The #1 Reason People Fail, Don’t Stick to their Commitments (and don’t form good habits)


in Habit Change, Productivity

I remember the first time I realized I needed “help.”

From the outside looking in, I was in an enviable position.

In my early 20’s, I’d already attended a prestigious university and traveled around the world. I’d started multiple profitable businesses that allowed me to live and work from anywhere.

And I was miserable.

It wasn’t that I didn’t love and appreciate every moment of my life — I knew I was lucky.

But deep down, I knew that I was only scratching the surface of my potential. The truth was that for every successful project I’d started, 10 went half-baked and unfinished.

I just couldn’t focus on something long enough to get it done. I was desperate to stop the vicious cycle of self-disappointment.

It all came to a head one morning at a Regus office in Colombia — and I realized I had to come home.

To what, I didn’t know. But I knew something big had to change, or I would end up as one of those guys that made people say, “Yeah, I remember Maneesh. He had a lot going for him…then he kind of disappeared. I wonder what happened?”

Have you ever been frustrated to the point of tears because you no matter how much you tried to “motivate” yourself — you just couldn’t start a project, hobby or idea that you really wanted to do — even though you knew EXACTLY what steps needed to be done?

Or worse yet (if you’re like me) — maybe you start every project that sparks your interest, then let it die a slow, silent death at the hands of your own procrastination and laziness?

Maybe you wanted to get in better shape. Summer is coming.

Simple fix, right? Changing your body isn’t rocket science. It just takes consistency.

Start by being more conscious of your eating. Download an app to track your food. Type it in. It’s easy.

Get to the gym. Start off slow. Even 2-3x/week will make a huge difference.

We have everything laid out. And we can’t pull the trigger.

We know exactly what to do.

Then, we do the opposite.

Our eating doesn’t change. (Burritos are healthy, right? There’s like…vegetables in there.)

The gym plan falls apart within days.

We get “busy,” we negotiate with ourselves and the “Monday, Wednesday, Friday” plan turns to “Thursday, Saturday, Sunday.”

“Thursday, Saturday, Sunday” turns to “Let’s just reset next week.”

This. Is. Hell.

And of course, this pattern I’ve described has nothing to do with the gym. It’s applies to everything we’ve ever wanted in our lives. Everything that we let slip away because we don’t know how to get ourselves to commit to something — and actually stick to it for more than a few days.

This problem may even be the reason you’re reading this post right now — instead of doing something that you really want to do.

Instead of doing something that you know you SHOULD be doing.

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

First of all, there’s something you need to realize: Changing yourself is harder than ever. The modern world is specifically designed to distract you with newsfeeds, tweets and updates.

It’s a constant barrage of media and technology that you just can’t escape. It’s suffocating and it’s not stopping.

It’s not your fault. I’ve gone through it too.

After literally years of research, I found something surprising: We can’t change our behaviors by thinking about them.

Yes, you read that correctly. We can’t just FORCE ourselves to make positive change.

Willpower doesn’t work.

The answer is habit change. To get better results, you must become a better you. And you have to AUTOMATE this process.

You have to be better without having to THINK about it. The only construct in the human brain that allows this type of improvement is through habit.

Now let’s talk about what that means for you…

Over the past 6 months, hundreds of readers have been asking me about what’s going on at Hack the System.

Some of you may have noticed that we’ve taken a deep, deep dive into habit-formation, psychology and behavior change. Many of you know about my new company, Pavlok. And there have been a few readers that have unsubscribed because they just want travel hacks, or information on how to get cheap flights.

I’m perfectly fine with that — because habit change is foundational.

It comes BEFORE you can use all the other strategies and techniques I teach on HtS. And, if you’re already using those strategies, changing your habits will enhance your life and make everything else you’re doing even MORE powerful.

Next week, I’m unveiling Pavlok to the public in limited quantities for the first time ever. I’ll be hosting a small event to kick it off and I’m giving HtS exclusive first access to the technology.

If you want the opportunity to be one of the first people on the planet to own this powerful habit change technology, you have to reserve your spot at the launch event.


But before that, I’d like to hear from you:

  1. If you could snap your fingers and “make it so” — what’s the #1 habit in your life that you’d like to change? (It can be a new habit you’d like to form, or an old habit you’d like to break.)
  2. Being as objective as possible, what do you think has been holding you back from making this change so far? Please be specific.

I’ll read every comment and jump in on the good ones 🙂

 PS — I’ll give you more info on the launch even later. But if you want to get in on the early bird list and confirm your spot, you can sign up here.

