January 3, 2017 |Gideon Hanekom

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This post is not about teaching how to create effective habits, but rather about some pitfalls you need to be aware of when you do put some habits in place. There are typically 5 mistakes that cause new habits to fail. To succeed in developing new effective habits and maintaining them over time, you must first learn how to avoid them.

If you want to change any results in your life or business, effective habits are the key.

The late Jim Rohn used to say, “Motivation is what gets you started; habit is what keeps you going.”

Your habits determine EVERYTHING, from how much money is in your bank account to the size of your waistline.

Your habits determine the quality of your life.

If you don’t take control of them, you’re most likely to fail in achieving any of your goals and/or sustain any progress you have already made.

mistakes that cause new habits to fail

It can seem impossible to break bad habits or to create new, positive habits. I used to think so too.

A few years back, my health hit a wall. I was fat, physically sick, and not overly happy with what I saw in the mirror.

My life came to a crossroads, and I had to make a choice; Stay fat and sick, or make some serious changes.

I did the latter.

I went on to lose around 30 kg, started training twice a day, became a world-ranked masters sprinter in my age group, and most of all started living as the role model I wanted to be for my kids.

The biggest change I made, which nobody thought I would, was giving up red meat (eventually, all meat).

I come from Southern Africa originally, and I was raised on the good old “braai” (barbecue on a fire).

And within my “tribe” I was known for the amount of meat I could eat.

I would easily eat more than a kilo of steak in two sittings.

Not because I couldn’t eat more, just because “I was being health-conscious.”  

Looking back at it now, it was quite funny.

I was completely blind to my lifestyle and what I was doing to myself.

But it all changed and my life is better for it today.

mistakes that cause new habits to fail

The one thing I learned throughout this journey, is that willpower only gets you so far.

Unless you have effective habits in place that determine most of your behaviour, especially when you’re tired and willpower is low, you are sure to fail.

And that’s what I did.

I put in place a few effective habits and built them up over time to the point where they still serve me to this day, years later.

Once you understand the process of putting effective habits in place, you can replicate it, and add more as you need them.

However, most people have an ineffective approach to setting habits.

They try to go cold turkey and rely on willpower to force the necessary changes.

What I’ve learned on my journey, is that this is a very ineffective approach.

It might work for some people, but for the vast majority that I know of, it doesn’t.

Chances are you also already know this doesn’t work unless you’re incredibly motivated, but motivation isn’t reliable.

It’s here one day and gone the next.

It’s fleeting at best.

If you want to create lasting change, you need something more.

You need to create effective habits more effectively, and by the same token avoid the most common mistakes that will trip you up.

In this post, we’re focusing on the latter.

Let’s look at the 5 mistakes that cause new habits to fail

Changing too much, too soon

A new habit is best installed in baby steps.

If you want to spend two hours each day writing your book, start with a single sentence each day.

One sentence accomplishes something exciting: it gets you in the habit of sitting down and writing when it’s time to write.

That’s the most important first step.

Habits are ultimately about repetition.

By doing things over and over again, you’re effectively creating neural pathways in your brain; like cutting a path through a forrest.

The more you use this road, the easier it gets.

The path eventually becomes a highway.


  • Start with small changes. Then increase the amount of time and effort when the habit of beginning is in place.
  • Seek behavioural changes that are so easy, you can’t possibly fail.

Relying on self-discipline

If your habit requires self-discipline, it won’t last.

At most, self-discipline should only be required to make a habit of getting started.

Habits are essentially automatic.

Self-discipline isn’t required to eat a candy bar or watch TV for most of us.

It’s just something you end up doing, as a habit.

If you have a habit of going to the gym, self-discipline isn’t required for that either.

Again, is just something you do because you’ve done it so much and you enjoy it.

You need to remember,

  • Self-discipline is a short-term solution.
  • Instead, seek behavioural changes that are so easy, you don’t need self-discipline.

The best way to do this is by linking true enjoyment to the activity you’re trying to install.

Habits are more neurological than thought processes.

It’s something that physically happens in your brain through repetition.

The more enjoyable you make the process, the quicker the new behavioural changes will stick.

mistakes that cause new habits to fail

Expecting a new habit to be easy to install

Change is simple but it isn’t easy.

You’ll become complacent and lazy if you expect a new habit to be easy to implement.

We’d all be rich, in shape, and speak five languages if creating new habits were a simple matter.

It’s important that you stay diligent and make sure that your new habits are properly in place before relaxing a bit.

New habits are essentially new neural pathways (or connections), but that goes for your old habits also.

If a new habit is like a pathway through a bush, your old habits are existing pathways through a bush.

They are much easier to travel by or go back to than the new ones.

Once you start making some changes, celebrate the fact as much as you can.

You are doing something great.

Most people never make the effort to change the results in their lives.

They simply settle for mediocrity or for what is.

They get used to it.

They never fully accept it, but they also never step up to change it.

Change isn’t always easy, but it is worthwhile.

That makes it easier.

Expecting a new habit to be difficult to install

The opposite is also true.

If you expect the process to be exceptionally difficult, you’ll also struggle.

The thought of doing anything that’s hard can be enough to never get started in the first place.

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but as people, we tend to build things up in our heads that keep us from starting.

We wait and wait, and when we finally get going we think, “why didn’t I do/start that sooner?!”

Starting is oftentimes the hardest part.

But once you do and keep at it, momentum will eventually take over.

New behaviours are easy to implement if you start slowly and have patience.

It’s the slowing down and patience that’s hardest. Keep that in mind.

We live in an age of immediate results.

The problem with change is, there is no App for it!

You have to earn it.

But earning it is what makes it awesome in the end, and motivate you to keep going.

Relying too much on information

Our society is blessed, or cursed, with access to an excessive amount of information.

This can create two challenges …

It’s very easy to believe that you don’t know enough to take the first step.

There’s always something out there that you don’t know.

But the need to know everything before getting started can leave you stuck.

Some call it analysis-paralysis.

At the end of the day, it’s important to know that there’s no prize for knowing the most.

However, there is considerable success in accomplishing the most. Knowledge will always be trumped by action.

The belief that knowledge alone is sufficient is just as harmful.

You might know how to do pushups, but that doesn’t provide the same results as doing 100 of them each day.

This goes for everything else.

Knowing or having awareness alone is not enough.

You need to act on what you know.

You need to use what you have learned.

The special forces have a motto that 60% is enough to take action.

If you know 60% of the relevant information, you know enough to move forward.

You can figure out the other 40% along the way.

Spend 90% of your time doing and 10% learning.

mistakes that cause new habits to fail

Final Thoughts

Dropping your negative habits and adding new, effective habits is the key to changing your circumstances.

Unfortunately, most of our instincts about change are incorrect.

We either fear it or go about it all wrong.

Small incremental improvements made over time and allowed to develop momentum are the keys to the kingdom.

Tiny changes are simple to execute and expand upon, increasing your chances of success. However, this strategy necessitates patience and the conviction that it can be successful.

Remember: small changes add up to big results.

Avoid the typical pitfalls discussed in this post when attempting to incorporate a new habit into your life, and you’ll have a better chance of adopting habits that have a beneficial impact on your results and life.

Please leave your thoughts and questions below or email me.

About the author

Gideon Hanekom

Gideon Hanekom is the creator of TheRelationshipGuy.com, a popular relationship blog that ranks among the top 50 relationship blogs in 2024. The website helps couples to create happier, healthier, and more intimate relationships. Gideon is a trained professional counsellor and holds post-graduate degrees in Theology and Psychology. His articles have also been featured on respected platforms such as Marriage.com and The Good Men Project.

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