5 Reasons We Fail To Change Our Habits
We're with you. In some ways, the headline above gives us a sinking feeling, too. It seems like the words "fail" and "habits" go hand-in-hand — don't we all have at least one tendency (and often more) that we obsess about and wish we could change, but just can't manage to drop?
As it happens, SmartyPants is a company that's also fairly obsessed with finding the best solutions in health and wellness. We decided to dig into the research and figure out how to turn our bad habits into good ones once and for all.
Here are the things about human nature that keep us failing to change. Clear these five hurdles, and you're well on your way.
We think we can figure it out as we go
Going to just "wing it" and expect to totally revamp your drinking habits? It doesn't work that way. Research shows that specific plans are easier to achieve. For each behavior you want to change, devise a set of specific, realistic goals that help get you there. Maybe that's "I'm going to drink tea instead of wine" or "I'm going to yoga class instead of the bar."
Also, iron out the practicalities in advance. If your goal is to fend of the temptation to have a second glass of wine, then start brewing your tea before you bottoms-up the first glass. Habit changes go from mysterious to methodical, one practical step at a time.
It's really hard to recognize a habit, even when it's staring you in the face
In order to change a behavior, you have to be aware of when it's playing out, right? That's harder than it sounds. Habits, by nature, are activities that are automatic. We don't plan them in advance — they just happen on their own because it's the way you always do things. More of life is habitual that you might think. If you can believe it, research indicates that about 40 percent of our day-to-day behavior is habitual.
In order to change a habit, you have to stop it in its tracks. But how do you stage this intervention if you can't anticipate it? A good way to reveal the pattern of whatever habit you want to change is to shake your life up a bit. This shift can be as big as moving to a new town, or as small as rearranging your refrigerator. Suddenly, the previously omnipresent cues that were feeding your habit — overeating, for example — are gone, and you've got an opening for a new behavior.
As soon as we get frustrated, we stop trying
You're not alone! We all have the tendency to resist change to some extent — especially when the change means a break from the only way we've ever done things. The classic example: Succumbing to a single cupcake and letting it completely derail the healthy eating habits you've been working to develop for weeks.
It takes a LOT of repetition to create a new habit — 15 to 250 days' worth of repetition, in fact. It's important not to let the little, inevitable setbacks along the way turn into quitting time.
We want to change everything all at once
You know the infamous stats: Only 8% of people achieve their New Year's resolutions. A third don't even make it to February. Part of the problem? We want to revamp our diets, read more books, spend more time with family and cut the chain handcuffing us to our desks —all at the same time.
There's only so much willpower to devote to the challenge of change, so try to choose a single habit to focus on. Give it time. Once you're in the "maintenance" phase of your new behavior (that takes at least 6 months), you can set your sights on new habit #2.
We get down on ourselves
It's really hard to change, and it's human nature to blame and chastise yourself when you feel you are failing. In fact, negative self-talk is one of the most pervasive bad habits we all want to get rid of!
The thing is, telling ourselves we want to change our eating habits because we're fat and lack self-control won't get us very far. Study after study after study shows that true, long-lasting change is most possible when it's rooted in positive thinking. Leave your fears and regrets in the past and reframe your goals as healthy changes you're making because you're strong and you love yourself.
To learn more about how you change the internal dialogue around your health and habits, watch SmartyPants CEO Courtney Nichols Gould discuss the topic further.