The Real Reasons why a New Habit Fails to Stick

According to research, 81-92 % of resolutions fail. That’s a lot of new habits that fail to stick.

To create or stick a new habit (or the better option; replacing an old habit) is hard because you are effectively re-wiring your brain.

You brain has developed nice connections (neural pathways) between an existing behaviour and a reward. Over time, that connection has strengthened and gone from a thin path to a sturdy connection and your brain is quite comfortable with that arrangement, after all, it serves a purpose and gets the job done.

It will take a lot of repetition to break that link and form a new one. It will take even longer to reinforce and strengthen that connection in order to make it as ingrained as the previous connection (hence 21 days always seemed rather pessimistic).

According to James Clear and his article; ‘5 Common Mistakes That Cause New Habits to Fail (and What to Do About Them)”, the biggest reasons that habits fail to stick are:

  1. Trying to Change Everything at Once
  2. Starting With a Habit That is Too Big
  3. Seeking a Result, Not a Ritual
  4. Not Changing Your Environment
  5. Assuming Small Changes Don’t Add Up.


Whilst I agree with the importance of his suggestions, I do not think that they actually address the real reason that new habits fail to stick.

Firstly, we are all different so I do not believe that there is one solution for all of us. I think it depends on your personality type.

In my opinion (or rather, based on my own personal experience), I found that I could address all of those problems that James Clear mentioned but even then, the habit still just fell away.

I think it comes down to lack of persistence. Lack of persistence is influenced by desire.


If you are doing it because you think you should, you are pushing sh*t up a hill. If you absolutely truly WANT the end result, you will find the journey much easier.

It’s like time. We always say we don’t have enough time, but if we really wanted whatever it is, we would find or make the time. Napoleon Hill was right on the money when he said;

“Weak desire brings weak results, just as a small fire makes a small amount of heat”.

If your “why” isn’t big enough to keep you motivated and driven then the odds are not in your favour.

Yes, but you know this.

The problem is that you don’t have a burning desire to eat healthy, exercise, meditate or whatever it is you are trying to make into a habit.

Whilst you can see the connection between eating healthy and a pleasant future filled with mobility and you can see that meditation will lead to calmness, less stress and all those other benefits, those ‘future benefits’ are so far away and right now, the TV, social media and that plate of cookies are beckoning.

We start out strong with our intended habits but they soon fall away because the results are not happening as fast as we want and WE WANT INSTANT GRATIFICATION.

That’s the problem, instant gratification!

Instant gratification is when you forgo short-term pain that will eventually lead to long-term pleasure, and instead indulge in short-term pleasure that might eventually lead to long-term pain. Instant gratification is one of our 12 cognitive bias’s, commonly referred to as “the current moment bias”.  The bias leads to deviations from rationality and our better judgement.

You find reasons/excuses not to do something because of the pain it creates in the moment despite knowing that the action is necessary to attain your long-term goals.

So how do we overcome this desire for instant gratification?

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Build up your ‘why’ and make it into a vivid picture in your mind. Find images that clearly display these benefits and remind yourself of this future every morning (the way you start the day sets the tone for the rest of your day)
  2. Build up your “why not”. Think of how your life will be if you continue to do, or fail to do this behaviour and how it will impact your future. Build a strong mental picture that stirs up emotions that will aid in motivating you against that outcome.
  3. Seek accountability. Accountability predominantly works on ego. We don’t want to be seen to fail in front of others, especially people we respect. Not only this but a good accountability partner will offer support, keep you focussed and offer support.
  4. Reinforcement. Reinforcement can be positive and negative. Positive reinforcement encourages an action whilst negative reinforcement discourages an action. Use both! Set up a reward but be careful with rewards as per this article
  5. Include the 10 Tips to Build a New Habit.

I think one of the best strategies to building a habit (that you do not have a burning desire for) is to create obstacles and penalties to make the prospect of failing undesirable enough to overpower your reason to let it fall away in the first place.

Make sure that you get more gratification out of doing that behaviour than by putting it off.