Have you ever wondered what are the biggest mistakes with new habits?
Every year, millions of people try to change their behavior and form stronger habits. Unfortunately, some estimates indicate that over 90% of all behavior change efforts fail. The good news is there are some clear reasons why this happens.
If you have ever failed to make a new habit last, it is not because there is something wrong with you! Your strategy was the problem, and that is something that you can fix. Avoid the five biggest mistakes with new habits, and you can make any change last.
Mistake #1: Not having the right mindset.
When people decide they want to make a change, they usually begin by thinking about what to start doing or stop doing. Obviously, you need to change your behavior if you want to change your life.
However, you also have to change your beliefs because your beliefs influence your behavior. Your mindset will ultimately serve as the key driver or as the key obstacle for whatever you want to change or achieve.
Think about some of your biggest achievements and some of your biggest disappointments. Did your mindset play a role? I bet it did.
When I think about my biggest achievements, my mindset was always a key factor. There was a strong reason why I wanted to succeed. I also believed that I could make it happen.
On the other hand, when I think about my biggest disappointments, my mindset was usually the problem. Either there was not a strong reason why I wanted to succeed, or I did not believe that success was possible.
Solution: If you want to change your behavior for good (not just for a few days or weeks), be very clear on why change is important to you, and be optimistic that long-term change is possible.
Mistake #2: Trying to change too much at one time
Many people try to change too much at one time. This is especially common in January when many people create long lists of big changes to make.
What is the typical result when you take on multiple changes at once? Usually, it’s just a few days or weeks before you go back to your old ways. Nothing lasts because the changes were not sustainable.
Solution: Start small and easy. Focus on one new habit at a time- what I refer to as your Stronger Habit of the Month. It could take longer than thirty days to form a new habit, or you might be able to form a new habit more quickly. Whenever a behavior starts to feel automatic, identify your next Stronger Habit of The Month.
Mistake #3: Relying on willpower
Many people buy into the myth that having “more willpower” is the key to making a habit last. In reality, just “trying harder” rarely works.
People who are thriving in any area of life are not “willing” themselves to greatness. Instead, they are incredibly proactive about preventing and overcoming the obstacles that could throw them off. In addition, they always look for ways to make it as easy and enjoyable as possible to stay on track.
Solution: Do not try to rely on willpower. Before you try to form any new habit, ask yourself what has gotten in your way in the past and what could get in your way in the future. Then, identify some solutions for how you will prevent or overcome those obstacles.
Mistake #4: Not changing your environment (socially and physically)
Many people underestimate the impact that their environment has on their behavior. This is another one of the biggest mistakes with new habits.
Researchers have found that your social environment has a significant impact on your habits. For example, a thirty-year study by Harvard Medical School discovered a remarkable finding when someone became obese. The odds of that person’s close mutual friends becoming obese increased by 171 percent, even if the friends lived in different parts of the country! The lead researcher of the study explained the finding by stating that you form your definition of what is acceptable for yourself by looking at the people around you. 1
Other researchers have found that your physical environment has a significant impact on your habits as well. For example, one study found that the average woman who kept unhealthy food on her kitchen counter weighed twenty-one pounds more than the average woman who did not. 2
Solution: Your habits (good and bad) are closely linked to your social and physical environment. Before you try to form a new habit, ask yourself how you can change your environment (socially and physically) to support your ideal behavior.
Mistake #5: Not having enough support and accountability
Many people decide they want to make a change. However, they fail to put any systems or structure in place to stay on track and hold themselves accountable. If you make this mistake, it can be easy to give up and fall back into your old habits.
Solution: Before you try to form a new habit, identify some ways to ensure that you will stay on track. Even better, don’t try to do it by yourself. Any change is easier when you have a person(s) that you trust who can support you and hold you accountable.
Summary and Final Thoughts
Some reports estimate that over 90% of all behavior change efforts fail each year. The good news is that there are some clear reasons why this happens. Avoid the five biggest mistakes with new habits, and you will make any change last:
- Not having the right mindset
- Trying to change too much at one time
- Relying on willpower
- Not changing your environment (socially and physically)
- Not having enough support and accountability
If you have ever failed to make a new habit last, the problem was not you! The problem was your strategy. Change your strategy, and you will get much better results.
For more ideas on how to change your habits, download my free 40-page eBook below on “The 5 Keys for Forming Stronger Habits.”
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About the author: Pete Leibman is the Creator of StrongerHabits.com. He is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, and executive recruiter, and his work has been featured on Fox News, CBS Radio, and CNNMoney.com. His latest book is titled Work Stronger: Habits for More Energy, Less Stress, and Higher Performance at Work.
References for this article
- Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, (New York: Broadway Books, 2010), 227; Nicholas A. Christakis, “The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years,” New England Journal of Medicine 357 (2007): 370-379.
- Brian Wansink, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (New York: Bantam Books, 2007).