We all like the idea of starting a new habit.
Because we all dream of becoming that person who has the perfect fit body, has a focused mind and is super productive day after day.
We read books and blogs on how to start this new habit and set out all enthusiastic to become this super exciting person you want to be.
You know what happens.
And that’s probably why you are reading this post.
Why is sticking with new habits hard?
To answer this question, let’s talk about the science behind habits.
Let’s take a simple example. You brush your teeth in the morning because you want your mouth to feel fresh from the morning breath and get charged for the day. And you do it daily because you crave that freshness and feel bad until you get to do it.
So you do it daily and now have reached a point of automaticity where you don’t have to force yourself to do it.
That’s how all habits are formed. And that’s the way our brain works. Habits are there to make our lives easier so that we don’t have to make decisions about basic routines every single day.
It is exhausting for the brain to make decisions all the time. Therefore, it always wants to reduce effort. So when the cue appears the next time, it reminds you to take action automatically. There is no time or energy wasted on decision making.
So, why is it hard to take action when it comes to implementing new habits?
To form new habits, new neural pathways have to form in your brain. It takes consistent effort over a span of time. And it’s uncomfortable. So you try to fight it even though you want to do it.
You would rather sit on the couch and relax than do a workout that makes you sweat and cause painful muscle sores, right?
But to form better habits, you have to fight through the discomfort and stretch yourself so that it becomes your new comfort zone.
And when the rewards become tempting for you, you would want to do it every time.
Now, let’s see what some of the common reasons and obstacles are, that come your way when you want to stick with a new habit/routine. Of course, I am not gonna leave you with reasons, but ways to overcome those obstacles too. Let’s dive in.
1. You don’t have time
The number one reason I hear from people or even tell myself is lack of time. Whenever I think of incorporating a new habit in my day, my mind tells me, “Sounds good. But, where is the time?”
Don’t let your mind sabotage your desires. Because let me tell you something: most of the time, establishing good personal development habits in your routine actually buys you more time in your day. It’s counterintuitive, but it’s the truth and my experience.
I have always struggled with a lack of focus and concentration. And I earn my living through writing. Having focus is absolutely important to get more writing done in a day.
And I am able to write more and focus more when I am consistent with exercise and my meditation practice. What if I decided not to “waste time” by meditating and add that time to my writing hours? I will be distracted, and waste time doing unnecessary “research” and start worrying about what to make for dinner.
When my thoughts get all over the place, I get nothing done. But if I invest time to meditate, I get more done in less time.
I can say the same about exercise (more energy to get things done), journaling (have a clear head to start the day with), having a morning smoothie (better health over time) and saying affirmations (happier and start the day well).
How to find time every day to stick with the new habit?
Since it is a new habit, you need a time slot in your day to fit it in. So, instead of randomly saying I will start journaling from tomorrow, tell yourself when you will do it. The exact time and date should be noted.
Before starting, get a notepad and track your activities in a day. Note down how much time you spend for work/chores/studies and other entertainment like watching Netflix and social media. Track it for at least 3 days and you will get an idea about where your time goes.
I always complained of not getting enough time in a day until I installed this app called Stayfree on my phone. It tracks my phone usage including how much time I spend on each app.
I was surprised to know that I was wasting so much time on social media. Not that I didn’t know it, but the accurate calculation helped me understand and I was able to reduce it.
I realized I could easily free up at least 2-3 hours in a day if I reduced my phone usage. It’s enough time for all the personal development activities I wanna do in a day.
So, track your time hour by hour and find out how you can get more time.
2. You forget to do it
It’s normal to forget about your new habit because you are only slowly getting used to it.
So, how to remember to do the habit?
There are many options to remind you of the new habit.
- Write in your diary
- Add it to your to-do list
- Add it to your habit tracker
- Post it on sticky notes and paste it where you can see upon waking up
In the beginning, it’s important to note down the exact time you will perform the routine. When you do it every day at the same time, your brain starts to anticipate the event and eventually it gets easier to remember.
What I do is, write in my daily planning section of my bullet journal and add the habit to habit tracker too. After some months, I find I can take it off my habit tracker because I no longer forget to do it.
And then I add new habits to my tracker.
3. Starting too many habits at a time
Sometimes, you can get all excited and want to become your best version starting from tomorrow. You decide to start exercising, eat healthily, start meditating, all at once.
I am not saying you can’t do it. It can feel overwhelming and become a recipe for disaster. Because ultimately, what we want is to form a single habit and reap its benefits than starting a handful all at once and fail.
What to do about it?
Starting a new habit is important and exciting. But more than that, what matters is sticking with the habit. If you want the habit to be a part of your life in the long run, start small.
At a time, I like to start only1-2 habits. Sometimes, the ripple effect of one habit can help you form another habit.
For example, when you start working out, you would want to start a healthy lifestyle as well. Or you might feel like stop smoking.
Or when you start meditating, you might want to start a journaling habit as well. Because you want to clear your mind and improve focus.
These habits work together and you have more chances of keeping up with it. There are no hard and fast rules. Do what works for you.
4. You give in to the temptation
I am sure everyone can relate to this. Temptation can be anything – the tendency to skip the habit or decide it’s not worth it.
Why does this happen?
Your mind starts to negotiate with you when there are temptations to let go of the habit when it’s time to do it.
You feel “Not today”, “There’s no harm in skipping one day”, “I am tired”, etc. Or it can be just plain laziness to get up from the couch.
How to not give in to the temptations?
To not give in to these temptations, set your atmosphere up for success.
Plan your habits and plan for success too.
That is, think about the various temptations that can come up when you want to do the routine.
For example, for doing a workout, it could be laziness or tiredness.
