How to build good habits and break bad ones!
Written by: Remko van Buuren
Published: 7 November 2022


Habits serve or break your long-term goals. You determine which power you give them.

4 big habit questions answered!

How to build good habits and break bad ones!

Why is building new habits so hard? What are common mistakes in building good habits? Why are bad habits so hard to break free from? Big questions with not a straightforward answer, or are there?

Good habits & achieving your goals

Good habits are essential to achieving your goals. Everybody knows that. But building them is a tricky thing and getting them to become internally automated is where most fail.

That is why people turn to books for the ideal system or to blogs where people tell you they have a secret solution. No, this is not one of them, I am still searching for that secret sauce. I did, however, do quite a lot of R&D on this topic that might help you save a few hours, so here we go.

1. Why is building new habits so hard?

Well, for me at least, having gone through this process various times I have found a few obstacles that I put up for myself that kind of prepared me for failure.

  • Take on too many habits at once 
  • Give myself zero failure rate margin 
  • Prepare too much in beforehand
  • And the worst one: I want to build this new habit to replace a bad one. 

Unfortunately, this replacement attitude had the opposite effect. I started having negative association with the new habit that I wanted to build. Because, let’s face it, we like our bad habits. Right? 

And so, instead of getting up, dust myself off and try to gain. I now decided to take a step back and went to do some research on the topic of habits. Below is a breakdown of what I found. 

2. What are common mistakes in building good habits?

Big Habit Questions Answered

I. Don’t expect things to be smooth rides.

Let me burst your new habit-building bubble: 

Things will get hard. Your new habit will be uncomfortable in the beginning.

You will do things wrong or in an inefficient way. And yes, you will also break a consistency streak. 

But that is all ok. Really. Just keep going at it, it is the learning curve at work.

You need to make mistakes, to really master something. 

Remember, real growth moves slowly. This brings me to the next common mistake.

II. Don’t over-prepare for 100%

While preparing is good, do not let it prevent you from starting. You will never know enough to make no mistakes. It is just another way your procrastination is holding you back. I have a post written here just on how to slay your procrastination beast inside of you.

So, stop reading 3 or more books on the same subject, stop building the perfect schedules or buy that special tool you see your favorite blogger use. Start with what you have, learn, and adopt while doing!

III. Don’t go too far into the rabbit hole

Lots of people, when deciding they want to change their life, turn to build new habits. Because they believe that is where the problem lies. While the thinking is ok. What they then do, more often than not, quickly demotivates them. They try and tackle too many of them at once.


Say you want to renovate your house. Do you put all your furniture onto the lawn to replace the floors? While you are at it, you also break the bathroom to install the new bath. And oh yeah, open up that roof to build that dormer for your daughter you always wanted. All at the same time? I hope not. It is considered common sense to go at them one by one. 

Unless you have 15 incredible handy friends or own a construction company with enough employees yourself. If not, take it easy. The same goes for building habits.  Take one to focus on. 

Bonus tip: don’t jump into the most difficult one straight away.  Don’t commit to reading a book per week if you haven’t been able to read in a long time because you are blessed with having 3 kids not older than 4 running around your house. I can imagine it will be challenging to find the quiet time to get that book per week in. Be realistic with yourself. 

IV. Don’t make it OK to quit

A lot of people start with a habit, telling themselves “I want to try and see if I can read 10 pages a day”. This choice of words subconsciously means they are giving themselves an escape. Trust me, I did this all the time. “Well, I have tried.” “I would have succeeded if” :

– “I would not have gotten sick”

– “Or if my work did not demand extra work for me”

– “Or if my child did not wake me up in the middle of the night”

Just to name a few excuses I told myself to make it ok to not succeed in my new habit ambition. What are yours?  

There are many ways to tackle this, I am sure you can find your way to some of them. I probably will write more about controlling your mindset later as I am in the middle of completing my NLP coaching education.  

But one option you have that doesn’t require an app or time or a mental mind shift is simply to tell a friend what your new habit is and ask him to hold you accountable with a bet connected to it. 

You know what, drop me an email or leave your habit in the comments and I will hold you accountable for it. 

3. Why are bad habits so hard to break free from?

According to author Charles Duhigg in his book – “The power of Habit

“A bad habit is an ingrained pattern of behavior that is negatively impacting your long-term goals”. A bad habit has 4 phases:

  1. Cue (whatever triggers the habit in your mind)
  2. Routine (actions you take to get to the next phase)
  3. Reward (that is what satisfies the need)
  4. Craving (if you internalized the bad habit, you become dependent on it

So, why is it so hard to break bad habits? A bad habit satisfies a need in you. Your life is set up in a way that you get trigged to satisfy this need. And you have built, probably subconsciously, routines that facilitate your bad habit. 

In short: a bad habit is another one of those short-term satisfactory things that hold you back from the long-term goals that you know are better in the long run. 

