Why are habits so hard to form at first? Let's look at the data.

September 23, 2015

Anyone who's ever gone on a diet knows that it can be hard to change your habits. However, exactly why it's so difficult varies a lot from person to person, and there's no clear consensus on how to make it easier. We're currently looking into people's experiences with forming new habits in an effort to develop tools that can aid your efforts to change your daily behaviors.

 

One recent study we ran asked participants to practice a new daily habit of their choosing — the most common choices were "cooking and eating healthy food" and "exercising" — for a week. Afterwards, we followed up with the participants and found out how many people succeeded in practicing the habit every day (only 25%, though some 60% practiced their habits at least 5 days a week), whether they felt that they'd formed a long-lasting new habit, and more.

 

In one followup question, we showed a list of common difficulties people encounter when they try to form habits, and asked users to check off each one they'd come across during the past week. Here's how their answers broke down — this information will help us pinpoint why forming new habits is such a challenge:

 

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As you can see, over 30% of participants reported that they felt like they didn't always have enough energy to practice their habits, while about 28% reported being tempted by alternatives (like ordering takeout instead of cooking a healthy meal, or watching Netflix instead of exercising). The same percentage reported feeling that they didn't have enough time to practice their chosen habit.

 

These responses suggest that finding enough time, energy, and distraction-free space are the biggest obstacles to the first stages of forming new daily habits. Therefore, scheduling habits in advance for times when you're likely to have higher energy and fewer distractions may help you stick to your habits more reliably.

 

If you'd like to participate in future studies like this one and help us develop new ways to improve decision-making, please join our beta tester list.

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