5 Common Mistakes that Cause New Healthy Habits to Fail
Who here has tried to start a new healthy habit, then a few weeks later you realize it was a short run on trying to stick with something new? Hands up over here for sure! Cue the New Year's resolutions that we've already forgotten about... Change is hard. If it were easy, we would have done it already.
People often ask me how long it takes to form a new habit. You may have heard 21, 66 or 90 days. While you can start doing something in that amount of time, I think habits are not made in days, they are made when we do things consistently. If I want to reduce the inflammation in my body, and I start eating an anti-inflammatory diet, then eating this way becomes part of who I am. It's a "habit". If I were to stop doing that, the inflammation may return and it would not be a habit any longer. Habits lead to a desired outcome and to get there, we have to work on them consistently.
While there are many reasons that sticking to new habits may fail, here are 5 common mistakes people make that cause new habits to fail, and what you can do about it. Secret tip: it's really about changing our behaviour and making that new behaviour part of our identity.
You have an all or nothing attitude. I can see myself now circa, well, the last 20 years, wanting to lose 20 pounds and saying I am going to "stick to THE diet" to do so. I make sure I can exercise two times a day and eat 1200 calories until that weight is gone. Guess what? It doesn't work. If I knew then what I know now, it would not have been a 20 year struggle.
When we try to change everything all at once, we are less likely to be successful. Research shows that small changes and the creation and focus on small habits will lead to better change results. Pick one thing and do it well. Bonus tip: choose something that is going to matter to you a year or more from now.
You don't change your environment. Our behaviour is often a response to our environment. If there were cookies on the counter, would you grab one when you walk by? If the cookies were outside, buried in the snow in the back yard in the middle of winter, would you go get one? Which is easier? Of course you know the answer to that. It's hard to say you are going to quit sugar when there are treats in the pantry, donuts on the counter, and salad dressings with sugar in the fridge. Want to drink more water? Leave your glass out on the counter.
A solution? Change your environment to reflect and support the changes you want to make. It's not going to be perfect, and you'll still have to work on the behaviour change part, but changing your environment can help.
You don't count the small changes. Small steps towards change can add up in the same way small steps backwards can add up to change you do not want. Sometimes, we think our achievements need to be big to make a difference. Not true.
Going back to the losing 20 pounds example: you can't lost 20 pounds overnight. How do you get there? One ounce, one pound at a time. That said, change is not linear. We rarely go directly from point A to B. This is what my clients and I work a lot on--how do we move from point A to B? Maybe there are multiple points where there are many A to B points and when we add them all together, we achieve the new lifestyle we are looking for. The change becomes part of our identity.
Build the behaviour first, the results will come later. Behaviour is what leads to change which is what leads me to point 4 below.
You are only focused on the end result and not the lifestyle change. If we only focus on the end result of what we want to achieve, or what we think we want to achieve (ask me more about this if you'd like to hear my thoughts on it), we are not focused on changing our behaviour that will lead to the new healthy habit.
When something becomes a habit, it is a ritual and we do it consistently.
You didn't document your why. Saying you want to make a healthy change is great, but why?
Is it because you don't feel comfortable in your body? You don't want to have to pull your shirt over your jeans when you sit down? You feel guilty about what you ate? You do everything for everyone else and never take time for yourself? You want to be able to get up off the floor with your grandkids?
Why we want to change is so important because what we are trying to accomplish in terms of creating a new healthy habit should match with that why. More than that, "why" is complicated. You might say you want to lose 20 pounds, but in reality, you want to feel better in your body and have a better relationship with food. In that case, it's not just about the 20 pounds, is it?
Focus on daily improvements, not perfection. Are you perfect? Didn't think so. Me either.
In my weekly Facebook live, I talk about this topic as well.
I would like to invite you to check out my free guide on hidden sources of inflammation and how to calculate your inflammation score. Downloading the guide automatically signs you up for my weekly newsletter.