4. Is there a single solution to breaking bad and building new habits?

Quality over quantity

Short answer? No there is not a single solution that will guarantee success. Sorry. If you hoped to find that here, you do not need to continue. As we are all wired differently, we all work on different triggers. 

There are however some approaches that have been proven to work well. I will list a few for you below to save you time researching. See it as my gift to you, as I assume you were already searching and clicking on my blog while doing that.

Before we dive in, I want to emphasize one thing with this list:  pick one and commit. Don’t try to do all of them. Also don’t think “I will give this a try and if it doesn’t work, I can always pick the next system to try”.

That way you set yourself up that it is ok to fail, remember?  You want this to work right?  Me too, I want you to look back 3 months from now and see this was the decisive moment you finally quit smoking, got into more exercise, started your morning routine, and invested more time with your kids. 

So really give it your all here as if it was the last thing on earth you could do to make a change. This stuff really worked for some people so it can work for you too!

Ladder of completion or success

Let us imagine a very nice green field, close your eyes. Do you see it? Trees blossoming. Wind blowing. Nice green field.

Now, there is a very high concrete wall with big brown brick in that green field.  On the top of that wall is where your desired goal awaits you. 


The first thought is to try to climb that wall with your bare hands, this will give you little success in the course. The second thought could be: “Ahhh forget it, it is too hard” or “it is not for me to accomplish that goal”.

Let’s break that negative self believes and put a ladder on the wall that is high enough that it almost reaches the top. 

Let us bring this metaphor back to the aim of reading a book. Now by making the first steps of the ladder easier to accomplish, read 5 or 10 pages of a book per day. You will feel good about your success once accomplished and you can gladly jump to the second step of the ladder were you demand a bit more from yourself. Let’s say 20 pages a day for a week.

When you were on the ground you would have said going from 0 to 20 pages a day takes a lot of time! But now, as you are on the first step of the ladder already, the jump is only 10 pages. That seems doable, right? 

Formulate a strong enough reason/motivation

Let’s go back to the green field and high brick wall. Now let’s say there is no ladder to be found within a wide radius of that wall. You have tried to go barehanded to the top but with no instant success. How to get to your goals?

As how the Author Simon Sinek would put it, you need to *- “Start with why”.-* Why do you want to get to your goals at the top of the wall?

Don’t do it because a friend told you it was a good thing to do, or because you saw it in your favorite Youtuber’s morning routine.  While getting input from what others before whom you think are ahead of you do is always a good thing. Be careful to not fall into reason 3 of why habits don’t stick: do not over-prepare.

Something that absolutely true is what James Clear wrote in his book *“Atomic Habits” —> “Good habits can make rational sense, but if they conflict with your identity, you will fail to put them into action”!!

So again, start with your why. If you can get a clear enough picture in your mind of why you want to climb the wall towards success. The road to get there will be easier as the fruits will be bigger at the end of the road than they are to stay where you are now. 

Visualize the new you having mastered the new habit

I have already mentioned I following I course that teaches me how to change my mindset for the better. We are full of limiting beliefs that limit us from breaking through certain plateaus. When you try to build a new habit, you want this from your current frame of reference. 

Try to change this frame of reference by envisioning yourself already having accomplished what you are aiming for. Close your eyes and really know you can reach that goal. In fact, I am sure you can imagine yourself already having that new habit. Make a mental picture of it. 

assured man

How does it feel to be able to do that new thing? What will do you differently? How does this new you act in this new situation? How does this new and improved situation smell like? What do you hear around you? The mind is a powerful thing. 

Did you know that for your mind it does not matter if things have actually happened or if you created a mental image or story about it? In both situations, your mind acts like it as if it was true. So having this mental vivid visualization of you already able to do what you are building. Will make your quest easier. Trust me.

Hard stop

I can write on and on about this topic but this is a blog, not a book so let us leave it at this. Do tell me your thoughts here below, I really do love to read what you take for this. Will you try one of the approaches to build that new habit? And what is that new habit?

You’ve got this! Talk to you next time

All the best.


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  1. Jinx

    This a really great summary Remko 👌

    I’ve found creating new habits so much easier than the breaking well established habits, and I suspect this has a lot to do with my personality. I’m orderly and organised almost to the point of OCD and continuously planning and scheduling even the most mundane tasks, with a lot of routine (likely in a subconscious effort to create predictability and the illusion of control).

    I’ve read James Clear’s ‘Atomic Habits’ twice and I received as a gift the ‘Clear Habit Journal’ ( for motivation, but as a creature so heavily entrenched in routines, getting out of old ones continues to be the biggest hurdle for me and and I’ve still to successfully jump-start this challenge and my goals.

    With that in mind, I really enjoyed how nicely you distilled these principles into something so digestible that I can read (and re-read) to reinforce my ambition to change habits!


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