Avoid These Mistakes When Creating a New Habit

In our series around Forming Healthful Habits, we focus for the most part on why, when, and how to create new habits for a higher quality of life. In this article, however, we focus on practices and thoughts that may be working against you, and how to avoid these mistakes when creating a new habit.

Do you remember that early 2000’s show, What Not to Wear? Today’s article is like that – a look at 5 common mistakes: tempting, but unproductive thoughts and practices that keep us from creating and sustaining new healthful habits. Most of these examples are taken from our own experiences and experiments in behavior change, conversations with friends and clients, and also from podcasts and books – many of which you can find in the Top Picks section of our newsletter and also linked below. Subscribe to the blog to get up-to-date info and see our Top Picks on this and other topics.

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Awareness is the first step, right? Some of the mistakes and pitfalls listed here are so common, so ubiquitous, that we may not even realize that they are working against us. So, let’s become aware of the traps we need to avoid before setting our sights on the new systems and habits we want to create. When we invest in good habits and good systems, they will last us a life time – this will become our new normal and be the way we live forever. So, it is worth the time and attention to plant those seeds well.

More articles in this series, like, “How to Know Which Habits are Worth Tracking,” are at our blog, TrainMovePlay.

There are books and videos we find helpful on this topic linked below. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

Avoid These Mistakes When Creating a New Habit

Here are the 5 most common mistakes we see in order of the frustration they are likely to cause!

Mistake No. 1: Too Big

Yes, we want you to think big. Yes, we want you to be ambitious. Yes, we want you to believe in yourself and be confident that you can make big things happen in your life. Because, YOU CAN! But sustainable change is about making small changes that, over time, add up to big changes.

Advice we frequently give to clients, and to each other: Start small. No, smaller.

Losing 50 pounds can be done, but not all at once. Picking up 250 lbs can be done, but probably not today. Intermittent fasting may be a fabulous eating style for you, but don’t start with a 36 hour fast! Even something that sounds awesome, like getting 8 hours of sleep at night, may not happen on the first try.

True story: I have been co-sleeping and night nursing one or other of our kids for over 4 years now. Even if I tried to sleep for 8 consecutive hours, my body wouldn’t be able to do it. I have spent too many nights waking up every other hour. AKA, I’ve had a lot of practice carving out the opposite of the pattern (habit) I crave. If you set a goal to go to bed “earlier,” and then decide to tuck in two hours before usual, you may lie there for 90 minutes before sleep finds you. (Or, you may wake up at 3:00 am thinking, “It must be breakfast time now,” like I have, occasionally done!) You may be even more tired than normal and when the frustration and feelings of failure rise up, you may feel like quitting. But… Your goal isn’t a bad one. And you are not failing. The change is too big.

If you feel like you are failing, you may have fallen into the trap of trying to create a habit that is too big. Go back to the planning phase and break it down, shrink it down. Keep it simple.

Sustainable change is about making small changes that, over time, add up to big changes.

Mistake No. 2: Too Many

Likewise, trying to make too many changes at one time can also be problematic. There are seasons and cycles of universal energy, seasons of life, events and traditions that tend to get us fired up about making big changes. The beginning of a new year is the obvious example. A new relationship, a new job, an upcoming trip… For me, I always get motivated when I see the first signs of spring. I have also felt the urge toward change at big transitions, like when I moved to a new country, found out I was pregnant, moved to a new country again, found out I was pregnant again… I’ve had friends and clients who dealt with grief, loss, divorce, or trauma by seeking to create a whole new lifestyle – a new workout routine, a dietary change, a new self-care routine, and a new wardrobe….all at once. Total 180.

There is a delicate balance to be honored: we want to take advantage of the energy and momentum we feel at these times because change can be cleansing, even therapeutic. And, we also need to keep in mind that, if we want these changes to be sustainable, we shouldn’t bite off more than we can chew.

Another way we see this problem manifest is that we adopt a list new habits that goes in all directions. Yes, we want to have good habits and systems in place for all facets of our lives – good habits around our physical, mental, and emotional health; around our environments, finances, relationships, careers, etc. But when we try to put into place systems that address every aspect of life all at once, it can actually lead to feeling more chaos, instead of the control and stability we were after.

Have you ever, in a moment of great energy or transition, tried a new eating style, a new workout routine, a new bed time routine, AND tried to quit ALL of your undesired habits cold turkey… In the words of the sage, Slow down, you crazy child.

If you are feeling frantic managing of all of your new systems, you may have fallen into the trap of trying to create too many new habits at once. Step back. Prioritize. Keep it focused.

We have an article coming called 130 Inspired Ideas to Create More Healthful Habits, which is divided into 5 facets of health. Read that next if you are wanting to make some changes, but not sure how to focus your effoorts.

Good habits and good systems will last us a life time, and become our new normal. So take the time and care to plant those seeds well.

Mistake No. 3: Too Painful

On the podcast, Braincare, James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, talks about “crowding out’ the bad habits with good ones. This is something I have used to great success, especially around forming better nutritional habits. For example, I have recently been working to eat 8 servings of different fruits and veggies each day. And I’m packing all of those into an 8-9 hour intake window. It leaves me so full, I often don’t have room for other snacks.

When we think about building healthful habits, it can be tempting to think about all of the things we are going to “cut out,” or “let go of,” but that can be painful. And we all have trouble committing to practices that seem painful.

I know I have been shy in the past about asking for support with my new habits. And I think this also comes from a place of pain. I don’t really want anyone to know about the changes I am trying to make, because if I slip up (or flat out fail!) I don’t want to be embarrassed or chastised about it. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, of course. When I have the motivation, accountability and positive support of a partner, friend, group, or tribe, my new system is less painful and my new habit is stickier.

