Top Habit-Building Myths That Can Throw You Off Track

Posted by Ethan Boldt on

By Christine Ruggeri

Building a new habit can be draining, but when you have the right support and approach to reaching your goal, it’s absolutely doable to change your life with small, impactful changes.

So many of us struggle to form a new healthy habit, so we turn to popular hacks that are meant to boost motivation and lead to results. But some bits of advice are really habit-building myths that can have a counteractive effect on your ability to find success.

These “hacks” may work for some, but can cause a loss of motivation, self-confidence and commitment for others. Here are the top six habit-building myths that can undermine your efforts (after this post, read about the top 11 wellness habits). Try to avoid!

1. It Takes 21 Days

There’s a common belief that it takes 21 days to build a habit, but is this true for everyone? There really is no set amount of time that it takes every person to adapt a new habit. For some it can be a few days, depending on the habit, and for others it can take much, much longer than that.

Data suggests that about half of people trying to form a habit (as part of a New Year’s resolution) are successful within six months. There’s also research proposing that it takes 66 days to build a habit.

The truth is that how long it takes depends on the person, the desire and the habit.

How to avoid: Don’t give yourself a deadline. If adding an action or way of thinking into your daily routine takes time because it’s a big step and you’re adjusting, then allow some flexibility. Instead of limiting yourself to 21 days, which may result in feelings of failure, find progress in phases. If you’re moving in the right direction after one month, and then the next month, then you’re on the right track.

2. If There’s A Will, There’s A Way

Of course, it takes a willingness to change to build a new habit, but sometimes motivation alone won’t cut it. You may need guidance, education and tools to really adapt to a new way of doing things, and that’s okay.

How to avoid: Reach out for help if you need it and make sure you have the tools (whether that’s physical or emotional) to successfully build your habit for the long-term. You can reach out to family and friends, trained professionals or even educational materials to push you in the right direction. These sources can also be a means of motivation and inspiration.

3. One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Sure, you will deal with some setbacks from time to time, and that’s completely normal. The question is how you deal with those setbacks and carry on despite them. A step forward does not mean that you’re bound to reverse your progress. Don’t give into this form of self-sabotage.

How to avoid: Expect some setbacks, but don’t let it slow down your progress, or psych you out. Avoid negative self-talk that makes you believe that you’re not good enough or don’t deserve to achieve your goals. Instead, use motivating mantras or self statements that feel empowering.

4. There’s An App For That

These days, there’s an app for everything and sure, some of them can help you to stay motivated or on task when you’re building a habit. But relying on an app, which is undoubtedly going to increase your screen time and perhaps even your sense of dependence, may not be best for your personal needs.

How to avoid: If you’ve found a helpful app for building and keeping healthy habits, then that’s great! But you don’t have to search out an app or digital program to be successful. There are tons of inspirational books you can use as a guide, you can keep a journal of your progress (and even your setbacks) and you can find a support system, even if that’s just a positive friend who will give you props at the end of the day.

5. It’s All or Nothing

You’re likely familiar with the “all or nothing” approach to change, but sometimes growing with small, actionable steps is more sustainable. If you have a bigger goal in mind and can set up a plan to get there by incorporating small, but impactful habits into your routine, then you have a greater chance of success.

How to avoid: Don’t be afraid to move slowly, building small, meaningful habits into your daily routine in order to reach a bigger goal. Think of it as building layers, starting by forming habits that feel in reach, then building on from there once you’ve begun to feel comfortable.

6. The Whole Family Has to Be on Board

Trying to build a new habit alone? It can be challenging to change your ways when the people around you (especially those you live with) aren’t on board.

Changing the way you eat, move and think may usually be done as a team effort, with your family playing a role in your choices. It may be an obstacle to start a new habit in this setting, but it can certainly be overcome with outside support.

How to avoid: You’re probably already familiar with compromise, as it’s a standard practice when sharing your life and space with family members. If you’re changing a lifestyle or dietary habit that will affect your family, ask for support and be transparent about what this change looks like for you, and them.

They may not be willing to leap into this change with you, but you can work on finding a plan that meets everyone’s needs. This is also an ideal time to find outside support from someone that will motivate you to keep on track and remain positive about the change.

Christine Ruggeri is a writer and nutrition counselor based in New York. She's worked for Ancient Nutrition and the Dr. Axe team for five years. She has a degree in Education with a concentration in English from Iona College, and received her health coach certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.