bad habits

8 Reasons Why You Fail at Creating New Habits

Creating a new habit is hard.

It’s so hard that we fail at it repeatedly.

We begin with great intentions, but inevitably we begin to slack off and ultimately drop the habit altogether.

And that does a number on our self-esteem. We feel like losers. So we pretend we don’t really need the habit — that we never wanted it in the first place.

But without the habit we hoped to create, we live a life of lesser-than . . .

  • Lesser than the person we dream of being.
  • Lesser than the person we really are inside.
  • Lesser than our own best expectations.
  • Lesser than what we know we are capable of.

If only we could figure it out, get it right this time, stay committed, try harder.

If you’ve tried to create a good habit and failed, then tried again, then again, then again, and continued to fail, you aren’t alone.

As I said, habit creation is hard. And it’s harder because most of us go about it in the wrong way. We don’t know why we keep failing. We think it has to do with personal weakness and lack of discipline. But most of the time, it doesn’t.

It has to do with a lack of knowledge and proper skills.

If you want to create a sustainable habit, you need to know what works and what doesn’t. You need to know why some people create multiple life-long habits while most of us keep failing.

Leo Babauta has created many new habits which he has now sustained for years. He’s lost 70 lbs., become a vegetarian, written several books and blogs, become an early riser, eliminated his debt and tripled his income, simplified his life, and become car-free.

What does Leo know that you don’t?

Katie Tallo has become a vegan, runs every day, is writing a novel, maintains a beautiful blog, has become debt-free, and is an award-winning director.

What does Katie know that you don’t?

Stephanie Wetzel has lost over 200 lbs., written and published a book, started her own business, created a health and diet blog, works regularly with a personal trainer, and eats real food daily.

What does Stephanie know that you don’t?

All of these people have been successful at habit creation. And like you and me, all of them have tried and failed, tried and failed, tried and fail, until . . .

They figured it out.

They figured out what was undermining their efforts, killing their motivation, weakening their resolve. They figured out the 8 reasons why they were failing at habit creation.

Is it time for you to figure it out?

If so, here they are — the 8 reasons that you have failed at habit creation in the past and how to succeed in the future.

Reason #1: Lack of Planning and Preparation

Boom, you just start. You want to create a new habit, so you think, “I’ll start this habit today or tomorrow morning or Monday.” But you don’t do anything to plan or prepare yourself and those around you. You don’t get yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, and practically ready and ripe to be successful.

Reason #2: You Start Too Big

Let’s say you want to lose weight. So you decide to start running, begin a diet, and count calories. That one goal of losing weight requires hundreds of major and mini new habits. Within a few weeks, if not days, you will feel completely overwhelmed and give up.

Reason #3: You Commit Too Much Time

Even if you decide on a small habit, the tendency is to over-do it in the beginning. Your brain and your muscle-memory have to become accustomed to a brand new behavior at a slow and steady rate. If you want to begin a new habit like running, writing, meditating, or anything that will ultimately require 30-90 minutes or more, don’t start at the optimum time commitment. Start with the least amount of time that’s easy to manage (like 5 minutes) and slowly work up to more time.

Reason #4: You Trust Your Memory

You think once you’ve committed to this new habit, you’ll remember to do it every day. And you may for a few days. But then you’ll forget, either consciously or subconsciously. You need a reminder, an already-established trigger that will jog your memory and spur you on to action — like using tooth-brushing in the morning as a trigger for meditation.

Reason #5: You Have No Accountability

Most of us don’t tell people when we start a new habit because we don’t want them to know if we fail at it. We keep it quiet, just in case. Well, that attitude dooms us to failure. It should tell us we aren’t really serious about creating this habit. If we were, we’d tell people. We’d tell everyone. Because we loathe looking weak or incompetent, we force ourselves to do the damn habit to avoid being embarrassed. You have to tell people, and keep telling them about every success and every failure. That keeps us accountable.

Reason # 6: You Don’t Acknowledge Your Successes

Accountability involves some negative reinforcement — the avoidance of embarrassment. But we need positive reinforcement too. All fear and no fun makes habit creation feel like a bad school day. You have to plan a reward system yourself to keep your motivation and positivity at a high level. Gold stars, a piece of chocolate, a nap, anything that feels like a reward will work to reinforce your habit.

Reason #7: You Neglect to Communicate

If you don’t communicate with those close to you about your habit creation plans and get their buy-in and support, you are setting yourself up for trouble. If your habit work disrupts the lives of those you love, and they aren’t prepared, they’ll be lobbing anti-habit bombs in your direction until you wave the white flag.

