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Is Habit Stacking Key To Achieving Your Goals?

I'm just going to say it: We start each new year doing way too much.

Workin' Girl

I'm just going to say it: We start each new year doing way too much. The writing is usually on the wall early on that we won't follow through with all of our big "new year, new me" jive. Why? Because we want major change as immediately as a blink of an eye, without having any real plan. Think about it: The statement: "I want to lose weight", while a noble goal is also so general that it leaves crucial questions unanswered and almost dooms itself to failure in utero.

What if the best way to make the biggest (and most long-lasting) changes in our lives is not to make big changes at all? When I think about my biggest failures, 99% of the time I did too much too fast with either no plan or a pitiful one, got overwhelmed, and went back to life as usual. Enter, the brilliant method of stacking habits.

Before you get apprehensive, just think of it as a new way to take baby steps toward your goals. According to best-selling author, James Clear:

"Habit stacking is a special form of an implementation intention. Rather than pairing your new habit with a particular time and location, you pair it with a current habit."
Through the practice of habit stacking, we become aware of the habits that are already integrated into our lives and use them as foundations on which to build other beneficial habits toward our goals and best outcomes.

If you think about pretty much any huge undertaking: starting a business; writing a book; quitting smoking; or becoming a top-performing athlete – two things are clear: 1) none of it happens in one fell swoop and 2) you're usually either replacing a bad habit with a better one or installing a good habit where there was nothing. There are steps. We don't have to go hard from the jump if we don't know whether or not we can sustain. There are other methods that will help us to maintain our integrity as we commit to being healthier.

Habit stacking builds on those two ideas. It is a strategy that when practiced with integrity, brings you successfully to your desired outcome. And it is not so rigid that you cannot adjust for life changes or new goals. It is essentially attaching a new habit to something you already do without fail.

Let's break it down:

1. Create A Specific Goal

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What is your main goal? Let's say you want to read more. Great! But what does that look like day-to-day? You need to zoom in with specifics. Your goal could go something like this:

"I want to read for at least 10 minutes each day."

Ten minutes of reading each day will bring you to your overall goal of reading more. Now you've got a new habit looking for an old habit to attach itself to!

2. List Your Current Habits

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What are some things that you do everyday without fail?

Here a few examples from my life:

  1. I check my phone each morning.
  2. I spend time in prayer.
  3. I brush my teeth.
  4. I take my lunch break at work. (Y'all better! Viva la self-care!)
  5. I have tea before I start my work.
  6. I scroll social media while watching TV when I get home from work.
  7. I write out my Mindfulness lists for the next day.

Create a second list of things that happen to you without fail everyday:

For example:

  1. Social media notifications.
  2. Red lights.
  3. The sun rises.
  4. You receive a text.
  5. Beyonce comes up in conversation. (Or is that just me?)

3. Decide Where To Place Your New Habit

Exercising with weights at home

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Once you've created your lists, you now have a bunch of mini-foundations on which to build another habit that will serve your big goal.

Now it's time to be honest with yourself about where your new habit will be most effective. If you know you can't focus in the morning before having coffee, trying to read for 10 minutes every morning is basically setting yourself up to fail. Don't play yourself. Be real.

However, if you know that when you get home from work, you spend time unwinding by scrolling through social media, watching television, or checking personal emails, there may be an opportunity to fit in your new habit. And again, BE SPECIFIC.

For example:

"BEFORE I [scroll through social media at the end of my day], I will [read for 10 minutes]."

See how that works? You've assessed which habit is easiest to attach your new habit to and you've given yourself parameters by being specific about the timing. You'll read BEFORE you scroll.

A couple of my personal stacked habits look like this:

BIG GOAL: To get in better shape.

FOCUSED GOAL: To walk 5,000 steps a day.

HABITS STACKED:

  1. Each time my fitness watch buzzes, I will take 3 laps around the office.
  2. While my food cooks each night, I will dance salsa for 10 minutes.

In order for these two habits to be successfully integrated into my daily routine, I had to be thoughtful about where in my day they have the best chance of succeeding. I wear my fitness watch faithfully and it always lets me know when I've been sitting for too long. It's a built-in accountability partner. I'm always listening to music while I'm cooking so it makes sense to incorporate salsa.

The goal is to ensure your own success by being specific, and using what is already working in your life as Velcro to which to stick a new habit. Remember to be specific, find the best timing for your new habit to be successful, and keep going! Even if you miss a day, keep going back. If you need to adjust, adjust!

Happy habit stacking!

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Originally published February 6, 2019

Featured image by Getty Images

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

This article is in partnership with Staples.

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