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5 Possible Reasons Why Your Habits Aren't Sticking

October 10, 2019

Curation diary on a desk

This post is written by Alex Phillips, Co Founder of Saint Belford.


We’ve all felt that spark of excitement when we realise exactly what we need to do and we embark on day one of building the habits that are going to “change our lives.” We’re feeling energetic, excited and ready to make our grand intentions stick.

And then it doesn’t.

And the feeling of defeat hits.

Can you relate? 

You’re not alone.

Contrary to what we’ve been told, it doesn’t just come down to motivation and discipline. Here are some possible explanations for why your habits aren’t sticking. 


You lack a clear habit intention

This means you don’t know the “when” and the “where” of your habit. Without a clear intention, you’re forcing yourself to think about it every time you attempt to complete that habit which only utilises more brain power. In other words, it’s not “habit” material. 

So, what should I do?

Make a specific plan for when and where you will perform this new habit. This increases the likelihood that you’ll follow through because the plan provides clarity,  alleviates decision fatigue and helps you say no to things that would otherwise distract you. 

Use this formula: I will [behaviour] at [time] in [location]


Your environment is cluttered with negative cues

Your behaviour is largely influenced by the environment you’re in and the things you are exposed to. Many of the actions you take are shaped not by choice but by the most obvious option available. Remember, humans tend to follow the path of least resistance. 

A simple example: if you’re trying to reduce your screen time in the evening, but your phone is in plain sight (negative cue), you’re making it harder on yourself. It’s a lot easier to follow through with your desired habit when your phone is in a different room, completely out of sight. 

So, what should I do?

Optimise your environment. Instead of trying to exercise self-control when temptation arises, your energy is better spent optimising or redesigning your environment to make good habits easier and bad habits harder. This involves increasing exposure to positive cues (prompts/reminders to complete your habits) and minimising exposure to negative cues (distractions). 


You don’t really know why you’re doing it

If your reason for pursuing this habit is “because everyone else is doing it,” you’re going to have a tough time making it stick the moment you experience a bit of resistance. Every habit needs a strong “why” behind it and these reasons need to come from within. 

So, what should I do?

Dig deep and list all the reasons why this habit is worth your time and energy. Consider the short-term and long-term benefits. Consider the consequences of not building this habit. What do you have to lose? Why is it important? 


There are too many steps involved

Every habit can be broken down into smaller steps and each step is dependent on the previous step. One break in the chain and the habit remains incomplete. 

Since the human brain follows the law of least effort and is literally wired to conserve energy where possible and choose the easiest, most convenient option, you need to make your habit as easy as possible. 

So, what should I do?

Minimise the number of steps involved and eliminate “in the moment” decision-making. If you can make decisions ahead of time, like choosing your workout gear or your workout for that matter, do that. This automatically reduces resistance in the moment because you go from “planning to do your habit” to doing it. 


You haven’t implemented a satisfying reward

Rewards reinforce your behaviour and teach you what habits are worth repeating in the future.  

Humans have evolved to prioritise immediate rewards over delayed rewards which means you need to reward your good habits in order to encourage repetition in the short-term, while the long-term rewards and benefits accumulate in the background. 

For example, you probably won’t experience immediate benefits from meditating in the morning, but over time, you’ll notice that you’re calmer, more present and less susceptible to stress. Before you can experience any of those benefits, you need a reward that is going to encourage you to show up in the meantime. 

So, what should I do?

Choose an immediate reward that is aligned with the person you want to be. This could be a healthy treat, your morning cup of coffee or ticking it off on your habit tracker. Just be sure to position this reward immediately after your habit. 

Need a little more help troubleshooting your habits and making them stick? Download your FREE eBook: Curating Habits That Stick