5 Common Mistakes That Lead to the Failure of New Habits

If you want more practical ideas for breaking bad habits and creating good habits, check out this article, which will show you how small changes in habits can lead to remarkable results.

Depending on your data, between 81 and 92 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail. (1)

Translation: You are 88% more likely to fall back on your old patterns and habits than you are to adopt new behaviors.

It is difficult to change behavior. It is obvious.

What is the reason? Why do new habits often fail to stick? What can we do to make positive change easier?

Although I don’t claim all the answers, I have two years of experience researching and writing about behavior change science. Let me share what I know so far.

Mistakes That Lead to the Failure of New Habits

PROBLEM 1: Attempting to Change Everything All At Once

SOLUTION Choose one thing and do it well.

Researchers in behavior change agree that it is important to focus your efforts on changing only a few habits at a time.

Changing three habits at once is the best number. This suggestion comes from BJ Fogg, Stanford University. We must be clear, Dr. Fogg only refers to very small habits.

How small? One pushup per day, flossing one tooth, and saying “It’s going be a great morning” every time you get up in the morning are some of his suggested habits. Even if your new habits are small, it is best to focus on three at a time.

For me, it is more important to build one habit at a time. Once a habit has become a routine, I can move on to the next. I focused for six months on going to the gym every Monday through Friday, for example. After that became a habit, I was able to move on to the next habit: writing an article every Monday and Thursday. The new habit became a part of my daily life after eight months. Then, I started flossing every single day. It went on. You get the idea.

BONUS SOLUTION Choose a keystone habit.

Still, struggling? If you are still struggling, choose something that can be your keystone habit.

A keystone habit is an action or routine that pulls everything else in your life together. Weightlifting, for example, is my keystone habit. It creates ripple effects in my life by getting to the gym. In addition to the obvious benefits, I also enjoy many secondary benefits from working out. After a workout, I feel more focused. When I exercise consistently, I eat better. I get better sleep at night and have more energy when I wake up in the morning.

You will notice that I did not try to improve my focus, nutrition, sleep, energy, or sleep habits. I did my keystone habit, and the other areas were also improved. These are the reasons keystone habits can be so powerful. These habits can be transferred to other areas of your daily life. It’s up to you to identify your keystone habit. Some examples are meditation, exercise, and budgeting your monthly finances.

PROBLEM 2 – Starting with a Too Big Habit

SOLUTION Leo Babauta said, “Make it so simple you can’t even say no.”

You can see that many habits have this look if you map out the motivation required to do them.

The hardest part about a new behavior is actually starting it. After a long day at work, it takes motivation to go to the gym. But once you start the exercise, it is easy to keep going. It is a great way to build a new habit.

It is important to make new habits non-threatening. Begin with something small that seems simple and manageable each day.

  • Do you want to do 50 pushups every day? Start with 5-10 pushups per day.
  • Do you wish you could read more books? Begin by reading just two pages each night.
  • Do you want to finally get into meditation? Each morning, meditate for one minute. You can increase your time to one minute after a month.

PROBLEM 3: Not Changing Your Environment

SOLUTION Create an environment that encourages good habits.

I have never witnessed anyone consistently adopt positive behaviors in a negative environment. This statement can be framed in many ways.

  • If you’re constantly exposed to unhealthy food, it is almost impossible to eat healthily.
  • If you surround yourself with negative people, it is almost impossible to stay positive all the time.
  • If you’re constantly receiving text messages, notifications, and emails, it is almost impossible to concentrate on one task.
  • If you’re constantly around alcohol, it is almost impossible to stop drinking.
  • Et cetera.

Although we rarely admit it or even realize it, our actions are often an easy response to the environment in which we live.

You can actually assume that your lifestyle today (all of it) is a result of the environment in which you live each day. It is the environment you create that makes a habit work. Let’s take, for example, the resolution to lower stress and live more purposefully in 2022.

Here’s the current situation:

Each morning, your phone’s alarm goes off. The alarm goes off every morning. You reach for your phone and turn it off. After checking your email, you immediately check social media. Before you even get out of bed, you’re already thinking about half a dozen emails. Perhaps you have already replied to some. You’ve also been browsing the most recent updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. These messages and headlines are floating around in your head too. Although you haven’t yet dressed, your mind is already busy and stressed.

If you find this scenario familiar and want to change your habits, the best way is to change your environment. Your phone should not be kept in your bedroom. Your phone is the problem, so make sure you change your environment. You can buy a regular alarm clock, which is incredibly old-fashioned, and place your phone in another area (or at the very least, away from your bed).

You can also change the digital environment. You can turn off push notifications from your phone. You can also remove your social media and email apps from the home screen, and place them elsewhere on the phone. To see how it would work, I removed all my apps from my phone for one month. They were very much missed by me.

Your environment won’t change if you don’t.

Also Read: 10 signs that you are lacking vitamin C

PROBLEM 4 – Seeking a result rather than a ritual

SOLUTION Focus on behavior and not the result

Nearly all conversations about goals and resolutions are focused on some kind of result. What are you looking to accomplish? What weight do you wish to lose? What amount of money would you like to save? What number of books would you like to read? How many drinks do you wish to consume?

We are naturally outcome-focused because we want new behaviors to produce new results.

The problem is that new goals won’t bring about new results. New lifestyles do. A lifestyle is not an end result, it is a process. You should instead focus your efforts on creating better rituals and not trying to achieve better results.

Habits can be made into rituals by forming routines. Tony Schwartz says, “A ritual refers to a precise and consistent behavior that you perform at a particular time. It becomes automatic over time without any conscious intention or energy.”

You must fall in love with a new routine if you want to create a new habit.

PROBLEM 5 – Assuming that small changes don’t add up.

SOLUTION Every day, you get one percent better.

Listen to almost anyone speak about their goals and you will hear them talk about the minimum they would like to achieve.

  • “I want at least $5,000 in savings this year.”
  • “I would like to read at most 30 books in the next year.”
  • “I want at least 20 pounds to go before the summer.”

It is a common assumption that you must be great to make a difference. We are conditioned to believe that big is better. “I need to get in shape if I want to lose at most 20 pounds. I must work out for 90 minutes per day.

However, if you examine your current habits you will see a completely different picture. Nearly all of the habits you have today, whether they are good or not, can be attributed to small changes made over time. The repeated repetition of small actions leads to big results. We have the ability to choose whether we want to be one percent better or worse every day, but the choices can often seem so small that we forget them.

Start small if you want to create a habit. You should start with something that you will be able to stick with. Once you have done it enough, you can start to increase the intensity.

First, Build the behavior. Do not worry about the results.

Also Read: What are the benefits of walking?


  1. Many studies and articles have cited a failure rate of either 90 percent or 92 percent. The research study of John Norcross, a psychology professor, shows an 81 percent failure rate. He tracked the success rate for New Year’s Resolutions over a period of two years.

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