Skip to main content

Sometimes we try to make changes and—through no fault of our own—we do things wrongly.

Here are some of the most common mistakes people make when they try to change a habit:

Mistake Number One: Doing Too Much at Once

One of the most common errors is to simply change too many habits at the same time.

In your enthusiasm to improve yourself, it can be tempting to try and get rid of all your bad habits in one fell swoop.

For example, you decide to begin a new diet AND a new exercise regime simultaneously. The problem is that changing too many things at once often results in burn-out as your body (not to mention your mind) struggles to adjust.

As we discussed in this series’ first article Change Your Life Forever-One Habit at a Time, you are far more likely to succeed if you change only ONE habit at a time.

Equally, you might want to consider ‘chunking’ the changes down into parts. So instead of saying, “I’ll be 100% whole food plant-based tomorrow”, you might want to consider cutting out ONE category–or sub-category–of food (like dairy or cheese) first.

Once you’ve successfully eliminated one category of food and given your taste buds time to acclimate, you can move on to another habit change.

By building on each ‘stable’ habit change, you will easily arrive at your final destination of eating a 100% whole food plant-based diet easily.

Ironically, sometimes going slow—one change at a time—is actually the fastest way to achieve your goals!

Mistake Number Two: Not Being Specific

Specificity is your best friend when it comes to changing your habits.

The more specific you are, the higher your chance of success.

And this comes to foods you want to exclude in your diet as well as those you want to include. So what is it exactly you want to eliminate?

Is it all dairy (or just cheese?) Is it all meat (or just red meat)?

In terms of inclusion, how many servings of beans would you like to eat daily? How much daily fruit (2 or 3 pieces) would you like to eat? What about whole grain?

Be specific.

Mistake Number Three: Not Understanding Your Why

Finding your real reason for the habit change is everything.

Identify the deep emotion that is motivating you. Remember the why that makes you cry.

Make sure your ‘reason to change’ is not just rational—but emotional.

For example, if your main goal is simply to lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol, you will struggle. However if your ‘why’ is so that you can walk your daughter down the aisle or attend your grandson’s graduation, you have a much better chance of success.

You absolutely need a strong emotional motivator that will get you through any challenge.

Mistake Number Four: Not Paying Attention to Your Environment

We just talked about the importance of the ‘why’—the deep emotion, which is the motivation behind your habit change.

But you also need to pay attention to the ENVIRONMENT around you to make sure you create conditions that are conducive to success.

As we discussed in our recent article, willpower is not an inexhaustible resource. It can be depleted.

And one of the best ways of helping shore up limited willpower is by creating an environment that is both tidy and devoid of temptations.

Let’s face it.

If you decide to eliminate all sugar and yet have ice cream and cookies constantly stocked at the house and within easy access, you are setting yourself up for failure.

So create an environment that is clean with no easy access to the foods you’re trying to avoid.

Mistake Number Five: Not Having a New Empowering Alternative

The only way to quit a bad behavior is to replace it with a NEW alternative.

Just stopping the bad habit won’t work.

We need to replace that bad habit with something new and positive.

What Tony Robbins calls an empowering alternative.

So if you want to stop drinking coffee, you need to create a new habit to take its place. It could be drinking green tea. Or it could be doing something totally different like going for a walk.

Make sure you don’t substitute one bad habit with another bad habit (for example, replacing your coffee with an energy drink).

In the end, the absolute best way to overcome a habit is by putting another habit in its place.

Or as Desiderius Erasmus so wisely said, “A nail is driven out by another nail. Habit is overcome by habit

5 classic mistakes. All you need to do is avoid them and you are well on your way to changing your habit (and your life) forever.

Rosane Oliveira, DVM, PhD

President & CEO, Plant-Based Life Foundation | Dr. Rosane Oliveira combines a lifelong passion for nutrition with 25 years of genetics research to create programs that help people develop healthy habits on their journey towards a more plant-based lifestyle. She is a Visiting Clinical Professor in Public Health Sciences and was the founding director of the first Integrative Medicine program at the UC Davis School of Medicine. She completed her postgraduate studies in Brazil and did her postdoctoral training in immunogenetics and functional genomics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.