What causes bad habits to stick? Why don’t good habits stick? These are two very important questions that no one seems to understand properly.
According to Forbes, only 8% of all new year’s resolutions are actually achieved, this means that roughly 92% of people fail to meet their goals.
As you could guess, most people don’t set absurd goals to themselves.
If anything, we tend to underestimate our full abilities – how many times do you think you can jump on one leg in a single minute? The results may surprise you.
The truth is that we tend to give up too soon.
Our willpower is but a minor force when it comes to our mind, and it can easily be overpowered by many other pushing factors in our lives.
I sure as heck went through this experience once before, I tried to change my habits over time to improve my mental condition, and somehow nothing seemed to click together.
No, instead I just stuck with all of my old habits, going through life without achieving anything worthwhile in my personal life
I could only stare and wonder why, and for a time that’s exactly what I did.
I gave up (although I am not one to give up on most things) and did nothing but think about this very problems – My bad habits were fighting my good ones.
It’s not so much that I couldn’t win, I did have my method, but rather that I figured out that there’s something very wrong with the way that I chose to fight against my bad habits.
Sure, I could eventually overcome my bad habits either way, but it would take a long time, seeing as my bad habits were deeply rooted for some reason I was yet to figure.
So I thought about how to get around it- to not “fight” my bad habits head on, but to figure out what makes them so strong in the first place and only then deal with them.
This cause and effect mentality is a driving force to solve any problem and a firm belief of mine.
So I did just that, only to end up with results that helped me sort the whole thing out.
What causes bad habits to stick? Why are good habits so difficult to form? It’s all here!
1) The trigger
The 20th century was a great one for hygiene, not only was the industry more effective than ever, but the products and services around it were at an all-time low.
Some people in the industry, namely the Kimberly-Clark corporation that made toilet paper and other paper-based products, who were losing on a lot of money due to such developments.
Now, when technological industries are faced with such a development they simply make a newer, better product and marker it with all of their strength.
Kimberly-Clark isn’t a technology-based company, so they decided to scam us instead.
As such, in 2001 they introduced us to the flushable wipes, essentially a moistened toilet paper, that they spent 40 million dollars marketing.
Their method? Shaming, they Claimed that you stink and that your hygiene is terrible.
They attributed the dry feeling after wiping as an unhealthy, or even animalistic, behavior – going as far as to call people who didn’t use their products “primitive” in some of their commercials.
And we bought it, with forecasts estimating that market to grow to a total worth of 9.3 billion by 2018
But why? Sure, they pulled the “shame” tactic, but why did it work this well in this particular case?
The answer is the trigger.
Whenever people went to the bathroom, after they were done using the toilet paper, they could sense that feeling that the commercials were talking about, and it made them feel dirty (Something that no one wants to feel).
The beauty here is that the thoughts of how “Toiler papers leave you dirty and vulnerable to disease” sat at the back of their heads, only to be triggered time and time again whenever they went to the bathroom.
We go to the bathroom daily, so we experience that trigger to those thoughts daily as well.
The marketers tried to have people buy more flushable wipes to get rid of this feeling.
And it worked, they swayed many and they no longer spend so much money on marketing – there’s really no need.
The idea was implanted already, and their market grows by the year thanks to misinformed people spreading the ‘news’ and turning flushable wipes into a trend.
The real problem when it comes to the trigger is that you simply don’t have it in most habits
Sure, you go all like “Oh! Next year I want to lose some weight!”, but you only say that because it makes you feel better, there’s no “aha!” moment there to give you that initial push.
Bad habits, on the other hand, are often times born out of an actual desire.
In relation to weight, you have a habit of eating snacks whenever possible because snacks taste great, so you go through the trouble of buying some and eating them.
Whenever you see or feel about a snack you are triggered to take it, but that leaves the question – why don’t you get the same result out of thinking about weight loss?
2) Building the momentum.
When I first started changing my habits I had a great problem with going to bed early (22:30 at the latest) and waking up early (6:30 in the morning, tops).
At first, I tried to make the shift gradual, but it proved to be a useless tactic – I simply wasn’t getting anywhere.
Changes needed to be made, so I made them.
I went to bed early every day, even when I was struggling with my thoughts and couldn’t sleep, I still forced myself to stay in my bed.
In the mornings I had the same routine, with me forcing myself to wake up early time and time again, regardless of what day it was.
The first week was hell, but then it all started getting better.
Why? Because the routine was already in motion.
Suddenly I found myself much more tired at 10 P.M than I ever was, and for some reason, I would wake up around 6 A.M every morning without being able to return to sleep.
In our Kimberly-Clark example, they marketed their products in a way that triggered us into action whenever we were visiting the toilet.
As such, after taking action time and time again we got used to the idea of buying flushable wipes and simply kept going at it.
Humans dislike change, they also hate extremes, always pulling towards the middle ground.
By establishing a routine, you are turning that routine into a mundane occurrence, something that sits much better with you.
That still doesn’t solve the example with the snacks and the diet – establishing a routine is simple enough, but it tends to just break for some reason when you are dieting and persist when it comes to snacks.
Worry not, my friend, I was just about to address that.
3) The reward and the penalty
As I said before, willpower is a flimsy thing, we are often times motivated by possible rewards and penalties to our actions.
This is our mindset, working as either promotion-focused, prevention-focused or both.
Another thing that is worth mentioning is how we are typically looking to preserve our energy.
Not laze around, but preserve.
As such, we need to get the most gain out of the least possible amount of work – this kind of mentality is one of the reasons that we survived thus far.
There isn’t a proper reward or penalty sitting in most habits.
Simply put, any potential gain or loss isn’t seen as important enough – you simply aren’t that desperate.
Our friends in Kimberly-Clark knew this well and applied this idea to their marketing.
They focused on “prevention-focused” marketing after they figured that they have nothing new to offer, making promotion-focused marketing useless.
Then they offered a solution within reach and made sure that you found yourself in situations that triggered their marketing inside your head.
They turned it into a routine, with people believing that the feeling of being clean was worth the extra hassle.
There’s instant gratification after eating a snack, and it requires little to no action taken on your part.
On the other hand, losing weight takes much more effort to accomplish and you aren’t all that desperate for it, indicating that your trigger sucks.
The first thing you want to do is to figure out if you are prevention-focused or promotion-focused, and then find a penalty or a reward to place upon yourself whenever you stick/don’t stick with your habits.
Be sure to thank me later.
What causes bad habits? The lack of good ones!
I know this might seem like much, but you can’t afford not to learn how to apply this process.
Habits are important to all of us, yet we mostly don’t achieve any worthwhile results through them – we give up, and never find out why.
Quite frankly, the best solution is to burn all of your bridges and leave yourself with no options, but applying this knowledge will take you far as well.
Meanwhile, here’s a quick question – How are your habits coming along thus far?
Be sure to write your answer in the comment section below – I read every single one of them!
In case you would like to talk to me directly then make sure to send me an email, I always address those.