example, If I’ve finished my morning cup of coffee —> Then I’ll meditate for two minutes.
Use ”habit stacking.”
Link your new habit to an already existing behavior by filling in this sentence:
After/Before [established habit], I will [new habit].
For example, "After I’ve finished my lunch, I will go for a brisk walk."
(Hat tip to Mr. Steve Scott for habit stacking!)
This one might seem obvious, but very few people use it. What gets scheduled gets done. So if your habit is truly important to you, let your calendar reflect that. Give it space in your schedule, just like you would with an important business meeting. Daily routine builds success.
3. Underestimating the Influence of the Environment
Your environment plays a big role in your behavior. Have you ever walked into your kitchen, spotted a plate of cookies on the counter, and eaten them just because they were in front of you? If so, you know what I mean.
Professor of Psychology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, provides an excellent framework to shape your environment to support your desired habits.
What he recommends is that you deliberately change the ”activation energy” of your habits.
The idea is that each one of your habits requires a certain amount of energy to get done. And the more activation energy it needs, the less likely you'll be to follow through and do it.
Let’s say you want to read more books, but you usually find yourself watching TV instead. What you need to do is:
Decrease the activation energy of your desired habit (reading books). For example, putting a great book next to your living room couch.
Increase the activation energy of your undesired habit (watching TV). For example, putting the TV remote in another room.
By changing the activation energy of your behaviors, you can nudge yourself in the right direction.
4. Surrounding Yourself With the Wrong People
The people around us also have a surprisingly big impact on our behavior. One study showed that if you have a friend who becomes obese, your risk of obesity increases by 57 percent — even if that friend lives hundreds of miles away(!).
Other research has shown that we tend to feel the same way, and adopt the same goals, as the people we socialize most with.
The takeaway here is that your chances of success are much greater if you have the right people in your corner.
If you want to create healthy habits but all your friends are unhealthy, it’s time to make some new friends.
If you’re surrounded with pessimists who drag you down, you need to create a support group who inspires you and picks you back up when you fail.
The people around you determine what’s normal for you, so be selective about who you let into your social circles.
5. Having the Wrong Mindset
One of the greatest myths about habits is that they take 21 days (or some other arbitrary amount of time) to establish. That is terribly misleading.
In reality, how long it takes varies widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances.
One recent showed that it takes on average 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic. But please note that this was just the average. It took the participants anywhere from 18 days to 254 days to form their habits.
So, instead of aiming for a set number of days, you’re much better off seeing yourself as a constant work in progress.
Adopt a ”scientist & subject” mindset and consider everything you do a behavioral experiment.
Track your progress, celebrate your small wins, and use setbacks as feedback to continually tweak your approach.
Shift your attention away from the long-term goal and instead focus on showing up and getting your habit done every single day. Getting the right success mindset is far more important than loosely following a habit for a few days.
If you can do that, the results you’re after will inevitably come as a side effect of your efforts.
Want to Learn More?
If you enjoyed this article on the 5 big habit change mistakes, I highly recommend you check out my brand new book The Habit Blueprint: 15 Simple Steps to Transform Your Life.
It guides you step-by-step through 15 scientifically proven strategies for creating and sustaining habits.
Everything is laid out in very simple, step-by-step explanations and action steps (as well as a downloadable checklist) you can follow to put any habit you want in place -- and keep it there.
The Habit Blueprint is available for only $0,99 until midnight (EST) on Sunday, December 11th, so grab your copy now to create all the habits you want for the price of a coffee!
Patrik Edblad is a certified mental trainer, freelance writer, and author. He helps people use scientifically proven strategies to become healthier, happier and more productive at Selfication.com.
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