7 Essentials for Overcoming Mental Barriers
to Make New Habits Stick

See also: The Importance of Mindset

The first step to making life changes is changing your habits. Even so, eliminating old habits or creating new ones is not always that simple. You are bound to fail at some point; plus, it takes a strong mentality to overcome the comfort of daily routine and other struggles to finally reach your goals. 

That being said, creating healthy habits is important for keeping you happy, productive, and improving your overall wellness. Are you looking to make changes to your work habits, sleeping habits, eating habits, or other aspects of your life? If so, here are a few tips to help you overcome emotional barriers and stick to your new healthy habits.

Woman with book called 'Mission'

1. Have a Purpose

A lot of the time, we're not conscious of our habits – whether good or bad.

The first step to overcoming mental barriers is being aware of the habit you want to eliminate or acquire. It could be anything from a bad habit like smoking to a healthy one like exercising. Whatever your goal is, it will give you a purpose to follow through to closure. When you are clear about what you are trying to invest your time and energy in, there's no room for backing out.

2. Walk the Talk

You can talk about your goals, plan to achieve them, and even develop an imaginary belief that you've achieved them, but talk is cheap.

Any type of psychological barrier can turn your dream into just a thought, making it harder to change your habit(s).

For starters, procrastination only makes the situation worse. If health is of concern, you'll just get unhealthier and risk developing serious health problems. A pre-commitment is necessary because that's what will push you through the slump that usually follows the initial excitement of learning a new habit.

Make your goals achievable.

3. Make Your Habits Realistic and Achievable

Sometimes, we give up on healthy habits because they seem unattainable.

Since forming or eliminating major habits can seem frightening, start with super-easy goals. These are called mini-habits, which basically means tiny daily routines or actions that just take a few minutes to complete. 

For instance, if you've been living a sedentary lifestyle, start by walking just 5 minutes a day and if you're looking to improve your sleep quality, start going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Such mini habits can be built upon over time and make new habits stick. Be sure to celebrate the little wins as it will keep your motivation levels high.

4. Identify Triggers

Another great way to overcome bad habits is to know the underlying cause of such negative behaviour. Every bad habit is triggered by something. It could be due to stress, anger, boredom, physical environment, cultural backgrounds, or childhood trauma, just to name a few.

For instance, many smokers find coffee to be a trigger. Therefore, if you're trying to quit smoking, you might want to eliminate coffee from your daily routine. Knowing what triggers your bad habit(s) can help you avoid them, or even healthily deal with them.

5. Change your All or Nothing Mindset

All-or-nothing thinking is a negative self-defeating thinking pattern.

It takes you away from recognizing your own efforts and progress, and distracts you from your goals. Seeing things as absolutes can leave you feeling exhausted, stuck and unmotivated. You’ll find it difficult to keep up with your own expectations. It will be harder for you to start new projects and pursue new goals.

6. Prepare for Failures with If/Then Plans

All sorts of barriers will come up when you're trying to form healthy habits.

Some of the common ones include time, costs, weather, space, self-consciousness, pain, etc. You need a plan for them, which is where the if/then strategy comes in. It specifies what your obstacles might be, as well as ways to deal with them when they arise. Examples of if/then strategies include:

  • If you are working late and can't make it to the gym, then you'll do 50 squats and 50 push-ups in the office.
  • If you eat a chocolate bar, then you'll eat extra vegetables that day.

As you can see, this strategy puts more conscious decision-making into action, allowing you to remain consistent with your new healthy habits.

7. Visualise the Process

Visualise the new you.

When you're trying to form healthy habits, you're often told to visualise the new and improved you. While this can be a powerful motivational tool, it also puts too much pressure on you to achieve the big results. This will, in turn, cause fear of failure.

Visualising the process instead eliminates psychological barriers and puts your focus on the individual steps you need to take. See yourself completing the first step. Once that is done, repeat with the second step and so on until you achieve your overall goal.

8. Build a Support Network

It's easier to form a new habit when other people around you are doing the same thing.

You can invite loved ones to join in the new habit you are trying to form. You can also join a local group of people who are doing what you're interested in. This allows you to learn from others, connect through challenges, and even be accountable.

But even if no one wants to join, they can still help you steer away from temptations and eliminate emotional barriers by providing support.

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Final Words

You want to get in shape, be smarter, be more productive, or simply become a better version of you. But why is it so difficult to adopt new habits you know would do you good and make them stick? You have to start by answering this question for yourself. Why? What are your struggles?

There could be many factors to why you can’t seem to form new healthy habits. One could be that you don’t understand your current habits. You don’t know what triggers it. Another reason could be that you attempt to do too much to the point that you’re overwhelmed by those changes and gave up.

Whatever your struggles might be, and what your goals are, your first step lies in identifying both and apply the above tips to the process.

About the Author

Emily is a blogger, freelance writer, with a B.A. in Business Administration. Her love for reading and travelling has brought her all over the world, from tutoring locals in Thailand to travel writing in many countries from Southeast Asia.