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
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
What are some things that you do everyday without fail?
Here a few examples from my life:
- I check my phone each morning.
- I spend time in prayer.
- I brush my teeth.
- I take my lunch break at work. (Y'all better! Viva la self-care!)
- I have tea before I start my work.
- I scroll social media while watching TV when I get home from work.
- I write out my Mindfulness lists for the next day.
Create a second list of things that happen to you without fail everyday:
- Social media notifications.
- Red lights.
- The sun rises.
- You receive a text.
- Beyonce comes up in conversation. (Or is that just me?)
3. Decide Where To Place Your New Habit
Exercising with weights at home
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.
"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.
- Each time my fitness watch buzzes, I will take 3 laps around the office.
- 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