How Habits Fail: Common Mistakes in Habit Formation
I fail a lot.
- I fast intermittently between 8 pm and noon; I’ve but I ate an entire tub of ice cream at midnight.
- Forces of Habit was a supposed to launch at the beginning of 2017
- I was fired from my first ‘real’ job
When it comes to habit formation. I have a laundry list of failures.
But I’m grateful.
Because without those failures, I would never have been able to build a method for living the best day every day. Intentional living begins with failure in mind, and common mistakes in habit formation are a dime a dozen on our journey to becoming our greatest selves.
Look at the numbers. By this point in the year, over 50% of New Year resolutions enter the ether. Take gym memberships for example.
Gym membership rates are down. People say it's “too hard to get back on-track” or “its hard to find time”.
Try as we may, why don’t good habits work out? How can we make change easier to change our lives for the better?
If you build good habits properly, results will come.
Let me tell you what I’ve learned from deliberating reforming my ability. Piece by piece I harbored mistake after mistake. I’ve learned from the best and built great habits. It’s my turn to share the common mistakes you’ll encounter on your journey toward habit formation.
Building too many habits at once.
Changing behavior is by far one the most challenging things a person can do, so why do it in several domains of your life at a time? Habits take a substantial amount of time and energy to change, so when we take on multiple habits at a time we lose out on giving our all to making a change.
When I first started building habits I was only running. Every day I would run a bit and feel like a champion; that was it. I didn’t need to read, eat healthy, or meditate. Those things came once I felt deeply rooted in my first habit.
You seek the outcome rather than relishing the process
Goals are great but, getting wrapped up in the idea of hitting your goals will level your drive when change doesn’t come—there will be times you won’t see any change.
New goals do not yield results just because you put in some work.
You need to put work into building your habits every day and leave the expectation of an outcome at the door. As we improve, the effects of our actions become blurred and fear of stagnation sets in; have faith. If you have a system, stick to it, long-term growth is inevitable as long as consistency is present.
All of our efforts are not linearly related to the outcomes. Nonlinearity resulting from a linear force exerted on an object isn’t uncommon. Said another way the efforts we put in may not result in the same improvements we saw right when we started.
So when you find yourself thinking too much about the goal or outcome, step back, ask yourself what is the habit that gets you to the outcome, and do the thing.
Further Reading: Fooled by Randomness
Your Habits are Private
Part of making an obligation to yourself is making sure you’re not the only one aware.
Last month I edited three photos every day and I kept myself motivated by sharing a public google doc that I shared on social media and the newsletter.
I did it.
Missing a day would not only let me down but my readers. I made it hard to quit and easy to stay motivated.
Completing a task that everyone knows you are aiming for can be invigorating—the change becomes you. Social proof backed habits put your reputation on the line, something so precious that humans are evolutionarily predisposed to be ruffled by the idea of being socially ostracized; take advantage of this.
Use social proof. When you hide your habits from people it is easy to quit.
Who can think poorly of you if no one even knew what your plans are? But the flip side, who can encourage you if no one knew what your plans are?
Find the link to the google doc in this month’s newsletter.
Not signed up? Here is the link to all 90 pictures
Further Reading: Influence
You’re Attempting Unreasonable Habits
“I wanna start reading; I’ll read for 8 hours a day”
“I think I will start exercising; I’ll do 100 pushups and 10k every day”
“Maybe it’s time to start a diet; oh, I’ll just start a 20-day water fast”
When you set too large of a commitment from the start, you set yourself up to fail. It isn’t about the quantity of the change initially, that will come as you gradually raise your standards.
At first, think small.
Instead of 100 push-ups, how about 1? Your mindset may be motivated now, but your brain needs time to strengthen the synaptic connections. Letting out brains grow accustomed to the routine keeps the habit going when you aren’t so motivated; the habit is already ingrained in you. You no longer need to be pumped to do the thing because there is less inhibiting you from considering anything that isn’t the habit in the first place.
Pick a habit and start small. Focus on the repetition, and once you have then down, up the intensity.
Not tracking the change.
“What gets measured gets managed" -Peter Drucker
A common mistake in habit formation is forgetting to track. An easy way to demotivate yourself is to lose track of the metrics you’re using to access the progress of a habit. Knowing how long it’s been is great reference information for when you are tweaking the habit for better results.
I track all of my habits in my personal development journal as a method to encourage myself and others. It really is a physical representation of all the hard work I put into becoming my greatest self.
Try to remember every time you hit an achievements mark. How far have you come? What patterns do you notice? Where did you write down that game plan?
Building a habit is a lot easier when you formally record your progress, and the best method to breed your success is keeping it all in a single place, like a notebook or journal.
Writing something down has a memorizing feeling to it. Putting something to paper in a meaningful place it makes it real. It’s much harder to back out of a commitment you make with yourself especially if it is solidified in writing.
Further Reading: Journaling for growth
Attempting to Reinvent the Wheel
“If you want to know what an experience is going to be like, find someone similarly situated and ask for their experience. A very good way to avoid failure is to learn on someone else’s dime. Let them make the mistakes and then learn from those mistakes. I much prefer learning from other people’s mistakes than from my own.”
Another common mistake in habit formation is starting from scratch. Billions of lives have been lived, so why fall for the same pitfalls that cause someone else to fail? The lesson has already been learned, so instead of making the same mistakes try taking using what they learned and build upon it to create a new and improved habit.
Someone’s gotta fail, but no one said it only has to be you. Your next choice can be backed by the lessons of the entire human race.
If I can offer one parting piece of advice it would be to keep failing. All of the common mistakes in habit formation listed above only exist because people like me and you took a chance and failed—it’s just part of life.
Habit change won’t be getting any easier anytime soon. But by avoiding these common mistakes in habit formation, I know you can start to live more intentionally.