Do You Make These 7 Common Mistakes When Changing a Habit?

Image by Wolfgang Staudt (license).

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

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Changing a habit is not always easy. 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 change your life.

1. 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?

If you want the real change then you may have to take the more boring and patient route.

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!”.

2. You are not doing it long enough.

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.

3. 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 from the Turbulence Training program 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 the program.

So experiment. Find the solution that fits you.

4. 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 of all the new and good things you will get out of your new habit.

5. 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.

6. You leave a vacuum.

If you just stop doing something, like for instance eating junk food and sweets or stopping to see the negative stuff in every conversation 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.

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.

7. You don’t consider likely obstacles and pitfalls along the way.

No matter what habit you trying to add to your life you are not the first person to do so. So look for what other people have done.

What pitfalls or problems did they run into? What plan did they follow? What problems or obstacles do you think you might run into?

Don’t look for a perfect plan before you get started because then you may never get started. But do some research. Google for articles. Ask the people around you that have done what you want to do.

Learning from other people’s mistakes and successes can save you time and effort.

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • The first one, definitely. I think it’s common for a lot of people to want to change a lot of things at once, because they simply can’t tolerate their flaws. Unfortunately, this does not make a good recipe for change. It will keep you in the place you are running from.


  • I’ve been guilty of #1 way too often in the past. I’m glad I’ve since learnt my lesson and I’ve been more successful in developing new habits when I focus on only 1 or 2 habits each time. It’s still pretty hard to form new habits from time to time. This kind of thing is never easy I guess. Persistence is important if we were to achieve anything. Thank you for the tips, Henrik. I’ll adopt your advice and see how it goes.



  • Pollyanna

    Great post! Very useful.
    I need learn the topics 5 and 6.
    Best regards!

  • Heinrik,

    I’ve been working through setting goals and an exercise I learned from Brian Tracy about daily goal review. Part of it really is getting into the habit. I think i love your point about not doing it long enough because people expect change too quickly. 90 days is really to me a point at which you can see some dramatic changes. The problem is that we keep wondering where the changes are and our focus shifts to the things that’ we’re not happy about.

  • Hello
    I really resonate with the first line ” Trying to change too many habits at once.” It has always been much easier for me to pick one habit that I believe is of most importance for me at the time, vs getting scattered in trying to do all these other things at once and getting lost in the process. Excellent tips here.

  • Damn, that sounds right on the dot.

  • Trying to change to many habits at once tends to be a problem of mine. But i’m slowly getting it more aligned with taking it one step at a time.

  • Haha, the first one for sure hits a note. I tried changing 100 habbits without any accountability. Eventually narrowed it down to 4-6 and integrated it into my daily routine so it would eventually be hard not to do. I can say from personal experience, we do try to completely change ourselves in less than a month and 3 days into it it’s so painful and confusing we a change of plans are in order.

    I also find #2 a little bit of a challenge, especially on those days when I could care less about doing anything and barely get regular work done. But IT’s SO TRUE, you need to make it part of your daily routine and have a system of accountability, like a chart, so you can review your progress at the end of the week/month/quarter. But it’s amazing how these little things make such a profound difference in the long run.

    This was a home hitting post!

    Have a good one!

    Clinton Skakun