Also: A little back-of-the-napkin math for you: Hack the System has over 30,000 subscribers, and the software I’ll be using to host this presentation only has 1,000 slots. Don’t miss out on this event because you didn’t take 3 seconds to fill out your email address.



louis June 4, 2018 at 12:35 am

I do feel my bad habits are a result of my feelings of under accomplishment. My relationship with every aspect in my life, food, alcohol, relationships comes as a direct result of trauma as a kid.
I do feel like I should be conquering the world but I can’t seem to form a single positive habit. For me bad habits are easy to commit to as they give that short feeling of euphoria. So it seems that I am living for them.


Caleb Abenoja July 11, 2018 at 9:58 pm

Bad habits is a cycle that’s very easy to get stuck in. Please visit Maneesh’s new company Pavlok where Maneesh has invented a solution!


Jake Taylor September 5, 2017 at 2:08 am

This is an awesome article lol


Lolo August 13, 2017 at 9:29 am

Basically, i would like to be able to stick to goals, stop procrastinating and eat better.


AMY BREWER June 23, 2016 at 1:31 pm

The habit I need to stop is spending. I know that all I need to do is not spend and keep money in the account for bills etc but it’s as if it is burning a hole in my pocket.

I must spend every last penny.

I want bigger things, I want to save, I want to get out of debt, I want a mortgage but all I do is spend. I don’t even spend it on anything substantial, it’s all total crap I don’t need. I had therapy to try to help me but I’m still just as bad.

Will it ever get better?



Ali September 28, 2014 at 5:21 am

As a budding copywriter,I know I should be writing everyday to perfect my craft.I’ll do it in a day or two then lose steam! I’m not consistent.


Jeff May 28, 2014 at 4:49 pm

Write my novels without migrating to social media, email or any websites.


Iqbal May 27, 2014 at 7:21 pm

Sheer laziness to complete the good intentions, to take action without being forced. Always taking actions to complete something last minute. Despite knowing what exactly must be done for progress, actions are always delayed till last minute and then rushed with poorer results! Self sabotage or the kick the working under pressure, I don’t know why this habit of not carrying out things to be done is never done on time! Sure need to find a solution so that all the lofty plans that is being constantly generated is executed on time! Looking forward to be a better person who finishes what is started!


Matt May 27, 2014 at 3:46 pm

The #1 habit I need to change is failure to clearly plan my day to day work schedule.

What has been holding me back from doing this, is I just don’t seem to have any motivation to do the mental work, to properly plan my time.


Wolf May 26, 2014 at 10:23 pm

Number 1 habit: Sit down and code consistently.


Gr May 26, 2014 at 11:30 am

I hate building habits. You can’t imagine how much I hate it. I am a very creative person and I hate routines. But I need them. So, that’s why I do build habits. It’s a day-by-day and minute-by-minute strugle.


Miller May 25, 2014 at 7:49 pm

1. Falling asleep and waking up within the same 30 minute timeframe every day and night, and following a ritual during each process to ensure maximum health & productivity.

2. ADHD, lethargy, excess energy, women, DSPS, drugs & parties, acts of god….


Diane May 24, 2014 at 9:46 pm

to stop procrastinating.


Mary May 24, 2014 at 10:25 am

Looking forward to Pavlok but tied up the 28th, Best of luck on the launch and I hope not to be too far behind when I get to see the product. Definitely need to learn some behavior mods and bump my performance/drop procrastination.


Mohamed May 24, 2014 at 6:34 am

1. That subtle, almost sinister sub-vocalization that I talk to myself in, saying why this or that endeavor that I was going to undertake simply “won’t work”.

Have you ever felt as if your brain was working against you? Yeah, like that. It’s like you’re CHOOSING to not succeed, and it’s maddeningly difficult to catch on while it’s happening.

“Of course you won’t be able to finish the project in under three days- here’s a hundred reasons why… You know what? Why even bother in the first place?”

Scumbag Brain at its finest.

2. This sort of negative, habitual thinking has me caught up in a vicious cycle- “I can’t get a job because I don’t have work experience, because I can’t have a job…” Etc, etc, ad infinitum.

