Do you struggle to stick to implement and stick to changes to your day even when you know they are benefiting your wellbeing? Enter: habit stacking. The gentle, achievable method for achieving your goals.
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We generally have a fair understanding of what we need to do in order to maintain our health and wellbeing. Enforcing this knowledge and actually following through on these good habits is a whole other ball game.
We’re human, therefore we tend to lean towards the things that bring us immediate pleasure and deliver short term dopamine hits that keep us coming back for more.
This makes small habits that slowly build long term results really challenging to get excited about.
The key word here is “small”— we don’t need to overhaul our entire lives to receive the most benefits; often, it’s the small, sometimes mundane ones that reap the greatest, most fulfilling results.
So, how do we override the immediate influx of feel-good hormones in order to benefit our future selves? Enter habit stacking. Grab yourself a cuppa and let’s unpack this from a scientific approach together.
One of the most successful ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already perform each day and then stack your desired new behaviour on top. This act is exactly what habit stacking is.
I recently ticked James Clear’s ‘Atomic Habits’ off my reading list (finally) and learned so much about his comprehensive, evidence-based approach to habit stacking.
Clear (the habit-forming G) does a great job of sharing his theory that habits are the “compound interest” of self-improvement. His recommendations reminded me of the very thing I drive home to my clients, and that is that we all hold the power to direct and shape our lives through our choices.
These choices dictate our actions and our actions are constantly creating a ripple effect not just for ourselves, but on everyone we come into contact with too. A firm reminder that it truly starts with us!
Clear explains that all habits (both those that we perceive as positive and negative) are formed following a four-part process: Cue > Craving > Response > Reward.
Breaking down the habit stacking process into these fundamental parts can help us understand what a habit is, how it works, and how to improve it.
The initial cue is the first indication to the brain that you’re close to a reward. Your brain is constantly scanning and analysing your environment for rewards, so it is natural that the second part of the process is Craving, because the idea of the reward inspires a plan of how to grasp it.
It’s important to follow the cravings as they deem what we desire the most. It’s also important to note that what you crave is not the actual habit itself, but the change in state it delivers aka the outcome. Every craving we feel is directly linked to a desire to change our internal state.
Your response is generally determined by your motivation to create the habit. However, motivation is less important than the plan or execution. The chances of building a habit increase 3x by just having more clarity in your daily plan so get specific and write it out.
Rewards serve two purposes in our habit stacking journey
+ They are satisfying because we receive the outcome we desire
+ They provide more intel on ourselves. Feelings of pleasure and disappointment are part of the feedback mechanism and help the brain distinguish useful actions from useless ones aka which ones we keep and which ones we discard.
Clear created this habit stacking formula to help enforce the habits we are looking to implement:
After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].
+ After I clean my teeth, I will take my morning supplements
+ After I get out of bed in the morning, I will immediately make it (my bed)
+ Before I leave the house to go to yoga, I will do 50 jumping jacks
Everything you do casts a vote and reinforces who you can become. It’s necessary to remember that being solely outcome-based doesn’t help build warm relationships, kindness, gratitude, or meaningful connections - so there is definitely a dance and a grace that comes with forming new habits into our lives.
We are challenged to find the fine line between discipline, and ensuring that there is a playfulness as we embrace our humanness throughout the process.
Tread gently yet intentionally and in the words of Clear: “Life is a game. Go play it!"