How often do you catch yourself saying, “I wish I were better at _____.” Maybe you want to be better at exercising regularly, your relationships or your work. Maybe you’d like to be more artistic, athletic or multilingual.
Step One: Picking the Habit
The first step is to clearly articulate what you’re trying to improve. You want to replace the vague sense of unease that maybe you should be better at something with a decision to improve something specific.
A good habit should be something you do regularly. It should happen either every day or after a particular context or trigger (right after work, every time you speak to someone, when you wake up). If it’s a habit of absence (quitting smoking, giving up junk food) it should include some concrete alternative to fill the vacuum.
Step Two: Conditioning the Habit
The next step is to stick with the behavior long enough that it becomes automatic. This requires effort in the beginning, but, if you do it right, should become easier and easier until you no longer think about doing it.
Step Three: Maintain the Habit
Most habits are metastable . That means that they can endure for a long time, but if something pushes them out of balance they will fall back to an easier behavior. Exercise is an example of a metastable habit because even if it is automatic for you, it does require time and energy. A prolonged illness, vacation or overtime at work can break the habit without you realizing it.