Knowing that you can put in more but justifying to yourself why you “CAN’T”… That’s the icing on the self-damnation cake. 😀


Barbara May 24, 2014 at 5:12 am

This summer I will make a fresh start after leaving a profession I have worked in for 23 years. Despite spending the last 6 months at home, my house is not sorted and the qualification I’m studying for not finished.
What’s holding me back is not finding a way to routinely deal with the daily stuff, allowing others too much influence on how my days are organised and not having a clear focus.
I can plan and research with the best of them, but fall at the hurdle of putting plans into practice on a daily basis. Too many distractions and one-off things to deal with. Best go and see if there are any slots left, as I need all the help I can get.


Barbara May 24, 2014 at 5:17 am

Just realised that the time difference means I’d have to be online in the early hours of the morning, which won’t be practical. Hope to catch up with you at a later time.


Roger May 24, 2014 at 1:35 am

The #1 habit I’d like to change is to be able to follow through to completion all of the awesome goals that I want to accomplish: learn Ruby on Rails and become a web developer, go to GIT in Hollywood for a year and learn to shred on the guitar, be the best dad in the world!

What has been holding me back from making this change so far? The destructive power of distraction (social media, news, crap on TV etc) and lack of belief in myself.

I am so looking forward to using Pavloc as a tool for behavioral change. Bring it on!


Shannon May 23, 2014 at 8:57 pm

self doubt.


Dustbuster May 23, 2014 at 8:46 pm

Number 1 habit — get my freaking homework done on time so I don’t have a last minute scramble, even when I thought I started it early enough.

Number 2 (this would be my priority if not for school) — draw for hours each day.


Suzanne May 23, 2014 at 8:05 pm

I get bogged down before I even start in on a project. I don’t start because I feel I don’t have enough time to finish. I have to file taxes for 2012 and 2013 and I’m due a refund, which should be the motivator, but i haven’t done it! The paperwork is piled and sorted on the dining room table and has been there since February. Paperwork is not my forte, my home office is not organized and not pleasing to work in because of it. Maybe I should start there? The whole house needs purging!
I need to purge, get organized, get my teen girls to help out and take responsibility for their belongings.


Jonathan May 23, 2014 at 7:07 pm

1. Lack focus. Procrastinator. Easily distracted. Like you, I start every project that sparks my interest and then they die a slow death => I lose motivation. Fear of failure. Disappointment.

2. What’s holding me back from not being able to focus besides not being able to focus? Not spending enough time planning or thinking about a project before I jump in.

Note: I’m in the same boat as Jason, Jonny, and Kayvee. Maneesh, good questions, Thanks for the post.


jo, February 19, 2015 at 2:12 am

its not about spending more time planning or thinking – you need to do …. be confident on why you did


Digby May 23, 2014 at 5:45 pm

I want to be consistent in writing for at least 3-4 hours a day.
I allow things to distract me, working at home.


Avi May 23, 2014 at 4:35 pm

I would like to go for a run every morning.

Holding me back: I would have to wake up about 45 minutes to an hour earlier than I usually do, and I get a limited amount of sleep as it is. I also shower at night so it’s confusing for me to switch. Lots of other excuses, none of them good!


Calvin May 23, 2014 at 4:09 pm

I want to get into creative writing, and a couple things are holding me back. I have ADD and clinical depression, so it’s really hard to get started because I don’t feel like doing anything, and I couldn’t focus on it if I did.

Writing is also a creative outlet for my stress. Not being able to write makes me feel even more depressed (and even suicidal,) which makes me want to write even more. Repeat ad nauseum.


Valerie Urso May 23, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Burritos aren’t healthy?



Maurya May 23, 2014 at 1:17 pm

I like my job, but that 40 hours every week leaves little time for my true passions, art and music. I have also rekindled my old love of Mtn. Biking and I want to go every day. I skip doing household chores and yard work so I can do those things. I would like to find a way to make the chores a habit that takes little time, so I can have a better balance and a cleaner living space.


Heather May 23, 2014 at 12:56 pm

My biggest struggle is finding the thing I want to do. I am cash-money at achieving goals. I can set a system in place and build a habit like nobody’s business. I am feeling momentumless right now because I am really struggling with identifying what I want my next step to be (in bigger, life-direction way. I’m currently in the middle of killing several more base-level goals, like breaking my marathon PR, not drinking this year, cleaning up some poor relationship habits, etc.)


João May 23, 2014 at 12:51 pm

Hey HtS!