The support of a friend, a tribe, or a group can make a huge impact in the sustainability of a new habit.

This is one reason we have recently begun leading Small Group Fitness at TrainMovePlay and why we recently launched a TMP Facebook group – the support of the group can make a huge impact in the sustainability of a new habit. There are online groups out there for everything! With a little thought and research, you can find in person or virtual groups to support you, no matter what changes, big or small, you are creating.

If you are feeling negative, rather than hopeful and excited, about your plan, you may have fallen into the trap of trying to create a habit that is too painful. Go back to the planning phase and shift your perspective to what you want, rather than what you don’t want. Collect a tribe around you, join a group, or a community of practice for support and motivation. Keep it positive.

Shift perspective toward what you want, instead of what you don’t want.

Mistake No. 4: Too Inaccessible

Temptation is all around us, folks. The biggest temptation? Maintaining the status quo. You’ve heard the saying, “Do what you’ve always done, and you will get what you’ve got.” Quippy, but true. Change is tough! So, why make it any tougher than it has to be. Make the path for engaging in your old, undesired habits, more difficult than the path for your new, desired habit.

Want to read more? Don’t set your book on the shelf. Leave it out on the coffee table.

Want to workout each morning? Don’t hide your workout clothes in a drawer. Set them out at night

Want to eat out less? Don’t wait until 5:00 pm to think about what’s for dinner. Plan ahead.

Want to wake up earlier? Don’t stay up so late that getting up is difficult. Go to bed earlier.

If your desired habit still seems too inaccessible, there is another perspective shift you can make here. Don’t worry about actually reading at night – just open the book and set it on your lap. Don’t worry about working out in the morning – just put on your workout clothes. Don’t worry about planning a whole dinner ahead of time – just chop one vegetable that you want to include in tonight’s dinner. Don’t worry about actually going to bed earlier – just turn off the screens, brush you teeth, and put on your pjs. We call these, “first steps,” and there is a place on some of our habit trackers for writing them down. Focusing on just that one tiny first step toward change can be enough.

Your desired habit will probably follow from that first step. And even if it doesn’t on the first, or second, or third try, eventually, it will. Especially, if you have done the work defining the values and prioritizing the habits that align with those values. (We outline that process in the next article, How to Know which Habits are Worth Creating.)

If you are finding that you are knee-deep in your old habit before you even realize it, take a step back and see if your desired habit is the path of least resistance. Keep it accessible.

Mistake No. 5: Too Murky

Sometimes we set goals that sound fabulous but are difficult to observe, measure, or track. “I’m going to spend less money. I’m going to be kinder. I’m going to worry less.” All great, health-affirming, positive changes to make, but how do you know when you are actually taking steps in the direction of your new desired habit? If we have not articulated, defined, and prioritized measurable objectives, and if we do not have a system for tracking how often we actually practice those objectives, we cannot see, in real time, which habits are being created and which ones are not. We cannot make informed choices about which habits are most important to us. We cannot shrink and simplify goals to make those priorities more accessible, more focused, and more positive. In short, nothing else works if our goals are too murky.

I have used habit trackers to great success. Both for myself and for my kids. Potty training was a nightmare for me! I read books, listened to podcasts, and thought we were super prepared, until the time came and it all went to sh*t. Literally. We tried a few strategies and finally hit on the sticker chart – a super simple grid with big giant stickers for every successful potty try and, BAM! (Ok, not exactly, BAM! It was still a long road before that new habit was completely formed.) But, the tracker really took so much of the stress out of the process. It let us cut through all of the peripheral “noise,” and just focus on one small, simple goal – did we make it to the potty or not? It let us stay positive by focusing on the successes rather than the failures. (Confession: I STILL have that first completed sticker chart hidden away in a drawer! It represents so much determination, team work, and effort, I haven’t been able to part with it yet! Oi.)

Get our free Healthful Habits Bundle with trackers and inspo guide.

If you are finding that you can’t decide if you made headway in your new habit today, or not, you may be falling into the trap of being too murky. Turn it around and find the observable, measurable tasks that you can track. Then, track your new habit. Keep it measurable.

Do what you’ve always done, and you will get what you’ve got.

Next Steps

There you have the top five most common mistakes we see, so you can avoid these mistakes when creating a new habit. Before you set out on your quest for a new habit, while you are still in the planning phase, or if you have gotten into a habit changing mode and are finding yourself overwhelmed with negativity, ask yourself, “Am I keeping it…

  1. Simple
  2. Focused
  3. Positive
  4. Accessible, and
  5. Measurable

If the answer is, Yes!, then you are likely setting yourself up for success!

Your next step is to get going! Read, “How to Know Which Habits are Worth Tracking,” and our, “130 Inspired Ideas to Create more Healthful Habits.” Then go to our catalogue of habit trackers, with how-to and inspiration guides. They are mostly geared toward establishing more healthful habits, but useful for any habit you want to create. We also have a free folder of Printable Quote Cards to help you maintain a positive and realistic frame of mind – especially useful in those days AFTER you have put it a ton of work toward your new habit and BEFORE the effects of your new habits become truly visible. And we have more articles on creating and sustaining healthful habits coming soon. We hope you’ll make use of all of these great resources and let us know which habits you are creating in your own life.

If you are a member of the TrainMovePlay Small Group Fitness or Personal Training programs, join our facebook group – TMP Facebook group – so we can support you in creating your healthful habits!

If you are interested in utilizing the support of a Personal Trainer or Small Group, contact us at TrainMovePlayPT@gmail.com . Or fill out the contact form on our website, TrainMovePlay.com for a complimentary consultation, and let’s discuss your goals and plans. Virtual assistance and program-setting are available.

Train smart. Move well. Play hard, friends.

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