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Habit Hack: Top 10 Reasons Why You Failed To Keep Your Habits

Habit Hack: Top 10 Reasons Why You Failed To Keep Your Habits

We all know that habits have a huge influence on to our life. For example, if you want to lose weight permanently, it’s not about following the latest diet trend for a few months, but it’s about creating healthy habits that will become your lifestyle for life.

However, it is not easy to cultivate new habits. If you haven’t known it already, there’s a science behind how a habit is created. Understanding it is vital to change or to create new habits to improve your life.

When trying to create new habits, there are lots of excuses (or loopholes) we made. Gretchen Rubin classifies those excuses into ten categories. Learn more about these excuses so you can improve your habit.

1.   False choice loophole: “I can’t do this, because I’m so busy doing that”

This happens when you think that you need to choose between two activities in opposition, as though you have to choose either one of them (when in fact, you can do both together). For example you might think that if you join that yoga group, you won’t have any time with your daughters; or if you go to sleep earlier, you won’t have any time to yourself; or that you’re so busy, you’ll make those appointments once things calm down.

Remind yourself not to think “Can I have this or that?”, instead you should be thinking “Can I have this and that?”. You will be surprised by how often that’s possible.

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2. Moral licensing loophole: “I’ve been so good, it’s okay for me to do this”

In moral licensing we give ourselves permission to do something “bad” (eat potato chips, bust the budget) because we’ve been “good.” We reason that we’ve earned it or deserve it, or that some “good” behavior has offset something “bad.” Your might thing that after the day you had, you’ve earned a nice glass of wine; or that you’ve been losing weight steadily on this diet, so it will be okay for you to cut a few corners; or that after all you did for others, you’re entitled to a little treat for yourself.

In a particularly popular yet counter-productive variation of moral licensing, people who want to lose weight use exercise to justify eating or drinking. “I went running today, so I’ve earned junk food (such as French Fries or Soda).” Don’t fall into this trap, if you love French fries, you can find a healthier alternative that taste just as good.

3. Tomorrow loophole; “It’s okay to skip today, because I’m going to do this tomorrow”

This loophole depends on a “tomorrow logic.” Now doesn’t matter because we’re going to follow good habits tomorrow. You think that it doesn’t matter what you eat now, because you’re starting a diet tomorrow. (Research shows that people who plan to start dieting tomorrow tend to over-eat today); or that you’ll be really frugal in January so it doesn’t matter if you spend too much in December. 

Some people even fool themselves into thinking that extreme indulgence now will give them more self-control when the magic future day arrives. But eating a giant bowl of ice cream today doesn’t make it any easier to resist tomorrow, and spending an entire day watching TV doesn’t make a person feel more like working the next morning.

4. Lack of control loophole: “I can’t help myself”

In this case, we argue that we don’t have control over the situation, and circumstances have forced us to break a habit. However, usually we have more control than we admit. Some of the examples are when you think you travel all the time, hence you cannot eat healthy (Yes you can, in the airport you can pick Subway over KFC); or that you have an injury; hence you cannot exercise at all (You can do light exercise, or exercise other body parts that are not injured); or  you’re addicted to burgers, pizza, and pasta and you just can’t help yourself (Well, you definitely need to learn how to fight food addiction here) 

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5. Planning to fail loophole: “I walked into this bakery to buy a bottle of water”

You will be surprised by how many people failed to plan their habits properly. For example they think: “I’ll buy some scotch to have in the house in case someone stops by.” Reality is: You don’t have guests that often, and you will end up drinking the scotch all by yourself. Or they reason: “My husband and I love to go on “all inclusive” cruise vacations, and I can’t resist the all-you-can-eat food.” You can simply plan a little ahead, buy the normal cruise package, and prevent overeating.

And as the saying goes, if you fail to plan then you are planning to fail. In terms of weight loss you need to set a specific goal on a certain time frame and use this awesome printable to monitor your weight loss. People who set a specific goal and monitor their weight loss tend to have a better success rate in losing weight.