My major dropback is being surrounded by people who, I think, just want to keep going in life and do not want to change theirselves. And almost being forced by society to take a degree that I don’t feel motivated. I want to focus in what I like, and i’m entering the programing world, although being pulled back by having to waste so much time finishing the degree.
That’s what I want to change, and what I want to implement, I think, it’s to have a good time management. Knowing what I have to do the next day and that those things motivate me doing them.
Other thing is travel, know the world and help changing it to better, with a much more mutual aid.. And that’s where programing will help me 🙂

Congrats for your work! You are helping to change it, no doubts!
Greetings from PT


Christian May 23, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Hey Maneesh,
I’m graduating from Chiropractic school and moving back to Boston to open a practice, If this Pavlok works like you’re describing I’m 100% going to recommend it to everyone of my patients when switching them over to better lifestyle/health promoting habits. This could be extremely powerful for healers and physicians. Maybe we can hang in Boston in September when I move back and talk about getting the product into my office.

Good luck with everything!

Christian Carroll


Maneesh Sethi May 23, 2014 at 12:54 pm

definitely! email me at [email protected] and we can chat more


Anouar May 23, 2014 at 12:19 pm

I envision these two scenarios:

1) I set my alarm at 6AM (I use my iPad). When the alarm goes off and I hit snooze, I receive a shock. If I don’t hit snooze and don’t get out of bed to deactivate the system, I receive another shock. That should quickly transform me into an early rising drooling pavlov dog.

2) If I don’t check in at the gym every day (even if it’s just to do one set-to-failure for one muscle group) I receive a shock at noon.


Jason May 23, 2014 at 12:14 pm

For me, the #1 thing is being more in the moment. I spend so much time focusing on ‘what’s next?’ I forget to focus on ‘what’s now?’.

The thing that is holding me back the most is the fact that I am easily distracted. Case in point: I’m supposed to be working right now, dammit!


Alexis May 23, 2014 at 11:28 am

By the way, great article! Thanks for writing.


Jonny May 23, 2014 at 11:26 am

I’d have to say that it would be my ability to focus on a single project for an extended period of time without getting distracted and moving on to something else. On an average day I have 7 or 8 ongoing projects that drag on and on because I find it hard to focus – start to finish – on at least 1 or 2 at a time. For example, In the time that it takes me to write an email or a short blog comment I will often find myself distracted by some new new shiny thing on the periphery of my focus, and two hours later I will find my half finished message or comment sitting in one of the 15 open browser tabs on my computer.


Drew May 23, 2014 at 11:20 am

My biggest struggle is doing the work I know I need to do. I sit down at my desk and I’ve had all the training, know the skills, have been really successful, but it’s so hard to get started. It causes serious tension in my body! And I don’t even know what what keeps me from doing what I need to do.

I have this convo with my fiancé all the time. It might be my ego, like being concerned about what people with think of me, but when I say it out loud it sounds so silly. I provide a service for people, genuinely help them, why should I ever think that they will think poorly of me.

Anyways, even knowing this it’s really hard for me to take the actions I know I need to take.


ali May 23, 2014 at 11:20 am

idea, implement,sidetrack… new idea, implement, sidetrack…new, better idea, implement, sidetrack…etc


Nathan May 23, 2014 at 11:16 am

The one habit I want most is waking up early. I want to be up at 5 am and get my workout in. It’s tough. My day flows better when I do that.

My fear… Dude… Just being successful. I think my subconscious mind associates success with being an asshole. As a black man growing up in the inner city, I grew up watching other men. And you have guys who just don’t know what to do with their money. Strip clubs and wild spending and adultery and drunkeness and partying and disregard for others. I don’t wanna be that guy! I want to be the same guy I am. Just wealthier. I hope this makes sense…


dapo May 23, 2014 at 2:30 pm

i really feel you on this one Nathan


Alexis May 23, 2014 at 11:10 am

I’d really like to drop sugar forever, and even caffeine, and lose a little weight. However, I tell myself that my life is too chaotic right now, (I have 4 boys 6 and under!), and that I need the sugar to stay awake if I don’t get to take a nap, that I get it for a treat,ect. This is a lie, because the post-sugar crash is not worth the short-term energy. Also, it is more hurting myself than a reward for myself, and sitting down and eating a meal is taking far better care of myself. I’m allowed that.


Alexis May 23, 2014 at 11:12 am

Also, I feel like since this goal consumes my mind without being achieved, I can’t move forward to other less shallow goals.


Alexis May 23, 2014 at 11:13 am

Have you guys read Martha Beck? She has some fantastic behavioral modification ideas.


Chicago May 23, 2014 at 11:09 am

I’m intrested in Pavlok but I live on the other side of the atlantic. When will it be possible to buy online?


