Why Good Habits Don’t Last

Regardless of what you’re New Year’s resolutions are this year, one thing is certain: It’s HARD to keep them going after the first weekend in January.

I was recently listening to a podcast and I wanted to share the message as it struck a chord with me because so much of what I do involves helping people make small improvements to their existing habits.

The podcast spoke about why good habits are so difficult to maintain and why we are always ‘falling off the bandwagon’.

Here are a couple of points that can help make your habits last:

Frequency Matters

Studies show that the frequency you do something is directly tied with how successful you are in forming a habit. The more you do something the more likely it is to become engrained in your habits (and habits tend to be more automatic motions), so the more you do it, the more automatic something becomes.

Secondly, if you are doing something less than once a week, it will be very hard to stay in your routine. There are of course exceptions, but this is a general rule.

Don’t vs. Can’t

In a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, participants either said they “don’t” eat certain unhealthy foods, or they “can’t” eat certain unhealthy foods. Later, they were then offered two foods (a healthy and an unhealthy); those who had used ‘don’t’ were much more likely to choose the healthier snack versus those who said they ‘can’t’.

Here’s a second example from me. I don’t eat gluten because it makes me incredibly sick. I always have people say to me “How do you do that? I would miss (bread/beer/cookies) so much”. Honestly, I’ve never wanted to eat gluten since having to go gluten free and I don’t miss it, because it makes me SO sick. In 7 years, I’ve never knowingly eaten gluten. Why? Because it’s just who I am. The same thing would go for a vegetarian.

When you make a habit part of your self image or identity, it reduces the amount of willpower needed to make good choices, and there is research showing that when people see themselves as part of the behaviour, and not separate to the behaviour, they are much more likely to maintain it.

Are you still with me? 🙂

Social Rewards

There’s a reason that we love getting text messages – it is a social reward, and studies have even shown that receiving messages raises our dopamine – a feel good neurotransmitter. When it comes to habits, when we have social ‘support’ and motivation, we are significantly more likely to keep up with those habits.

Lastly, positive change is contagious! Developing a network of people that are going through the same changes is highly motivating.

What You Can Take Away From This

The key for forming habits is to make it as automatic as possible with as few barriers as possible. Let’s use eating as an example. To make eating healthy as easy as possible would mean having the food already made so that there’s less thinking. As soon as you have to think, willpower comes into effect, making it much more difficult to make the right decisions. This is why the meal planning is a hugely effective habit that everyone experienced in the Wellness Challenge last year – and the newbies will learn this year).

If you think about exercise, it’s about choosing something that is easy for you to do and doesn’t require you traveling 1 hour just to do the exercise, for example. As soon as you add in moments of question about whether you want to drive there (for example), again the questioning makes you less likely to do it. Don’t worry – all of the exercise programs in the Challenge can be done at home!! 🙂

To close, I think the science behind habits and what makes them stick vs not is actually one of the reasons that participants have such success in the Wellness Challenge. For a full 8 weeks, we’ll be making sure that the good habits are easy to accomplish, with delicious healthy recipes. The motivation & group support provides the ‘social rewards’ system as well, and if you are struggling to form new habits, this will help you get there!

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