The One Reason People Fail at Developing Good Habits and How to Avoid It

As complicated as... by Aunullah

Developing good habits is easy... if you can avoid making it complicated.

Developing a new habit is difficult.

Okay, so that’s not entirely true. Let me rephrase that a bit. Developing a good habit is difficult.

It’s easy to develop bad habits. We do it all the time. People get in the habit of hitting the snooze on their alarm clock and curling back into oblivion. They get in the habit of spending their evenings mesmerized by a flickering television while mindlessly cramming snacks into their faces. They don’t usually get in the habit of eating healthy, working out, or spending a little time everyday learning something new.

Why is that? Let’s take a look.

Why People Fail

Developing good habits is fundamentally different from developing bad habits. The reason developing bad habits is so easy is because it’s almost always something part of us wants to do deep down. Not in the way that we want a goal, but in the way that we naturally always want to take the path of least resistance.

The same just isn’t true of good habits. Good habits are almost always something that we want to do because we know it’s good for us, but deep down don’t want to do because it involves work, difficulty, sacrifice or a break in our usual routine. No matter how much you gear yourself up and tell yourself that you really want to go workout first thing in the morning, by the time your feet hit the floor in the morning all you’re going to remember is your driving need for coffee.

Now, there are ways to get around our limited supply of willpower and make the habit stick. The thing is, just about everyone I’ve talked to who have tried it and failed had one single thing in common. They made the same mistake I did at first – too much enthusiasm.

Rewind a little bit to when I was first trying to take control of my life and start taking things in the direction I wanted them to go. Caroline and I decided that we were going to make some serious changes. We wanted to learn instruments, we wanted to learn languages, we wanted to write lots of articles, we wanted to practice our martial arts, we wanted to get in shape, we wanted to eat right, we wanted start businesses… oh, yeah, and we were still in college.

I remember one of the schedules we concocted in our fervor had every single minute of the day blocked out with a different prescribed activity. Literally zero free time.

I think it goes without saying that we failed, and we failed hard.

I don’t think we managed to stick to our ridiculous schedules for longer than one full week. Honestly, I’m impressed with myself for even completing one week.

There was just way, way too much stuff to handle all at once. There was no way we were ever going to manage that schedule long enough for any of those things to develop into habits because it was just too overwhelming. It seems really obvious to me know, and yet I still constantly see people making the same mistake I made without ever realizing it.

Developing a good habit is difficult. It just doesn’t make sense to try to developing 10 good habits all at once, but people still do it all the time! Then they get frustrated because they failed and wind up giving up until enough fire builds in them again and they make another futile attempt to will themselves into starting 10 new habits at once. It just doesn’t work.

How to Succeed

We may have failed back then at developing all those habits, but since then we’ve managed to pick up a lot of those habits successfully. What was the difference? Taking our time.

Rather than try to force ourselves to do everything all at once, we took it slowly. Ridiculous schedules were thrown out of the window – instead one item at a time got picked to be slowly developed into a habit. We would move onto the next item only after the first had been pretty well entrenched as a new habit.

It was very, very slow; but it worked. We started with working out. A time was chosen three times per week and we focused all the energy we’d formerly spread around all our other activities into just being absolutely sure that we managed to work out three times a week. It felt pretty good to make it a complete week without missing a single workout. It felt awesome to make it three weeks without missing one. By the end of two months of never missing a workout, we were elated.

By that point it had become automatic – exactly what we were going for. The key is to remember to not get too crazy with it. I know it’s hard, I really do. If you’re anything like me, when you decide you really want to do something you go all out. Fight the urge to spread yourself too thin and focus all that energy onto one single task.

Promise yourself that you are not going to worry about any of the other things, and all you want to do is stick to this one thing. To own it. Tell yourself that you are going to absolutely dominate this one thing. Then, and this is actually a pretty important part, actually go out and do it.

The best part is, you don’t even have to think of it as focusing on developing a new habit. Just focus on doing it when you said you would, on being there, and after a little while you’ll find you don’t have to force yourself. You’ll realize you don’t have to think about it anymore, that you just feel like doing it – you’ll realize you’ve developed a new habit.

What do you think? Ever had success trying to develop a bunch of new habits at once? Have something else you think should be added? Let us know in the comments!

Photo Credit: Aunullah

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Adam is a linguist and personal trainer living in Cincinnati with his wife Caroline and dog Bailey. He's addicted to all things related to language, parkour, fitness and martial arts. You can contact Adam at Adam@RoadToEpic.com, on Twitter or on Google Plus.

  • Mais

    true however I fail to go on a diet to lose weight

    • http://www.RoadToEpic.com Adam Wik

      Keep at it and you’ll get there eventually. The only real way to fail is to give up. Just work on making little changes, like maybe cutting out sugary drinks for a couple weeks, and then add to them.

      Taking it slow and focusing on easily winnable mini-goals can make a huge difference over trying to go all out all at once.