As a yoga teacher and a mindset and developmental coach, my role is to walk along humans in the journey toward creating new habits—mindset, nutrition, exercise routines, spiritual practices, and so on.
Often and often again, I see accomplished people come up against challenges with self-discipline daily.
The thing is that creating new habits is more of an internal inquiry and mindset rewiring than a new behavior creation. The internal work needs to precede the behavioral change.
Creating new habits (of the mind or body) requires at the beginning some will power. It is a growth process, so it will bring up some discomfort; if it is too easy then there is no growth there. Also, it requires some repetition until this new habit is embodied as part of our lifestyle or part of ourselves (for new mindset habits).
We will know that it is now part of us because not doing it will feel like we are missing something. Our language around this new habit will change from “I can’t eat these types of food right now” to “I am not eating these types of food”; “I can’t look at my phone when I wake up” to “I am not looking at my phone when I wake up.”
For many years I sat and observed as some of my clients were able to create and sustain new, healthy habits of the mind-body while others really struggled to keep them going after a couple of months.
I also spend a lot of time modeling people who are good at creating new habits. In neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) we call this study “modeling.” Modeling is a thorough study of how the whole mind-body-energy system of individuals who are naturally good at doing something works so that we can recreate this.
I observed these seven main hurdles to having the discipline to create a new habit.
1. Not having a clear intention.
If you don’t precisely know and feel why you are creating this habit, you will lack the true motivation that can sustain that habit.
What is the intention behind the habit you want to create? What do you value about it? Your highest intention is not what other people would say or think of you if you created this new habit. This externally referent intention would not be truly yours and would not be a good enough internal motivation to create and sustain this new habit. An example could be you want to start exercising.
Why is that important to you? Because you would like to be healthy. Not because you would lose weight and look better in the eyes of others.
Why is that important to you? Because you want to live a life full of vitality.
Why is that important to you? Because you want to spend quality time with your partner as long as you can.
When you find your highest intention for this new habit, bring it to mind every day. A note reminding you of it at a place you often look at is a good idea.
And more than just visualizing it, feel it. Feel how it would feel to reach your intention—to live it. How would your life look? How would you act, and think, and walk, and stand? Bring a lot of color as you visualize, feel, and live this new intention.
2. Choosing something you don’t enjoy.
If you want to start exercising and you choose running but you hate it, chances are that this is not going to be sustainable. There are many other ways to get your heart pumping—hiking, cycling, dancing, yoga flows, and so on. Choose something you love.
Now if the new habit you are creating is regularly cleaning and organizing your house but you don’t like cleaning (and unless you have enough money to hire someone to do that for you), first go back to number one—the why. It could be to live in a space that feels spacious for the body and the mind. Make this as enjoyable as possible: music, dancing, doing it with friends, partners, kids, and keeping your highest intention in mind.
If you are creating a new mind habit—for example choosing a new set of beliefs—bring a little lightness to the process. Don’t take anything too seriously. Especially, do not harshly judge your old way of thinking when it shows up. Bring in some fun and look within with lightness, kindness, and curiosity.
3. A strong inner critic that won’t shut up or hidden perfectionism.
As you start a new habit, your inner critic may show up basically telling you that you are not good enough—at running, cleaning, writing—and you will ask yourself, “What’s the point?”
Observe that inner critic. Who’s that voice in your head? Chances are this is not even yours. That inner voice could be a transmission from your parents, a caretaker, or a teacher. Observe how this makes you feel. Most likely it’s not great.
Thank the voice for trying to keep you “safe” in the comfort of your old habits, but let him or her know that this is what you are doing now, showing up for this new habit, imperfectly but consistently. Safe is what is not good enough anymore.
Remember that perfectionism is the enemy of habit creation. If you don’t wake up on time one day, or don’t show up for your training, or got invited to dinner so you miss out on your intermittent fasting window once or twice, give yourself a break. Every master has some days off. I see a lot of people quitting because they are too strict.
Allow for the 80/20 rule. Do what you set yourself to do 80 percent of the time and allow for 20 percent zigzagging.
4. Taking steps that are too big.
When creating a habit, having a more specific end goal is a good combination to knowing your highest intention.
So, define a goal to attach to your new habit. Something specific, measurable, achievable, and with a definite realistic timeframe that reflects your highest intention. It is great to have an end goal that is a bit of a stretch; that is where we grow. And find many reasons to care for that end goal.
Example: your end goal could be to run a half-marathon in a year and your highest intention is to be as healthy as possible to live long, be a role model for your kids, and enjoy life with a healthy body.
Divide that end goal into smaller bites that are shorter term and achievable on that short time frame.
Continuing on the same example: if you have never run before, don’t set your goal to start with a 10-km run every morning. Maybe a two-km run every second day with some walks in between for the next month is a more achievable short-term goal. If you set your short-term goals too high, they will be hard to achieve, and you will have the inner critic show up more easily. You might get demotivated.
Start small, take baby steps. Celebrate. Build up. Keep your highest intention in mind.
5. No allocated space for it or not prioritizing it.
Create a slot in your agenda for your new habit, have a chat with your partner, make it a meeting in your agenda, and put it up in the priority (think of your highest intention). Everything in life is a choice, so choose to act in alignment with the desire to create that new habit. And yes, that might imply having uncomfortable new conversations with your family or work about prioritizing your well-being.
That might include inner work to release guilt, to talk, and integrate all the parts of yourself that might show up—the part that thinks family needs come before yours, the part that can’t express your needs very well, the part that believes you can’t take a break at work or ask for that day off, and the part that worries a lot about what other people think.
But it is oh so worth it, so create space for it and own that decision. Creating a new, healthy habit will benefit you and all the people around you as they will get to experience a more present, peaceful, and happier you.
6. Lots of distractions.
Let’s say you are trying to create the habit to meditate in the morning as you wake up and you have a tendency right now to scroll on social media instead. If your phone is your alarm clock, chances are you will start by checking what is happening in the social media world, or news, or emails. Keep your phone away from your bedroom. Charge it somewhere else and buy an old-fashion alarm clock.
If you start creating new, healthy eating habits but your house is full of junk food, this makes it much harder. Kick the junk food away and fill your fridge with healthy alternatives.
If you are aiming at building up your self-esteem but you are surrounding yourself by watching, hearing, spending time with people who judge, gossip, compare, and are not supporting you, this will make it hard. Start finding friends who truly support you, see you for who you are, and are on the same self-developmental path.
Once your habit is embodied as part of you and your lifestyle, you can start being around those past distractions because they won’t feel like a distraction as you will be able to stand your ground. But as you create this new habit, don’t make it harder for yourself—remove those distractions.
7. Lack of ownership and responsibility.
You are in charge of your thoughts, emotions, words, and actions. Take responsibility for them. Be honest with yourself. Look at who or what you have been blaming for not being where you want to be and stop blaming. Take responsibility for the rest of your life.
A holistic coach is a great ally in your new habit creation because new habits are created from within. A coach won’t do the job for you though. He or she will walk beside you with strong beliefs in you, encouragement, and guidance.