6. “This doesn’t count” loophole: “I’m on vacation” / “I’m sick” / “It’s the weekend”

We tell ourselves that for some reason, this circumstance doesn’t “count” but in fact, while we can always mindfully choose to make an exception to our habits, there are no magical freebies, no going off the grid, no get-out-of-jail-free cards, nothing that stays in Vegas.

A very popular example is when people don’t watch what they eat when they are on vacation. They end up overeating and justify themselves by saying “I’m on vacation, so this doesn’t count”. Well the truth is, every single thing counts.

7. Questionable assumption loophole: “The label says it’s healthy”

This is a very popular loophole. Consciously or unconsciously, we make assumptions that influence our habits and often, not for the better. They often become less convincing under close scrutiny. The examples are thinking that you need to eat a lot to get good value from this buffet; or that the label says it’s healthy. (In one study, when a cookie was described as an “oatmeal snack,” instead of a “gourmet cookie,” people ate thirty-five percent more); or that if you indulge now, you’ll get it out of my system.

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You need to identify these questionable assumptions and learn the truth behind them, so you can make a better decisions.

8. Concern for others loophole: “I can’t do this because it might make other people uncomfortable”

We often use the loophole of telling ourselves that we’re acting out of consideration for others and making generous, unselfish decisions. Or, more strategically, we decide we must do something in order to fit in to a social situation. Maybe we do and maybe we don’t. Here’s some of the examples: People think it would be so rude to go to a friend’s birthday party and not eat a piece of birthday cake; or at a business dinner, if everyone is drinking, it would seem weird if I didn’t drink. 

By identifying this loophole, you can identify possible solutions, such as: “Everyone else is drinking, so I’ll order a sparkling water, and no one will know what’s in my glass.” Or: “My grandmother gets upset if I don’t take seconds, so I’ll take a very small portion the first time, so she sees me go back for more.”

9. Fake self-actualization loophole: “You only live once! Embrace the moment!”

This loophole comes in the disguise as an embrace of life or an acceptance of one’s self, so that the failure to pursue a habit seems life affirming and almost spiritual. But for most of us, the real aim isn’t to enjoy a few pleasures right now, but to build habits that will make us happy over the long term. Sometimes, that means giving up something in the present, or demanding more from ourselves.

A good example is when a smoker who doesn’t want to give up smoking says: “I have to die of something anyway, so might as well be of something that I enjoy (smoking)”.

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Another good example is when people says that you only live once, and everybody needs to eat every day, so might as well be eating delicious food (even though it’s unhealthy junk food). Well, the truth is you can still eat delicious food that is healthier.

10. One-coin loophole: “What difference does it make if I break my habit this one time?”

There’s a study about two charities who are raising money: Charity A mentioned that even one coin (or a penny) can make a difference to a child’s life, while Charity B did not mention that. In the end, Charity A (that mentions “even one penny can make a difference”) raises more money because even though a penny looks small, it eventually adds up and become substantial.

It is very applicable in your life. How many times have you said: I will eat cupcakes just this time, to end up eating another one few days later?

So those are the ten categories of loopholes. Which loopholes can you relate to the most? How do you plan to tackle it? Let me know in the comment section.

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Last Updated on July 23, 2019

5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

In the journey of growth, there are times when we grow and excel. We are endlessly driven and hyped up, motivated to get our goals.

Then there are times when we stagnate. We feel uninspired and unmotivated. We keep procrastinating on our plans. More often than not, we get out of a rut, only to get back into another one.

How do you know if you are stagnating? Here are some tell-tale signs:

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  • If you have been experiencing chronic procrastination on your goals
  • If you don’t ever feel like doing anything
  • If you keep turning to sleep, eating, games, mindless activities and entertainment for comfort
  • If you know you should be doing something, but yet you keep avoiding it
  • If you have not achieved anything new or significant now relative to 1 month, 2 months or 3 months ago
  • If you have a deep sense of feeling that you are living under your potential

When we face stagnation in life, it’s a sign of deeper issues. Stagnation, just like procrastination, is a symptom of a problem. It’s easy to beat ourselves over it, but this approach is not going to help. Here, I will share 5 steps to help you move out of this stagnation. They won’t magically transform your life in 1 night (such changes are never permanent because the foundations are not built), but they will help you get the momentum going and help you get back on track.

