When people talk about how to create better habits , I think they’re really meaning: how can I stop doing the stuff that doesn’t really make my life better, and start doing the things that DO make my life better? And how can I make that regular and consistent?

To create better habits , you’ve got to know what it is that you deeply desire because that motivation informs how much you’ll pay attention to each part of the habit-formation process. When you really want the change because you’re clear on what you desire, you’ll bring more presence to the process of change. Habit-formation that’s based in fear, or in trying to change something about your life because you’re afraid that if you don’t change it disaster will ensue is a lot less fun (and less effective).

(If you’re not already a YCL subscriber, you can get started with creating better habits using the Shift Plan, a guide for getting clear about what you want to shift that takes into account your deepest desires.)

How Habits Work

Habits run on a cue-routine-reward loop. They inform nearly half of our behavior, every day, behavioral scientists tell us–and not just whether or not we remember to floss or exercise. Our habitual responses to our jobs, the people around us, how we respond to stress, and more are influencing our lives at a deep level. Changing habits or creating better habits means, quite literally, changing your life.

To create courageous habits, you’ve got to start recognizing the cue-routine-reward loop.

Recognize the cue and feelings of fear that happen in the body.
Recognize when you go into routines, or what I call fear routines.
Recognize the rewards that are short-term, versus long-term. When you’re afraid of taking a big risk, so you procrastinate? You’re feeling a fear cue, responding with a fear routine, and getting a short-term risk or temporarily alleviating the pressure.

If you want to become more courageous in your life, you can create courageous habits, a default response to the fear that everyone encounters when they go after the things in life that matter, most.

To develop more courageous habits, start looking at what area of your life you’d like to be more courageous in—perhaps in your relationships, speaking your mind with social justice and getting into activism, or with creative expression as you write the book you’ve always wanted to write—and from there, make a point of examining the habits that inform how you react to your partner, when you speak up vs when you don’t, or how you avoid your creative expression.

Isolate the fear cues. What are they? How do they show up in your body? Do they tend to show up more under certain circumstances?

Understand your typical fear routines. I see four common fear routines: Perfectionism, sabotage, martyrism, and extreme skepticism and doubt. Everyone uses these fear routines sometimes, and all of us have one that we tend to use more than the others.

Last, understand the rewards you truly seek–not the temporary alleviation of stress because you backed down on going after your big dream, but the rewards of building resilience and seeing yourself take action as you step forward to go after what you want.

Whether you want to change something tangible or something personal to your way of being, thinking about how to create better habits starts with thinking about what you desire and then looking at the habits that surround that desire.

(And when you’re ready to learn about how to make new habits stick, I’ve got you covered there, too).