How to Not Change a Habit: 7 Common Mistakes

by Henrik Edberg


Image by tony’s pics (license).

.“First we make our habits, then our habits make us.”
Charles C. Noble

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”
Jim Rohn

Changing a habit is something very powerful that you can do for yourself and for others.

But it’s often not an easy thing to do. It becomes even harder to change when you make what I believe are some common mistakes. I have at least made them quite a few times.

So I hope you’ll find something helpful in this article. Something that will make it at least a bit easier to change your habits and to making a lasting change in your life.

Trying to change too many habits at once.

This is perhaps the most common mistake. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the enthusiasm and the hope that you will give your life a total overhaul. Nothing wrong with that.

But in my experience you won’t be able to keep it up until your new habits are established and stable. Sure, you can live on your enthusiasm for a week or two. But sooner or later life interferes or the stress of doing it all at once causes too much inner and outer resistance and you give up.

Changing a habit is a lot of mental effort. You have resistance from within as your mind tries to drag you back to the comfort it has known for so long (no matter if that familiar place isn’t that healthy for you). You may face resistance from the outside as people question your change.

Changing just one habit at a time may seem pretty boring. But do you want the excitement of the thought that you are completely changing your life but then have little to no results later on? Or do you want a real change in your life?

My advice would be to go for the one habit you want the most right now and just focus on that one. And to let go of listening to the voice of the inner child that tells you “I want it all right now!”.

Thinking it will go smoothly and quickly each time.

When I tried to add a habit of working out each week I think I failed about four times before it really stuck.

A common piece of knowledge is that you should do something for 21 days and it will stick as a new habit. For me it has taken longer than that. It has been messier.

It does seem to matter how much effort it takes to incorporate the new habit. And how much discomfort it causes you. Some habits I have slipped into quite easily within just a few weeks.

But allowing for at least 60 days or up to 90 days to work on your new habit – with a few periods of slumps or failure during that period – before it sticks doesn’t seem unrealistic to me.

Not finding the right way for you.

When I wanted to lose weight and increase my energy I knew I needed to do more cardio. I tried running. I tried the elliptical bicycle in the gym. None of them was much fun at all. I really didn’t like them.

I didn’t really get the cardio habit to stick until I started using the bodyweight circuits in the beginning of 2009. I liked them because they were quick and intensive and I could them anywhere as long as there was a floor. That combination really helped me to stick with the program.

So experiment. Find the solution that fits you, the solution that you can carry on with in the long-term and reap the benefits from.

Missing the comfort of the old habit and slipping back into that.

The mind doesn’t like when you step out of your comfort zone to change your habits. You feel discomfort. You feel some kind of pain perhaps. Your body is giving you signals that something is not as it has been for a long while. The body tells you that what you are doing doesn’t feel “safe” and familiar.

It’s easy to miss that old familiarity enough to slip back into your old behaviour.

So what do you do?

You have to be aware that this is probably how a change in habits will work. Your mind will offer resistance. There were probably also some benefits that you got from your old habit. You have to accept that you are giving up those benefits for the even better benefits of your new habit.

When you are feeling like going back to your old ways remind yourself that the mind can play tricks on you and reminds yourself of all the new and good things you will get out of your new habit.

Aiming for perfection instead of improvement.

Take it easy on yourself. If you slip back into your old behaviour even though you reminded yourself of the new benefits then don’t beat yourself up. It’s not a big deal. Everyone slips from time to time. Just get back on the horse the next day again. But learn what you can so you don’t fall into the same hole or do the same mistake again.

If you are working on for instance a habit of being present during your daily life understand that such a habit is gradual. It would be nice if you could flick it like a light switch.

With simple, physical habits like decluttering for 5 minutes each day you may be able to do this 95 percent or even 100 percent of the time. With being present or being positive in all situations you build it up gradually. You will most likely not be able to do it 100 percent of the time. And that’s OK.

Striving for perfection for such big changes is just you setting the bar at an inhuman level and it will not help you.

Getting lost in a vacuum.

If you just stop doing something, like for instance eating junk food and sweets you create a vacuum. It is possible to just stop. But I have found that it becomes easier to change if you replace your old habit with a new and more positive one. You fill out the space you created and so you are less likely to get sucked back into the old habit.

If you want to stop checking social media and the internet for many hours each evening then replace that habit and space with reading more books or joining a club, sport or an evening class.

When I got into better shape I filled my cupboards and fridge with vegetables, fruits, nuts and healthy stuff. I had no candy or cookies at home. Because I knew that I would inevitably snack on them. I replaced one snacking habit with a healthier one instead of stopping completely.

Making the new habit vague instead of specific.

When you create a replacement for your old habit or just a new habit don’t make the new habit vague. That usually leads to procrastination, trying get out of doing the new habit or taking shortcuts. Make it specific and something concrete to make it easier to know when you are done for today with the habit and to increase the likelihood of sticking with the program until your new behavior becomes a real habit.

So make it real and specific by telling yourself that you will: go running for 15 minutes three times a week. Don’t get lost in vague dreams that you will: get more exercise.