1. Realize You’re Not Alone

Everyone stagnates at some point or another. You are not alone in this and more importantly, it’s normal. In fact, it’s amazing how many of my clients actually face the same predicament, even though all of them come from different walks of life, are of different ages, and have never crossed paths. Realizing you are not alone in this will make it much easier to deal with this period. By trying to “fight it”, you’re only fighting yourself. Accept this situation, acknowledge it, and tell yourself it’s okay. That way, you can then focus on the constructive steps that will really help you.

2. Find What Inspires You

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Stagnation comes because there isn’t anything that excites you enough to take action. If you don’t have a habit of setting goals, and instead just leave yourself to daily mundanes, it’s not surprising you are experiencing stagnation. What do you want to do if there are no limitations? If you can have whatever you want, what will it be? The answers to these questions will provide the fuel that will drive you forward.

On the other hand, even if you are an experienced goal setter, there are times when the goals you set in the past lose their appeal now. It’s normal and it happens to me too. Sometimes we lose touch with our goals, since we are in a different emotional state compared to when we first set them. Sometimes our priorities change and we no longer want to work on those goals anymore. However, we don’t consciously realize this, and what happens is we procrastinate on our goals until it compounds into a serious problem. If that’s the case for you, it’s time to relook into your goals. There’s no point in pursuing goals that no longer inspire you. Trash away your old goals (or just put them aside) and ask yourself what you really want now. Then go for them.

3. Give Yourself a Break

When’s the last time you took a real break for yourself? 3 months? 6 months? 1 year? Never? Perhaps it’s time to take a time-out. Prolonged working can cause someone to become disillusioned as they lose sight of who they are and what they want.

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Go take some extended leave from work. A few days at bare minimum; a few weeks or months will be great. Some of my ex-colleagues have quit their jobs and took months out to do some self-reflection. Of course, some of us might not have that luxury, so we can stick to a few weeks of leave. Go on a trip elsewhere and get away from your work and your life. Use this chance to get a renewed perspective of life. Think about your life purpose, what you want and what you want to create for your life in the future. These are big questions that require deep thinking over them. It’s not about finding the answers at one go, but about taking the first step to finding the answers.

4. Shake up Your Routines

Being in the same environment, doing the same things over and over again and meeting the same people can make us stagnant. This is especially if the people you spend the most time with are stagnant themselves.

Change things around. Start with simple things, like taking a different route to work and eating something different for breakfast. Have your lunch with different colleagues, colleagues you never talked much with. Work in a different cubicle if your work has free and easy seating. Do something different than your usual for weekday evenings and weekends. Cultivate different habits, like exercising every day, listening to a new series of podcasts every morning to work, reading a book, etc (here’s 6 Proven Ways To Make New Habits Stick). The different contexts will give you different stimulus, which will trigger off different thoughts and actions in you.

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When I’m in a state of stagnancy, I’ll get a sense of what’s making me stagnate. Sometimes it’s the environment I’m in, sometimes it’s the people I’ve been hanging out with, sometimes it’s my lifestyle. Most of the times it’s a combination of all these. Changing them up helps to stir myself out of the stagnant mode.

5. Start with a Small Step

Stagnation also comes from being frozen in fear. Maybe you do want this certain goal, but you aren’t taking action. Are you overwhelmed by the amount of work needed? Are you afraid you will make mistakes? Is the perfectionist in you taking over and paralyzing you?

Let go of the belief that it has to be perfect. Such a belief is a bane, not a boon. It’s precisely from being open to mistakes and errors that you move forward. Break down what’s before you into very very small steps, then take those small steps, a little step at a time. I had a client who had been stagnating for a long period because he was afraid of failing. He didn’t want to make another move where he would make a mistake. However, not wanting to make a mistake has led him to do absolutely nothing for 2-3 years. On the other hand, by doing just something, you would already be making progress, whether it’s a mistake or not. Even if you make a supposed “mistake”,  you get feedback to do things differently in the next step. That’s something you would never have known if you never made a move.

More to Help You Stay Motivated

Here are some resources that will help you break out of your current phase:

Featured photo credit: Anubhav Saxena via unsplash.com

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