Why is it so hard to stick to a new habit?

Lars Kumbier
Lars Kumbier July 22nd, 2022 2 min
The foundation of a building

About 80% of people who make New Year's resolutions have dropped them by the second week of February.

Some people lack willpower, some just forget to complete their habits. So let's fix that.

  1. 1. You're focusing on the wrong goal
  2. 2. Make the habit small and achievable, no matter what!

You're focusing on the wrong goal

You have a goal to change something in your life - let's take the classic example of becoming more athletic.

What do you need to do? More sport! Lots of it! So you put together a workout routine for every day of the week, and use a habits tracker to motivate yourself - but after an initial phase of excitement, it looks like this:

A habit tracker with scattered completions for sport

And this happens with most goals you set. Every! Damn! Time!

Why is that? You made the mistake of mixing up your actual goal with the goal of building a habit.

Building a habit is the first step - or in other words, the foundation - to achieving your goal. And building a habit is a goal in itself.

By reaching for the sky, you opened yourself up to a plethora of reasons, not to stick to the habit routine:

  • "I couldn't find the time today"
  • "It was raining, so I couldn't take a run"
  • "I don't have the necessary equipment at hand"
  • "I'm still sore from two days ago, I shouldn't train today (does that still count as doing the habit??)"
  • "Urgh, my work day was sooo terrible - do I really want to drag myself through a workout today..."
  • "I forgot to wash my sport clothes - well, can't do sports without!"

While all those reasons may be valid against achieving your goal, they'd be invalid in your goal to build a habit. So what can we do?

Make the habit small and achievable, no matter what!

The goal is to build a habit - which leads you to achieve your actual goal, as a byproduct! So instead of having a rigorous sports program to achieve every day, commit to small and always achievable goals, until you build the habit.

A foundation for building a habit could be one of the following (and the important part of the sentence here is one of):

Do 5 sets, 15 reps pushups Did 1 set, max reps
Write 3 pages Wrote 1 phrase
Repeat 50 Indonesian words Repeated 5 words

There are no excuses for this, so you are always able to build the habit.

A habit tracker with consistent completions for sport

As soon as you build your habit foundation, achieving your actual goal is a lot easier - because you don't have to spend energy on habitualizing.

And what you will find, is that in addition to the very low achievable goal, you actually did a lot more on most days!

On a normal day, you did not only stick to your 1 set of 15 reps - you did 5 sets! You did not only write 25 words - you wrote 10 paragraphs!

And if you have a good day, you actually ran half a marathon, broke your deadlift record or spend half a day in a nice café, expanding the novel you're writing.

But on a bad day - and we all have those -you still stick to your habit. And that's what makes it a win either way and you do not feel like failing.

Final thoughts

Habits help you achieve your goals without spending energy. Starting with baby steps helps you build that habit.

To run a marathon you need 42.195 steps. Planning to run ten thousand steps every day will only frustrate and give you excuses not to stick to your plan.

Starting with a hundred steps every day will give you fewer chances for excuses.

And depending on your energy of the day, you might choose to run ten thousand nevertheless.

A man doing pull-apart workout in office

Lars is a freelancing Management Consultant and Digital Architect from Heidelberg, Germany.

When he's in clients' offices, he loves to build the team habit of doing pull-aparts to keep his posture healthy. You can reach him on his website.

Discover other posts to fight procrastination, form good habits, break bad ones and live a better life.

"If you're having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn't you, the problem is your system."