Dig deep into it and find reasons why you feel so. Is it the time you choose to workout that’s failing you? Do you have more chances of doing it if you shift it from evening to morning? Or vice versa?
Or is it the drive to the gym that’s turning you off? Will you be able to achieve the same results if you exercise at home?
Let’s take another habit: eating healthy while reducing junk food consumption.
You might be reaching for the unhealthier meal option because it is easier for you to prepare. What can you do to tackle this? Will meal planning and meal prepping for a week will help?
Or just empty your pantry of all the unhealthy food ingredients.
Do you not like the taste of healthy food? Look for recipes that are as delicious as junk food.
For every problem, you can find a solution if you dig deeper. If setting up the exercise clothes out at night before sleeping will help you in not giving in to the temptation, do that. Or sleep in your workout clothes if you have to.
When you set yourself up for success and have a solution to every challenge, you will learn to stick with your habits and not give up.
Tip: From experience, I can say that the time you choose to perform the habit matters. If it’s something that you can do in the morning, that’s the best time to do it. Because there are fewer distractions and you have more energy. You don’t need to get up crazy early, but get up early enough to avoid the distractions.
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5. It is uncomfortable
This is the hardest part of habit formation. Implementing new habits is not always easy. You feel like quitting or decide it’s not worth it.
It is usually the pain of substituting a bad habit with a new habit. Or the pain of stretching yourself to new levels whereas subconsciously you want to keep going back to the comfort zone.
You are not used to “not” smoking, or “not” eating the dessert after lunch every day. You liked doing them but you decided to stop because you know it’s not good for you. And yes, you have to go through some rough period to emerge stronger at the other end.
Sometimes it’s not the discomfort, but the boring tasks or things you don’t know that puts you off.
You don’t like the small tasks involved in a big project. For example, when I started this blog, I had to deal with many tasks that are unpleasant and boring. I still have to deal with them and have to continue as long as I have this website.
I love blogging even though I don’t like all the “blogging tasks”. There are various moving parts that come with a project that you have to learn to stay in the “discomfort zone”. This applies to everything in life.
How to overcome this challenge?
One of my favorite authors, Robin Sharma says,
Change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.
Like a child suffers from growing pains to become an adult, you need to go through these phases to become the version you want to be.
What can help you overcome the discomfort is, to keep inspiring yourself. When you want to give up, ask yourself why it’s important for you. Why did you start in the first place?
Stick pictures of your accomplished goals on your vision board or your journal you can see daily and let it act as a visual reminder. Read and listen to inspirational stories and keep going until it starts to get easier.
The biggest thing that frightens me is getting old without achieving what I desire in life. When you think about it, the discomfort can seem better than giving up.
So don’t run away from change and discomfort as they are required to grow and strengthen yourself.
6. You feel lazy or don’t enjoy doing it every day
It’s exciting to think about a new habit. Most probably, you want to start a habit because of the transformation it’s gonna provide you.
For example, if you are an aspiring singer, you might be thrilled to practice your singing skills daily. But sometimes, it can seem like a chore.
You might want to get into your ideal shape, but not every workout day is fun and exciting. You still know the benefits and want to do it, but as usual your mind starts to give reasons not to show up and you skip it.
So, how to overcome the laziness to do the habit?
It can seem like a tough task when you need to drag yourself to the writing table so that you don’t break the writing habit streak.
If you are trying to actively form a new habit, try not to miss more than two days in a row. Because as you miss more number of days, it can get harder and harder to get back to the new routine.
On the days when I find it hard, I decide to do a mini version of the habit. If you are not familiar with mini habits or tiny habits, the concept was brought to light by Stanford University behavior scientist BJ Fogg.
You can watch his TED talk on the topic here.
The idea is to do the smaller version of the habit, if you can’t do it fully for some reason.
If you can’t do a full workout, take atleast 5 push ups.
If you can’t meditate for 20 minutes, do it for at least 2 minutes.
If you can’t write 1000 words a day, write at least 100 words a day.
Doing the tinier version helps you stick with the habit and not break the chain. It has another benefit too. When you start doing the activity, you can get into the momentum and decide to continue. So you end up doing the full workout or write 1000 words.
7. You miss a few days and that makes you feel like a loser
I can’t tell you how many times I have tried and failed to form new habits. By the way, it was before I knew anything about the science behind it.
But when we skip so many days, we start doubting our ability to form the new habit. And we eventually stop doing it.
How to stick with a new habit without skipping days?
One trick is to implement tiny habits as mentioned above.
If you still struggle to stay on track, find an accountability partner who has the same goals as you. You can try to motivate each other and help each other to not skip the habit. Or you can hire a coach who will guide you, motivate you and keep you focused on your goals.
Having an accountability partner or a coach works because usually we do not like to disappoint people and that will accelerate your success.
8. Life happens
You decide to start eating healthy and someone brings a chocolate cake in office. You decide to write daily and then you have visitors at home everyday.
It seems like everyone out there is to get you. But that’s how life is and each day can be different. Unexpected plans come up to derail you from your path.
How do you learn to stick with your habit even when plans fail?
When you know your plans can fail, you have to start planning for failure. It is absolutely necessary because every day events may not always go according to your plan.
To stick to your diet, tell yourself that you will give into the temptation only when you have cheat meals.
If visitors are a problem, try to shift your habit to early mornings when you are sure you will not be interrupted.
Think for yourself and try to remove all the excuses that prevent you from executing your habits. Solve each problem one-by-one and stay determined to get through the initial days of habit formation which are the hardest.
So, these are my best tips for sticking with habits. Do you have anything to add to the list? What is your struggle when it comes to sticking with habits? Do let me know in the comments below.
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