Habit Creation: The 7 Deadly Sins

Creating new habits is hard.

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

And that does a number on our self-esteem. We feel like losers. So we pretend we don’t need the habit. Then 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 . . .

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. But most of the time, it doesn’t. It has to do with a lack of knowledge.

If you were trying to build a house, and you thought you could construct it using glue, the house would fall. You might try harder to re-build it, adding more glue, filling in more cracks, and using different types of glue to see what works best. But the house stills falls — not because you aren’t working hard, but because you don’t realize house-building with glue never works.

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 using glue.

Leo Babauta has created many new habits that 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 160 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?

Steve Chandler sobered up, lost 30 lbs., has written 30 books, is a world-class coach and motivational speaker, and makes a whole lot of money.

What does Steve 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 7 deadly sins of habit creation.

Is it time for you to figure it out?

If so, here they are — the 7 deadly sins that will poison the creation of sustainable, life-long habits:

Sin #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.

Sin #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. You’ve given yourself the task of building a house with glue. Within a few weeks, if not days, you will feel completely overwhelmed and give up.

Sin #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.

Sin #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.

Sin #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.

Sin # 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.

Sin #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.

Bonus Sin: 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.

Comments

  1. Inspirational and motivational post Barrie!

    You are so right in explaining about habit creation! For some creating a habit is a problem, while for others implementing or maintaining it as a habit is a problem!

    I love your reasons of disruptions or excuses that we make, and we always do come up with loads of them- anything to stop us from making the habit to work! Also, we do fail to reward ourselves on the simplest of achievements that we may make, which I feel is very important to motivate and encourage ourselves to proceed further.

    Thanks for sharing an insightful post 🙂

    • Hi Harleena,
      And there are many of us who have a problem with both! 🙂 You need to really want something badly to stay committed to habit creation. That’s why Leo, Katie, and I present something we call The Simple Method in our course. It breaks habit creation into very small and do-able steps. For the most part, it has to be painless or most people won’t follow through.

  2. Thanks for this, Barrie!

    I’m a frequent committer of sin #3! I tend to jump into things in full sprint mode. Usually I am able to adjust to the sprint, but it’s true that sometimes I’m not quite up to speed and I find myself stumbling downhill in a free fall.

    This is a valuable post.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Ken,
      A lot of us tend to do that because we get impatient for results, but then we fizzle out. Slow and steady wins the race, right? 🙂

  3. More great insights Barrie, thanks!

    It seems to me that most normal human beings seek to avoid pain, and attract pleasure…pretty obvious, right? With that simple statement in mind, it would also seem logical that before embarking on the task of changing old negative habits into new, more positive ones, that we give considerable thought to the pleasure that we’ll derive from making positive changes.

    For instance, when I’m watching a cattle stampede on TV, the dust rising up is real! As the “Dark Prince of Procrastination”, perhaps it’s time to get in the habit of doing a little dusting now and then. The pleasure derived would be immense :-).

    All the best,

    Jon

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Jon,
      Yes, visualization of the results is actually a really important part of habit creation. It helps re-wire your brain to reinforce the new habit. And it creates those positive feelings. So go visualize your dust-free house and start dusting! 🙂

  4. I like all your suggestions except the one about accountability. It makes me feel as if I’m a child reporting back to someone on my progress or lack thereof. Personally, this one doesn’t work for me. I know someone though who needs it because she is quitting smoking. I used to be someone who leaped into things and quit because I was discouraged because I wasn’t sticking to my plan. Also, the reason a lot of people don’t stick to a plan is because of limiting beliefs that they might not even be aware of. The “just do it” and “fake it until you make it” school of change and development never worked for me until I discovered, acknowledged, and eliminated the negative self-esteem beliefs that were the ones running the show.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Lauren,
      You have to do what works for you. Accountability is less about the reporting aspect and more about the level of commitment one has to a new habit. You can become accountable just by telling people what you are doing, even if you don’t report back. By telling, you are adding another layer of personal commitment because you want to avoid the appearance of failure. It’s negative reinforcement to be sure, but it works — just in the same way you might work harder for a personal trainer than by yourself. 🙂

  5. I would love to take the habit course, but I truly cannot afford it. I think the people who need it the most can afford it the least, its really sad. I wish there were an affordable program for those of us at the real beginning stages of rebuilding our lives, it’s when you need the most help.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Sequoia,
      If someone really can’t afford the course and wants to take it, we invite them to contact us to see what we can work out. Please feel free to contact me. 🙂

  6. Hi Barrie, I loved this post really great advice.
    When I try and help my clients with creating positive habits I make sure they are very clear about “The Why” I think this is the underlying motivator. If you want to lose weight, why do you want to lose weight? Some may think this is very obvious but the reasons will differ from person to person. Some want to lose weight for health reasons, some for self esteem and others to attract a partner. Knowing the why can be the trigger of inspiration that will ensure you don’t have to rely on memory!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      That is a great point Ciara. Yes, understanding the “why” behind your desire for a new habit reinforces your desire and motivation. Keeping your “eye on the prize” during the process can help you during the hard times of habit creation.

  7. Creating habits that are in direct correlation to what you are passionate about—I believe will bring more successes. I am excited to see that you are partnering with Leo to give this free webinar to help us all in creating our life as masterpieces.

  8. When it comes to habits, they are powerful double edged swords. Successful people forms powerful and positive habits while people who seem to stumble in life has poor habits that are equally powerful. The main difference is the successful lot consciously create their good habits while the unsuccessful unconsciously form negative habits. I think the key is to awaken from this unconscious behavioural before anything could be done.

    I have also read somewhere that habit take at least 3-4 weeks minimally to form. This is how our neurology is determined. Hence it is during this period that keep up with the formation of good habits is crucial. Your list here is great to encourage all readers to take note of the common pitfalls of failure at forming habits successfully.

    Thanks for the article.

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