7 Things You Need to Stop Doing to Change a Habit (and Make It Stick)

“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 just one habit in life can have a huge positive impact.

But it’s often not an easy thing to do. And it becomes even harder to make a change that truly sticks when you make the most common mistakes. Mistakes I know many do and I have made quite a few times myself.

So today I’d like to share 7 things you need to stop doing to change a habit more easily and to make it stick for a long time.

1. Stop thinking it will be easy every time.

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

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

Now, some habits I have slipped into quite easily within one or just a few weeks.

But sometimes allowing for 40 or 60 days to work on your new habit – with a few periods of slumps or temporary failures during that period – before it sticks isn’t unrealistic to me.

2. Stop thinking you have to do it like your friends do or magazines tell you to.

When I wanted to lose weight and increase my energy I knew I needed to do more cardio.

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

3. Stop being fooled by your mind and the comfort of the old habit.

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 behavior.

So what do you do?

You have to be aware that this is how a change in habits will often work. Your mind will offer resistance. Because it likes what is familiar. And because there were probably also some benefits that you got from your old habit.

But you have to accept that you are giving up those benefits for the even better benefits of your new habit.

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

4. Stop aiming for perfection and aim for improvement instead.

Take it easy on yourself. If you slip back into your old behavior 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 too many times.

If you are working on for instance a habit of being present and mindful in your daily life understand that such a habit is gradual.

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 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 that will only hurt you.

5. Stop creating vacuums in your life.

If you just stop doing something, like for instance eating junk food and candy you create a vacuum in your life.

And yes, it is possible to do that and to just stop. But I have found that it becomes a lot easier to make that change stick if you replace your old habit with a new and more positive one. By doing so you fill out the empty space you created and so you are less likely to get sucked back into the old and familiar habit.

For instance, 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.

6. Stop it with vague habits.

When you create a replacement for your old habit or just a new habit don’t make it a vague habit. Don’t just tell yourself that you will get more exercise. Or read a bit more often.

That usually leads to procrastination, to trying get out of doing the new habit or to taking shortcuts.

Make it specific by creating a small plan instead. This will make it easier to know when you are done for today with the habit and increase the likelihood of sticking with the program until your new behavior becomes a natural habit.

Tell yourself that you will go out running for 10 minutes three times a week. Or that you will read for 15 minutes before going to sleep each night.

7. Stop making a huge deal out of it.

Taking the first step and getting started can feel so difficult. And it can be scary to think about how much work and sometimes courage you may have to put in.

If that is the case then let go of the thinking that creates such problems. And just focus on taking one very small step.

Just read for 5 minutes in your new book tonight. Or go out running for 3 minutes this afternoon.

Think only of that and take action on only one such small step. And then tomorrow you can find a new small step to take.

Continue with these small steps and soon you are changing things inside of yourself. You’ll be stringing together these small steps into a habit that will start to feel like a new normal for you.

Image by tony’s pics (license).

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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.

  • Jeff

    I have managed to create a few new habits over the years. Vowing to start doing something three times a week or once a week tends to be less successful for me than committing to doing it every day. I think the ‘off days’ get in the way of habit forming.

    You can commit to very short time commitments (e.g. “start reading 5 minutes a day”), but make it every day. Then, when it really has become a habit, you can start increasing the time (or reps, or weight, etc.) gradually.

    This is what works for me.

  • Sara-jo Olsen

    I really really enjoy learning how to improve my state of mind. I appreciate your input and tools to change in so many positive ways. I have recently been struggling with the loss of my dearest father, I slumped into depressive bad habits, procrastination and negitivity. I can’t thank you enough Henrik Edberg, your blog has been very helpful for me to take the baby steps twords healing process and living a better life!
    Much respect to you~

    from the redwoods of northern California,
    Sincerely~ sara-jo

  • Ty

    I especially like #4. Whenever I give up on a new habit, it is usually because I haven’t done it “perfectly”. Thanks for reminding me to focus on improvement rather than perfection! :)

  • James

    I realize that for a large part of my life I made a huge deal out of my goals and performance. The key was to just start. Not think so much about it and just take the first step. I also joined the http://stickyhabits.com course this week and the support and program has really taken my habit creation skills to the next level.

  • Thank you for your post and especially #4 (stop aiming for perfection. . .). I have to remind myself and my clients that we just keep working on it, bit by bit, and any improvement is progress.

  • Doing it one small step at a time is key. Don’t start big or else you will just give up. I also agree that it is best to be super specific in your habits and keep them small and then slowly increase them over time. Thanks for the reminders as I start to get back into the habit of writing everyday, very fitting.

  • Aniket

    You rock. Thanks for all the great inputs. Its like a guiding beacon for me. Hope you can start with online classes or advise to emails and can start even webinars. These can be of great help.
    Suggesting further you can also put up videos like small dramas explaining your thoughts and concepts.
    How I wish these things would have been taught in schools.
    Thanks and regards,
    Aniket from India.

  • Hi Henrik Edberg,
    All these 7 things that you have mentioned in this post are really nice..these also works as motivational points for me. these 7 things help me to change the bad habits into the good habits.
    it was really awsm to read your this post Henrik, waiting for your next new post…
    Thanxx again for the post Henrik..:)

  • Thane

    Hey, Henrik. I’ve been subscribed to your newsletter for a long time, and this might be my favorite article of yours yet. I’ve really been struggling with all of the above this month, so thank you for being so positive, kind, and relatable with your words. I feel more motivated already.

  • siya

    thanks henrik for the advices, truely appreciate.your positivity blog has been giving some tips in developing a better life style

  • Hi Henrik. I enjoyed the blog post on habits and completely agree with you that changing one habit can have a huge positive impact on your life. Your post today reminded me of a quote from Lao Tzu: “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes our destiny.”

  • Many thanks for your most valuable insights. The perfection piece has hung me up in the past. I appreciate the permission to not think you have to be perfect at something or do something perfectly for it to be acceptable. Keep up the great work!

  • i love your tactics. I admit that for one to change it takes time and that change is gradual. Its true that i do make mistake and go back to my old habits but now i have found solutions to them. Thanks a lot.