Maintaining Healthy Habits: Beware of These Traps

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How do you maintain healthy habits? What are the main reasons people fall off track with new habits?

Once you’ve formed a new habit, you may feel like the hard part is over. However, you should still be aware of factors that might tempt you to break your habit. When you recognize your personal set of challenges to your good habits, you can better address them as they appear.

Here are some common circumstances that make maintaining healthy habits difficult.

#1: Interruptions to Your Routine

According to the authors, special circumstances like sickness and holidays can change your daily routine. When these circumstances interrupt your routine, you may pause your habitual behavior out of necessity. However, since habits require consistency to remain strong, a prolonged pause can make it difficult to return to the same pattern of behavior right away. 

For example, let’s say you normally practice a second language on a learning app every evening, but then you take a two-week-long vacation and don’t practice at all during your time off. When you return to everyday life, you may find it difficult to get back into the habit of studying the language because the behavior is no longer automatic. 

(Shortform note: Once something interrupts your routine, it can be very difficult to get back on track. However, there are several strategies you can use to improve your chances of success. First, when you restart your routine, complete tasks in the same order you normally do them. Even if you get a later start, follow the typical progression of your day. Performing the same routine will be more efficient than inventing a new sequence. Second, take a day to reset if you need to. Call out for work and spend it doing anything required to get your life in order, like cleaning, checking items off your personal to-do list, and re-establishing your habit.)

#2: Slow Results 

Another factor that may threaten your habit is discouragement. The authors assert that sometimes, the positive results you expect to see after starting a new habit won’t be immediately apparent. Don’t let this discourage you—you’re still succeeding just by making a positive change for yourself.

(Shortform note: To make your progress clearer (and therefore more encouraging), try tracking it with milestones and rewarding yourself when you reach one. For example, if your habit involves drawing for an hour every day to improve your skills, you could reward yourself when you’ve drawn every day for a week, a month, and so on. Even if you don’t see a marked improvement in your drawing skills during that time, the number of days you put in is an achievement in itself.)

#3: Overconfidence

Finally, some people who experience a high level of success with their new habit think they can stop working as hard to maintain it and still achieve the same results. You may be able to get by with less effort for a little while, but the authors argue that in the long term, your reduced effort will undermine the positive effects of the changes you made. You’ll see a decrease in your progress, and you’ll have to go through the whole process of starting the habit again.

(Shortform note: People who experience early success in habits and subsequently put in less effort to maintain them fall into the same trap as people with bad habits: They experience instant gratification from their choice to let things slide, and they can’t envision the negative consequences that will result from their behavior later on. Before you put in less effort into maintaining healthy habits, think about how your actions will affect you in the long run.)

When you feel the temptation to put in less effort, the authors advise you to do the opposite: Put in more effort toward your habit that day. You’ll show yourself that you’re committed and strong and that you can overcome challenges most people can’t. This will motivate you to keep going. For example, if you normally take a daily walk, but you don’t feel like doing it one morning, don’t stay in bed—add an extra mile to your route instead.

(Shortform note: According to Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, you may not always be able to practice the authors’ strategy of pushing yourself harder when you feel like breaking your habit. In The One Thing, they argue that we use willpower to establish habits, resist temptations, and do things we don’t like. However, willpower is a finite resource—every time we use it, we drain it. Therefore, if you use all your willpower on things that are unrelated to your habit, you may not have enough left to push yourself a little harder when you feel like breaking it. To protect your habit, build it into your day when you still have enough willpower to push yourself to do it.)

Maintaining Healthy Habits: Beware of These Traps

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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