How many "positive habits" articles do you need to read before you start taking action?

Here's the thing about forming positive habits: It is difficult. The things we know we should do, we don't--and the reason we don't is because they are challenging. They are not easy. They make us tired, or insist that we (gasp!) "think." 

We don't do them because, in some sense, we fear that they will be as difficult as they feel now, forever.

But the thing is (and anyone who has ever pushed themselves knows this), difficult things get easier the more you do them. Even the really hard habits, the ones that constantly feel strenuous, in some sense get easier with time. And the reason is because you not only become more skilled in that area, but you also become more patient with yourself throughout the process.

Here are 3 essential habits everyone knows they should do, but tend not to. And here's exactly how you can get through the "difficult" phase and make them part of your daily routine.

1. Reading

If you're reading this right now, you are (in some sense) on the right track. 

One of my favorite things to ask people is, "What was the last good book you read?" Most people are shocked, and I know the answer before they even say it: "Wow, I can't remember the last book I read." Sure, we read blogs, and tweets, and long-winded Facebook posts--but reading a book is different. Reading a book takes time, and patience, and especially when dealing with fiction versus nonfiction, both categories work different parts of your brain. Reading is essential.

I strive to read a book every other week. Two weeks is more than enough time to get through a roughly 300-page book.

The best way I have found to create a habit of reading is to have it take the place of your smart phone and "filler time" social media usage. Whether that means reading on your iPhone or keeping a book in your backpack or purse, every time you have a few free minutes, open your book. When you're waiting in line at the grocery store, open your book. When you are on the train, open your book. Anywhere and everywhere you would otherwise compulsively check your e-mail and Facebook notifications (the majority of which are not important), open your book.

You'll be amazed how quickly you move through material, and how much more stimulated your mind feels throughout the day. And, most important, reading will no longer feel like a chore. It will simply become a way to pass the time. A smarter escape, if you will.

2. Waking up early

This is the king of "habits I really should do, it's just that my bed is so comfortable."

If you're not a morning person, waking up early is horrible. It is not easy. It feels grueling, and you're fighting yourself all the way to the shower--and then once the hot water hits your head, you practically fall right back asleep then and there. 

When most people try to instill this habit into their lives, they think it's all about "waking up early." It's actually about something else.

It's about going to bed earlier.

Sleep is the constant. There are only two variables you can change: You either go to bed earlier, or you wake up later.

If you want to create a successful early morning routine for yourself, it's much more about mastering the evening routine that comes before it. Slow yourself down an hour before bed. Read a book (see above) instead of browsing Instagram, so your eyes can relax. Meditate, or take a warm shower. Do activities that are intended to move you into sleep, so that you can wake up ready to go the next morning.

Where people tend to go wrong is they set their alarm for 5:30 a.m., but still go to bed at midnight. That's a disaster waiting to happen. And then of course, 5:30 rolls around, you're exhausted, you call yourself a failure, etc. 

Focus on the night before--and stick with it. Nobody forms a habit after three days. It takes a bit. But once you do it for two or three weeks, it becomes your "normal," and suddenly waking up early isn't so difficult anymore. It's just "what you do."

3. Forgiveness

Had to throw a curve ball in here.

Forgiveness. Compassion. Understanding. Patience. The act of listening and taking time to see life through someone else's eyes: For many, this is not easy.

What few seem to realize is that forgiveness and humble traits of the sort are not inherent. They don't just "happen." You have to practice them--no different than how you have to practice firing pucks at a hockey net to improve your wrist shot. 

To be forgiving or compassionate, in a way, is a habit.

As soon as you start to think of it as something that you can consciously practice, your approach to it inherently changes. Suddenly, moments when you are frustrated or upset become opportunities to react differently. 

I have witnessed many people in my life make the proclamation that they are going to "turn things around" or "be better listeners" and then fail to keep their word for longer than a day, or an afternoon, or even an hour. And the reason is simple: habits don't change overnight. 

Your personality, the way you react to situations, and the energy you bring to the moment is the way it is because that's what you practice. Every day, in everything you do, that's what you practice--so if you want to change that, you have to practice something different.

But should you stick with it, and continue challenging yourself to step back, reflect, and react differently the next time, the easier it ultimately becomes--until eventually, it is simply "who you are."