Reason #8: You Use Disruptions as an Excuse to Give Up

During the planning phase of habit creation, you should always create a “disruption contingency plan.” You may get sick. There may be a special event you must attend. You may need to change the time or place for your habit. Disruptions absolutely will happen — but they can’t be an excuse for stopping your habit work. Plan for them in advance so you aren’t blindsided by the unexpected.

You aren’t condemned to failure at creating new habits. There is a simple method for integrating habits into your life in a way that ensures they stick. With proper planning, preparation, small goals, accountability, rewards, and communication, you will address the problems that undermine habit creation before they ever occur.

A Resource for You: If you are considering creating a new habit and need a little help with a Simple Method for habit creation – if you need advice, accountability, and a community to get you over those rough spots – consider joining the next edition of The Habit Course with Leo Babauta, Barrie Davenport, and Katie Tallo . It’s all about creating new habits for life habits that last, habits that can lead towards the realization of your biggest dreams. Registration opens Tuesday, April 24, and the course begins April 30-May 25. There’s a short little video on the middle of this page with with info about the course if youíd like to watch.

Barrie Davenport is a personal and career coach and the founder of Live Bold and Bloom, a blog about bold and fearless living. She is co-creator of The Habit Course, Create New Habits for Life.

Photo credit: ‘Stop it’ by Big Stock

  • keithwtownsend

    Wow what a ton of great content here ! I see starting too big happen a lot in home based business or mlm. Setting way to high an income goal to miss it and quit. Also dieting is a big one. The little battles we win need to be celebrated. I journal mine everyday to remind  myself that even small wins are wins. great post , retweeting this

    • http://www.facebook.com/bbdavenport Barrie Burgess Davenport

      Hi Keith,
      I’m so glad it resonated with you. Yes, celebrating the small accomplishments gives you momentum to keep going. Those small successes lead to big habits!

  • http://www.2knowmyself.com/ Farouk

    that was such an informative article 
    thank you for these tips 

    • http://www.facebook.com/bbdavenport Barrie Burgess Davenport

      You are so welcome Farouk!

  • Mike

    I would recommend a free service, for tracking a habits development progress - http://42goals.com/

    • http://www.facebook.com/bbdavenport Barrie Burgess Davenport

      This is a great one Mike. Thanks for sharing this link!

  • http://manifestingmydestiny.com/ Lorii Abela

    The article was a great read. Thank you for making us realize these things. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/bbdavenport Barrie Burgess Davenport

      You are so welcome Lorii. Glad you liked it.

  • http://hanofharmony.com/ The Vizier

     Hi Barrie,

    I agree.  Creating a new habit is hard indeed.  But as you rightly pointed out, it is not hard because it is beyond us, it is hard because our approach is not correct.  I enjoyed reading the 8 reasons we fail at creating new habits.  Here are the thoughts that crossed my mind as I read them.  

    Reason #1:  Lack of Planning and Preparation

    This is vital to creating new habits.  Habits are not easy to change, otherwise people won’t be having so much trouble with them.  Since this is the case, we cannot approach the changing of habits in a haphazard fashion.  This is likely to result in failure.  If we take the time to plan and prepare, it will pay off with success.  

    Reason #2:  You Start too Big

    A big challenge or problem can be overwhelming.  Our natural instinct is to turn tail and flee.  Or we may be so paralyzed with fear and confusion that we never begin.  It is better to break things down and start small.  We can successfully manage small things, have small successes and slowly change the habit fully bit by bit.  

    Finally, things rarely go as planned.  There are many things which we cannot foresee with logic alone.  The key here is to be adaptable and flexible in dealing with the challenges we face  Only by persevering to the end will we be able to change our habits.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article!

    Irving the Vizier

    • http://www.facebook.com/bbdavenport Barrie Burgess Davenport

      Hello my friend! So glad to see you here. Once we break things down to small goals, perseverance is much easier. Then your brain takes over as your neural connections and shaped and begin to accept the new behavior as permanent. So glad you liked it, and thank you for your thoughtful comments.

  • http://www.jerrystocking.com/blog Jerry

    Consider that you are a perfectly balanced ecosystem. With animals and plants living in complete harmony. A new habit is like adding a new plant to the system. It may use resources such as sunlight, soil, water that others parts of the system need.

