There is no denying that changing behaviours is hard and yet not impossible.
I know from personal experience and learning about the science of personal change, there are many aspects to changing habits.
Changing habits is not easy, however understanding some of the pitfalls will definitely help you.
Mistake #1 Lack Of Self Awareness About Your Habits.
According to Dr Joe Dispenza the definition of a habit is “The recurring, often unconscious and automatic thoughts, behaviours and feelings that are acquired through frequent repetition.”
Whatever habit you are looking to change, it is always important to become aware of the thoughts, behaviours and feelings you have about this habit. This will then enable you to decide what new thoughts, behaviours and feelings you want to create for your new habit.
Becoming more conscious of your habits means you can objectively start to observe your habits and make different choices.
Mistake #2 Not Understanding The Neuroscience Of Change
There is a principle called The Hebbian Law of Repetition which basically says that nerve cells that fire together wire together. Your habits when repeated create a neural pathway in the brain which over time become hardwired.
When the same habits are repeated, the neural circuits associated with those habits become stronger and stronger. This is just like a well – trodden path that you might find in the woods which has become established over time.
Eventually these habits become programmed into your sub-conscious mind and they become automatic. If you have wired and fired certain habits for a long period of time, it stands to reason that creating new habits will also take time.
There is a neurological, chemical and biological process involved in habit formation and understanding this process will enable you to apply more meaning to the changes you want to make.
Mistake #3 Not Being Clear About Your Why
You probably have a list of good habits that you want to work on.
Wanting to eat less chocolate, exercise regularly, be more organised, feel less stressed, spend more time with friends and family and many more.
Even though you know exercise is good for you, it probably is not a powerful enough reason to get you started.
Connecting the reason for exercising to a more powerful ‘why’ is likely to keep you motivated. For example, being able to run after your children or grandchildren without getting out of breath. Being fit and healthy so you can go on trekking holidays or being able to live a long and healthy life.
Being clear on your why will help you to remain focused, consistent and stay on track.
Mistake #4 Making Big Changes Too Quickly
It is important to take small simple steps when it comes to implementing any change.
If you try to make big changes you will fail. The change will feel overwhelming and impossible.
If you have got into the habit of working till 1.00 am in the morning and your new habit is to stop working at 10.00 pm, it is likely that you will experience a great deal of resistance in making such a big change all in one go.
My suggestion would be to start by reducing your finishing time in increments of 15 to 30 minutes with the aim of reaching your goal of a daily 10.00 pm finish in 4 weeks time.
When you make small changes, the mind and body are less likely to notice that you are doing something outside of your normal comfort zone.
Mistake #5 Changing Many Habits All At Once
If you try and change too many habits all in one go, you are more likely to feel overwhelmed. In turn this experience is likely to lead to disappointment and self-criticism of your ability to succeed.
I would suggest working on no more than 3 habits a day. Of course, it depends on the habit you are working on, whether you are making a daily or weekly change and how long you are working on each habit for.
Once your habit becomes part of your daily practice and routine, you can move onto the next habit. Some habits may take weeks to become routine and some habits may take months.
Mistake #6 Focusing On The Goal And Not The Process
Whatever habit you are wanting to change, it is important that you set yourself a goal. If your goal is to run 10k, your process will need to identify, how often you are going to train, over what period you will train, when you will train, who you will train with, whether you hire a personal trainer and what support you will need with your nutrition.
In the best-selling book Atomic Habits, Habits expert, James Clear argues that goals (results you want to achieve) without strong systems (the processes that lead to the results) leads to failure.
Setting a goal without a process means you are unlikely to hit your target. It is like Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
Mistake #7 Not Creating SMARTER Goals
If you are already familiar with SMARTER goals, you can skip this section. If you are not then, let me explain further. The word SMARTER is an acronym which stands for:
S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Achievable
R – Realistic
T – Timebound
E – Enjoyable
R – Rewarding
Your goal for creating a new habit should include all these elements so that you are clear about what outcome you are looking for by when. It also means that you can easily measure your progress.
I personally believe that when a goal is enjoyable, effortless and rewardable, you are also more likely to stick with it.
Mistake #8 Not Identifying Obstacles
Once you have identified the habit you want to change, be honest about what obstacles might get in your way.
Are there any time or financial constraints? Are there any additional resources or information you need to have access to before you start with making changes?
Do you need to change anything in your external environment to support your new habit? For example, when you open your kitchen cupboard is it stacked with unhealthy foods that are not part of your new healthy eating habits.
Do not underestimate how powerful your external environment is and how it can either support or sabotage your progress.
Mistake #9 Not Having Accountability
Left to your own devices it is easy to procrastinate and give up when you are not held accountable for your actions.
I remember when I decided to complete the 30 Day Just Juice Challenge, I announced it on Facebook as I knew that this would keep me accountable.
Having an accountability buddy or a support group will keep you motivated to keep going. Even if you miss a day having someone in your corner who will keep supporting and encouraging you even when you feel like giving up will make a massive difference.
Mistake #10 Not Scheduling In Time For Your New Habit
When you decide to create a new habit, it is important that you get clear on when you will schedule in time for your new habit.
If you schedule the activity into your diary, you are more likely to complete the task. The important thing is to treat this appointment as something that is non- negotiable as you are more likely to honour your commitment to yourself.
If you do not schedule in the activity associated with your new habit it is likely that it will not get prioritised and there will be no visual reminder.
By the time you remember to do it, other pressing tasks will compete for your time and you may not have enough energy left at the end of the day, providing you with the perfect excuse for why you did not get round to working on your new habit.
Mistake #11 Not Tracking Your Progress
The best way to measure how well you are progressing on your new habit is to track and measure your activities.
I use a simple monthly habit tracker which means I tick off what I complete daily. You can use mobile apps or a more sophisticated spreadsheet if you prefer. I have my habit tracker pinned to my office wall so I can see it every day. It provides me with a visual reminder to check off my daily habits once completed.
On a weekly basis I review how well I did against my goals. If I did not complete every task, I ask myself some reflective questions. This is not a tool for beating yourself up. It is just a tool that provides you with feedback and allows you to celebrate your wins.
Part of the review process is to ask yourself what worked, what did not work and what you can do differently going forward.
Mistake #12 Giving Up
Research completed by Phillippa Lalle published in July 2009 found that a daily activity such as eating fruit or taking a 15-minute run every day took on average 66 days before it became an automatic habit. However, the variation ranged from 18 days to 254 days in this study. Some people are more habit resistant than others.
It is often said that it takes 21 days to break a habit. However, this really depends on the complexity of the habit and whether there is a sense of urgency to change your behaviour.
I personally tell all my clients that it may take between 4 to 6 weeks before you notice a difference. Which means patience is key.
Over To You
Remember there is no magic wand or overnight success when it comes to changing habits. Be kind to yourself. If you miss a day, it is not the end of the world. We all slip up from time to time and it does not matter if you fall off your horse. What is more important is when you get back on it.
Leave a comment below if you can relate to any of the above.