The Psychology of Establishing a Good Habit

If only falling in love with running were as easy as getting hooked on coffee. But while most of us know that in reality, forming a constructive habit definitely takes effort and consistency, there's also a popular notion that the best approach is to force a ritual until it feels second nature. Psychology tells us that this isn't exactly accurate either.

"Our culture seems to be fairly preoccupied with the process of establishing and extinguishing habits, and a lot of misinformation about habits gets posted and re-tweeted, muddying the project even further," notes New York City–based psychologist Heather Silvestri, Ph.D. She adds that we tend to get caught up in 21- or 30-day timelines that are, in actuality, quite arbitrary. "More challenging habits generally take longer to sink in," she says. "And when you are trying to habitualize a behavior that is far outside of your wheelhouse or toward which there's a lot of resistance, it's definitely going to take awhile."

These facts aren't meant to be discouraging, but empowering: a reminder that the journey to self-improvement is both individual and flexible, and that we get to choose the rituals that we want to embrace. And above all else, it helps shift the focus from an arbitrary deadline to the here and now. What do you want to do to better yourself today?

Internalizing this is the first step. But once we have a better idea of the habits we truly want to establish, it's invaluable to dive into the psychology of making that happen. (Spoiler: Consistency is just one part of the equation.)

Keep reading to learn what really goes into building good habits.