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{ 15 comments }

Max September 26, 2011 at 7:17 pm

I like articles that highlight “don’t” instead of “do” and this one is a good example.

What have worked for me is to find strong reasons to continue practicing the habit. If you don’t know the WHY, you will get bored and discouraged rapidly.

I finish with a quote from Navjot Singh Sidhu
Bad habits are like comfy beds – easy to get into, very difficult to get out of.

Josten September 26, 2011 at 11:14 pm

Getting rid of old habits is a very very hard thing to do when we as humans have become so comfortable doing them. Focusing on getting rid of one habit at a time is a very simplistic idea.

Great post

Rob @notactuallyahero September 27, 2011 at 10:02 am

The only way to change is accepting that baby steps are the only way to change.

When I first started developing new habits I tried to make far too many changes far too quickly, and all it resulted in was ending up back at square one.

The only way is to modify one thing at a time. And to take as long as you need. There’s really no rush.

Liz @ Bella Vita September 27, 2011 at 7:43 pm

One thing that sometimes helps me is to change my environment. When I’m about to tackle a bad habit, I rearrange the furniture. Starting out in a ‘new’ environment seems to make other changes in my routine a little easier. Good post!

http://www.elizabethfarrar.com

Henrik Edberg September 28, 2011 at 11:33 am

Cool tip, thank you for sharing it!

Marya | Writing Happiness September 28, 2011 at 3:26 am

I just loved this quote; “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” Jim Rohn
Like you said, it is really hard to change a habit, or even acquire a new one. You need motivation to make this change and often this is the hardest part, HOW to actually find this motivation. Somebody said something that has really stuck with me .. You need to begin first and motivation will follow later.
I guess we just need to bite the bullet and then work on until it becomes a habit. Its so hard though.

Allie September 28, 2011 at 4:26 am

Great post those are good suggestions. I’ll be following this blog!

Http://howficklemyheart.wordpress.com

Nabil Gulamani September 28, 2011 at 7:58 am

Henrik,

Great points…It is very true that the mind likes to get back to comfort to get back to an old habit..The fact is that we used to our old habits since child hood and it takes a while to get comfortable and adjusting after the mind and emotions go through discomfort…People need to be patient when changing a habit and realize that it it can take days, weeks, or sometimes even months to get totally comfortable with a brand new habit…

An yes, you should have total clarity on what specific habits you are going to change..It is difficult for people to get what they want out of life because they don’t have clear and precise goals..When you don’t have clear plans, your subconscious mind will not be active…

Thanks for sharing!

Cheers,
Nabil

Timo Kiander September 28, 2011 at 9:53 pm

Great tips!

I agree that it is important to replace your old habit with a positive one when you stop doing something. If you don’t, you will soon have the old habit back.

However, I have also found that sometimes you can have two new habits at once. For example, some years ago I started to go to the gym (habit 1). In order to get to the gym, I had to start waking up earlier (habit 2).

This worked well and these two habits supported each other quite nicely.

Timo

Dan September 29, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Thanks for the tips!

This reminds me of when I decided to add “workouts” into my daily schedule. At first it was really difficult and I gave up a lot of times. It’s like what you said – my body missed the comfort.

But every time when I was about to give up, I kept telling myself the reason I started to do this – I wanted to lose weight. I think it is a quite powerful way, it works for me, but it depends on how strong the reason is for you.

Anyway, thanks for your tips again!

Petr Mihulka September 30, 2011 at 8:32 am

Making aware of the dont’s rather then do’s only is a good idea! Actually – changing anything is the first step to breaking any habit. Thanks for the tips!

Genie @ Healthy Living Now September 30, 2011 at 8:01 pm

When we are conditioned to doing the same thing over and over, it is very hard to do it a different way. As you said, “Changing a habit is a lot of mental effort. You have resistance from within as your mind tries to drag you back to the comfort it has known for so long”

This comfort of the usual is what makes changing and adapting to new way of doing things so very hard for me, and of course, many others. We are conditioned to want easy – not hard, and it takes a lot of hard work to recondition our mind and actions.

Thanks for sharing!

“If we all treat each other like we treat ourselves – what a wonderful place earth would be.”

Justlife October 1, 2011 at 6:47 am

I find setting milestones works for me when I’m trying out a new habit. Not 21 days but 10 days. I set a goal where I have to stay on this new routine for only 10 days. After succeeding for that period, I go for another 10 days. It’s more achievable in this way.

Kian | Awesome Life Coach October 3, 2011 at 4:55 pm

These are great tips. One other tip to help anyone stick to a new habit is to get an accountability partner. Your accountability partnes will make sure that you don’t fall back into your old habit and at the same time, make sure you stick to your new habit. It’s great to have somebody watching over you should you slip at any point.

Raj October 5, 2011 at 12:55 am

I never had the chance to read this kind of good advice in my entire life. I am thankful to you from my bottom of my heart. Your advices are awesome thank you once again. May god bless to you.

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