3 crucial mistakes we make when making or breaking habits

For years, I have been trying to make exercise a habit of mine. I have come up with fitness programs for myself, joined gyms, have full access to beach body on demand.

Guess what?

I don’t exercise. Ever.

When I was introduced to life-coaching and thought work I had no idea that was going to be the thing that gave me hope in actually starting to make exercise a part of my life.

But now I know it’s possible, and through life-coaching I have been able to recognize why all of my other attempts fell flat on their faces.

I was making rookie mistakes.

These mistakes don’t apply only to exercise, rather to any habit you want to start and even any long-lasting habits you want to break.

Let’s learn how to do this effectively, friends.

Mistake 1: Self-Criticism

One of the most common misconceptions when it comes to habit change, or any change or transformation, is that you should hate where you at right now to make a big change. This is in fact not true at all, and can actually hinder the progress and add pain to our journey.

I see this often when we are trying to make spiritual improvements. A lot of us want to start or stop certain things in order to feel closer to God, learn more of the scriptures, or improve our familial relationships.

Let’s take the example of scripture study.

There are countless talks, lessons, and counsels to study the scriptures daily. It is a wonderful habit. As a missionary, I studied my scriptures for a couple of hours each day and it was amazing.

Now, something that tends to happen when missionaries return home is they fall out of this habit. It is a natural thing that happens to many return missionaries.

When this happens, oftentimes they start to beat up on themselves. They ask themselves questions like, “I used to do this every day. What’s wrong with me?”

“Why can’t I seem to prioritize this?”

“If I cared about God I would put Him first.”

There is a lot of shame when it comes to forming religious habits, and honestly there shouldn’t be.

There are many reasons for this, but primarily: it’s not effective. Here’s why:

Shame doesn’t drive consistent action.

Emotions like shame, judgement, and criticism may drive us to do it, but not for the right reasons. It brings on feelings of obligation, and obligation almost always leads to resentment.

It can lead to thoughts like, “why does this church have so many expectations?”

“I’ll never be able to do it all.”

Good news, friends. We aren’t expected to do it all. We are expected to make many mistakes, and we are definitely not expected to read our scriptures every single day without fail.

As we take out this layer of shame and judgement of ourselves, guess what happens?

We actually have the opportunity to get better at the thing. Instead of shaming ourselves into change, we change because we want to change. Because of a variety of things.

It could be because it sounds fun.

Or because it helps you feel good.

When your reasoning is, “I’ll go to hell if I don’t”, or, “I’m not a good person if I don’t”, the process of changing becomes so heavy and difficult. Lightening it up can create compassion, commitment, and even fun.

Mistake #2: Overestimating our Abilities

Let’s say you have a friend named Jane. Jane comes to you and tells you, “I can’t seem to learn the piano. I have only been taking lessons for a month, but I just want to be able to play some of Mozart’s pieces. I feel like such a failure. I think I’m going to quit.”

And obviously, you respond, “well that’s embarrassing for you, you really should be better. You should quit.”

I’m kidding. I really hope sarcasm shines through in my writing.

NO! You don’t say that! You say something like, “well, it’s okay you can’t play Mozart yet. You’re a beginner. Maybe you should make a goal to play something a little easier.”

My family has a “motto” that goes, “if at first you don’t succeed, quit.” Most often, this quote was said in sarcastic tones because someone was feeling bad about themselves for not being good at something the first time they tried it out (AKA skiing & me).

We tell each other to quit to point out the hilarity that we expected ourselves to be good at something immediately anyway.

Why do we do this to ourselves? We go to start a new habit or quit one that dies hard, and we expect perfection right off the bat.

So how do we combat this mindset?

Well, there’s a couple of things you can try.

The first thing is being extremely forgiving when setting a goal. For example, if the goal is to read your scriptures every day and you miss a couple of days, you understand you are human, and you re-commit, and go again.

Another technique that I prefer to the previous is setting extremely realistic goals.

I learned this technique from Jody Moore in her coaching program Be Bold, and have been listening to coaching calls on the subject. What’s really funny is Jody made it very clear that we need to keep our goals small, but for some reason as women we don’t understand what that means.

Jody would ask the woman what her “small” goal is and she would say, “I want to do yoga every day for a half hour.”

If you read that and think that’s a small goal, then it might be time to reevaluate your expectations for yourself.

If we aren’t doing yoga at all, any days, all of a sudden doing it for a half hour each day is a HUGE commitment.

So, the alternative is to decide, “I’m going to do yoga one day a week for a half hour.”

Now, the reason I like this better to the previous technique (although both are good) is because this one builds confidence.

If you commit to doing something every day and have to do thought work or self-coaching each day that you don’t do it, that’s fine, but it’s even better to commit to something you know you will do without fail, because it’s such a small commitment.

Then, every Friday when I get up and do yoga, I get a pat on the back because I completed my goals.

And then I might decide I want to try it out on Tuesdays. Just to try it.

Then I see I have another window Wednesday nights.

Before you know it, you have achieved your goal, without so much shame and self-deprecation, because you upheld a small commitment and picked up momentum.

Mistake #3: Lack of Commitment

Part of the benefit of making our goal more attainable is that we can commit to it. But, unfortunately, even if it’s only once a week, sometimes we don’t feel like doing it.

Although it’s the same process, let’s take a look at breaking a habit rather than forming one.

Let’s say the goal is to stop staying up so late. You decide you are going to go to bed a half hour earlier on Wednesday nights. But, you get to Wednesday night, and you really want to get the dishes done before you go to bed.

But, you remember your commitment. That, NO MATTER WHAT you are going to go to bed at 10:30 rather than 11:00.

That’s where commitment comes into play.

You leave the dishes, and you go to bed.

Another key component to commitment is picking yourself up when you fail.

And let’s talk about that word, “fail”.

I just wanted to let you guys know you can’t fail when it comes to forming or breaking your habits. Because failure is always part of the process. Recommitting is a key component to creating long-lasting habits.

When you mess up or you forget, you notice something isn’t working, you reevaluate, and you’re back at it the next day.

As we notice what our brain does as we make these goals, start a new habit, fail at it, etc., we can take a look at these three mistakes and notice if we are making them and if that’s serving us.

If it’s not, then:

Stop being so hard on yourself.

Make your goals smaller.

Re-commit and try again.

That’s all for today! Don’t hesitate to reach out to me personally for questions about your personal habit making or breaking if you feel comfortable. I’d love to give some advice. There are ways to contact me under the contact tab on the site.

Stay calm guys, I love you!

*I do not claim to be a therapist, psychologist, or any other certified professional.*

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