    When you are creating a new habit, it’s often helpful to silently ask yourself “Are there any parts of me that are resistant to this change?”

    You may find that there is a part or parts of you that are worried about the new habit, even though you overall perceive it as an improvement.

    Addressing these internal concerns can open up a lot of room for the new habit to take hold. By maintaining the balance of your own internal ecosystem you can make the habit easier to maintain.

    • http://www.facebook.com/bbdavenport Barrie Burgess Davenport

      Hi Jerry,
      You have made and excellent point. We do have resistance and limiting beliefs that interfere with habit change. This is something we address in depth in the Habit Course. Thank you for pointing this out!

  • bg


    Most of us don’t tell people when we start a new habit because we don’t want them to know if we fail at it. We keep it quiet, just in case. Well, that attitude dooms us to failure.  

    Sorry, I strongly disagree here when it comes to dieting. So many women have been under external pressure all her life regarding their weight (often from their mothers), so how should adding MORE pressure change anything for the better? I lost 50 pounds without telling anyone but my husband (who joined in) and it worked very well. My weight is MY subject, not anyone else’s to discuss. 
    I know your advice is commonly around, but if you’ve got psychological weight loss blocks (and many people have), this is  very likely not the way to go. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/bbdavenport Barrie Burgess Davenport

      Hi BG,
      I am not a psychologist, so I can’t specifically address psychological weight loss issues. But for most people trying to establish positive new habits, having accountability is an important and valuable aspect of success. As a personal coach, I regularly see the value of accountability in getting things done. However, if there are emotional or psychological issues getting in the way of taking action, even small action, those issues need to be addressed first.

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  • ImpulseSave

    Sooooo great! I think one of the biggest things for me is forgetting to realize my successes. I think it’s such a big deal to make a habit and stick with it – but there are already so many things we do by habit and don’t even realize it. Whether it’s brushing your teeth or sending a birthday card every year to your best friend, we all have been getting in the habit of habits our whole lives. What’s one more? We can do it!

  • Carl

    I spend a lot of time on the computer doing things I shouldn’t.  I have things I need to do but don’t have the skills to do them. I have started some new exercise classes to lose 20 pounds. I have lower back pain & the Dr. put me on some meds that help. I have more energy & am able to help with some household chores. I would like to get rid of my low self esteem & my fear of dying & of looking at inapproprete piture on the computer. I love to read & I have Kindle that I read at night to get to sleep after I read my Bible. That’s one good habit I have. I’m very soft hearted. I’m told that I am kind to a fault. My Mother and I are very close. Of course I love my wife very much. I can’t do without either one of them. I am very dependant on them. I can do some things when my wife is with me cheering me on. I am learning to work in my yard to make it look better. I hate yard work because it causes me pain but I am learning to do a little bit at a time and in time it gets done. Is there any help for me?

                                                                                                                             Carl

  • http://www.ofwnurse.net/ ofwnurse

    My bad habit of being addicted to sweets is very difficult to remove…Your post helped me to realize the reason why I cannot create a new one..

  • http://pristineperception.com/ Suzanne

    If one does not believe they can make the change it will not happen, or at least not long term. Self trust in necessary to begin any such habit changing plan. If you don’t trust that you will know what to do when temptation hits, you’re out of the game. There must be self trust that it can be done, and that in the event of a setback, you trust yourself to handle it.
    Great post!

  • http://www.vikramadhiman.com/ Vikrama Dhiman

    I read this great book by Chip and Dan Heath – Switch. Its about how and why change happens or does not. Fortunately, I read it and introduced some fantastic changes at Banking Jobs Preparation section to start with in my team. And boy was it successful or not. So much so that I am beginning to roll this out to all other sections too. Here are 2 things which stood out:

    1. Looking for “bright spots” – which come from the surroundings
    2. Guide the right brain – long term plan – no one just lives for the present, but for a bigger purpose

    Doing just these a lot changed. I think one can also use that personally. 

    • James

      Was that book called Made To Stick? I love that book by Chip and Dan Heath. Great read.

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  • http://www.motivation.net.au/quotes/funny-quotes Quotations

    Great information you’ve provided us with here. Thanks so
    much for sharing. Nice site too…
     

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  • Lori Kidwell

    This post came to me at a very critical time. I *know* all these things, yet here I am, not planning, not preparing, and setting the bar too high.

    Thanks for the reminder. I really needed this today.

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  • Gregg_bell

    I just finished the power of habit the other week and was going to re listen to it this week to sink in the material. great article

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