Gray May 23, 2014 at 11:03 am

Writing for myself. Or, I guess a better way to put it is “writing my own work.” I do a lot of writing – email, copy, essays, speeches, presentations, newsletters, even ghostwriting – but it seems very difficult to write my own work. I’ll write things I think might sell, and there’s always some new tweak I can make on a website, some easy blog post to write.

But I want to write my Great Work. I want to write something I would want to read. For some reason, sitting down and actually doing that on a regular basis is almost impossible. When I do it, I love it. I get into flow, and words come out by the thousand. Some are even worth keeping.

But opening up that app, sitting down and NOT doing other things…that’s so hard. And that’s the habit I need to establish if I’m going to ever get where I’m going.


Ann Elkington May 23, 2014 at 10:48 am

I don’t particularly have a problem with completing concrete tasks ( ie: going to the gym,sticking to a diet,following up work issues etc ) ; I’m usually open to tackling new projects, both with others and on my own. I see using my Pavlok as a personal “cheerleader”— reminding me that I’m not a failure, my pursuits are not stupid and what other people may dismissively say about what I’m doing doesn’t matter. Those are the hurdles that get in my way—not doughnuts left on the office counter—Pavlok would remind me to stay on my positive path.


Alvaro May 23, 2014 at 10:38 am

I am struggling with my sleeping circle. Every day I’m trying go to sleep early but I ended going to bed at 12 even later. I am very active person in terms of sport activities (Gym, climbing, bike, etc) and that means I need a lot of rest to recover from my workout.

Another one is I would have some extra time to spend time coding a couple ideas I have in my mind, but because the number of hours I spend in the office and obviously in the gym I don’t have that much time, every day looks like I really need days of 36 hours maybe more.


Jim May 23, 2014 at 10:36 am

I have a consistently inconsistent meditation practice – 3 days on, 4 days off. It seems to get chopped depending on how behind I feel.


Kayvee May 23, 2014 at 10:33 am

Your post described my situation exactly.
For some reason, when I get ideas, I get several of them at once. I begin to take action on all of them, and of course they all go unfinished. Its like I am sabotaging my own success.

1) I would like to be able to focus enough to see business ideas and projects through to the end. I dont know if that is a habit or a mindset

2) I believe what is holding me back is
-lack of focus
-lack of persistence
-contradictory beliefs in my mind that sabotage my efforts.

Has Pavlok been tested to see if its effective?

I cant wait to get one.


Kayvee May 23, 2014 at 10:35 am

I also want to add “fear of failure” or maybe even “fear of success or losing success” to the list I wrote above


Tomas May 23, 2014 at 3:12 am

And you thought you’re miserable in your twenties Maneesh 😀 I read your post and it’s like reading about myself. I’m web programmer with quite usable skills. Would love to write you while sitting now in a beautiful place near the sea with my laptop in front of me, and my work specifics can let me do that, but instead I’m sitting now alone in the office not doing almost anything useful (working for $12k in a year for company which won’t care about me).
The problem is that I come up with good ideas and I have several projects but I give them so little time that they generate almost nothing for me. Although I have time for them. I can’t concentrate and clear my mind for the specific work most of the time so I go check some blogs, facebook, etc. And I know I could do much more but I just can’t stick with the task list. Later, tomorrow, argh… will do that in weekend. And so on.
I even started to think about the website where you could put your money, make a task for yourself, and lose an amount if you don’t complete the task in time. But not sure if I could complete the website anyway if I didn’t stick with schedule anyway.
Damn it, should go work and do something useful today 🙂


Camilo May 22, 2014 at 4:31 pm

1. I m not sure if it’s a habit but I would like to be able to just invest in things that might not be successful. Invest time and money that might or might not return any kind of value for me.
2. What’s holding me back is the fear. Fear of losing what I invested.; either time or money. I’m really scared of leaving my comfort zone in the sense of financial security.


Brian May 22, 2014 at 3:18 pm

I wish I could get in the habit of emailing people looking for work. But in years of trying I’ve never been able to do it even once. It’s always the same in my head: “you don’t know who to email at the company.” “Nobody will pay for that, so do something else.” “Even if they did, you can’t do it. After all, [my brother] says I don’t have enough experience/education/whatever.”
The worst part is, I can stick with other things, like finishing the first draft of my book, or going to the gym 4x/WK and avoiding pizza/burgers/soda desserts for a month (not one slipup). But this other problem is why I’ve never even made $25k in a year.


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