What does your everyday daily routine look like? Do you find yourself trying to better some of your habits but struggling to make them stick? I completely understand where you’re coming from. I recently decided to reevaluate my habits and begin implementing habit stacking, and it made a huge difference for me. What is habit stacking and how can it benefit you?
Habit stacking is when you link a bunch of activities together–usually small ones–until you create a routine. The routine becomes a habit enough that you do it without thinking about it. With habit stacking, you can increase your productivity and incorporate healthier habits into your life.
I didn’t know a lot about habit stacking until recently, and now that I do and I’ve seen how it’s worked for me, I want to share the wealth with others. Whether you have a busy mom morning routine or you’re always struggling to make spare time, this is one article you won’t want to miss!
What is Habit stacking?
Think about your early morning daily routine. You wake up, maybe hit the snooze alarm (although hopefully only once if you do it at all), then you get out of bed. You go straight to the bathroom and begin brushing your teeth.
Have you ever thought about why you brush your teeth? It’s because it’s kind of hard-wired into your brain, right? If you by chance went about your morning without brushing your teeth, something would click in your head and remind you to go do it.
That’s the crux of habit stacking.
Known also as habit chaining, habit stacking came about in a 2014 book by S.J. Scott called Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less. If you haven’t read this book, I quite recommend it!
According to Scott himself, habit stacking “builds routines around habits that don’t require effort” due to how “small wins build momentum because they’re easy to remember and complete.”
In other words, you select some small activities you want to incorporate into your life. Then, you add those activities to a preexisting habit until you create a routine.
By repeating that routine, it becomes second nature, so you do it without thinking, just like brushing your teeth in the morning.
Habit stacking can be the panacea for synapse pruning, or at least help you use it efficiently.
What is synapse pruning, I’m sure you’re asking? It’s a brain function that happens more often as we age.
This NBC News article cites 2007 research from Oxford University that found that, compared to newborns, adults have more than 40 percent fewer neurons.
That’s due to synapse pruning.
A synapse links the brain and the neurons. When you prune your synapses, your brain does away with the synapses it’s not using while doubling down on the ones you do use.
This is why you may struggle to successfully incorporate a new habit in your life, even if it’s a good habit that you really want to do. Your brain isn’t dedicating as many synapses towards it.
You can take advantage of the way your brain’s synapses work through habit stacking.
For instance, let’s say that every night, you wash your face, brush your teeth, and get in bed. That’s pretty standard stuff, right?
Well, if you wanted to start reading, you’d stack that habit after the getting in bed habit.
You can even remember to start flossing more often by stacking it after brushing your teeth.
The best thing I can liken habit stacking to is sending a Slinky down the stairs. You start with a trigger that activates a series of events down the line.
How Can You Begin Habit Stacking?
I’m sure there’s at least one habit you want to have more of in your life, right? Habit stacking could be the answer, but how do you even get started?
I’m glad you asked! Here are the steps you can take today to make habit stacking work for you.
Take Five Minutes Per Day for Your Habit
If you want to start meditating for 20 minutes a day but you currently don’t meditate at all, the goal isn’t to squeeze in those extra 20 minutes somewhere.
Remember, habit stacking is all about small activities. Thus, you should start with five minutes of meditation or even a minute or two.
After those couple of minutes have passed, you’d consider yourself done meditating for the day. If you get to meditate for longer than a few minutes, then great! Your goal is only two to five minutes though.
Then, as meditating becomes a regular part of your routine, you’ll find that you set more time aside for it that will be closer to the original timeframe you wanted.
Make Your Habits Location-Based or Time-Based
When habit stacking, it helps if your new habits are tied to a place or a time; even both are fine!
For example, I was having a hard time deciding when to pick out my clothes for the next day. Since it wasn’t a set habit, there were definitely days when I didn’t do it at all. Then I’d wake up the next morning feeling very stressed.
I’m sure this is something that’s familiar to you.
I eventually found a time to pick out my clothes for the next day. Every night, at about 8 p.m., I’m enjoying some wind-down time, usually with a Netflix show.
About midway through the show, when I’d normally take a bathroom or snack break, I decided to start picking out my clothes for the next day.
So now I associate two things with that habit: the time, which is 8 o’ clock, and the place, which is my living room.
Keep It Easy
I don’t know about you, but nothing turns me off from doing something new more than if I’m immediately bad at it.
You want to feel like you can succeed at habit chaining. Don’t stack the deck against you by starting with a hard habit to incorporate.
Let your first habit stack be as easy as possible. You’ll feel like you can successfully change your life with habit stacking, which will make you want to work your way up to the bigger, more challenging habits.
Keep It Going
The habit stack examples I’ve touched on so far have been daily habits, but your habits don’t always have to be that frequent. You could have weekly or even monthly habit stacks depending on what the habit is.
No matter how frequently you’re committing to building a habit stack, the key is to stick with it. The repetition builds consistency, and the consistency is what you need to really ingrain that habit into your daily life.
Think of each day as adding another link to your chain. You don’t want to break the chain, but rather, keep adding more and more links.
But Don’t Expect to Be Perfect
Listen, even if you have the world’s best intentions, life has a way of coming in and screwing things up at times.
For instance, you’re reworking your morning routine when your in-laws show up unexpectedly for the weekend. Well, now what?
You have to expect that, as much as you want to stack your habits for a long time to come, you will be disrupted at times.
Having a setback like this is disappointing, but don’t lose heart. If you’ve truly built your habits through this time, then hopping right back on the horse, so to speak, won’t be too challenging when the time comes.
Habit Stacking Examples to Emulate Today
Woohoo! You’ve got your habit stacking plan, and you couldn’t be more excited to begin. To wrap up, I want to share some great habit stacking examples.
These examples might not all be applicable to you, but that’s okay. At the very least, they can inspire you to incorporate habit stacking in a way that suits your own schedule and lifestyle.
Coffee to Meditation
Once you hit the brew button on your trusty and true coffeemaker, you usually have a minute or two to spare. As soon as you hear the beep that your coffee is brewing, take that time to meditate.
Then, when your coffee is done brewing and the machine beeps at you again, that would signal the end of your meditation for the day.
Shower Setup to Pushups
If you want to start exercising more, start small and easy.
You can do 10 pushups before your morning shower through habit stacking. When you grab your towel to shower, you’d drop and do the pushups.
Then you can pop into the shower and get your day underway!
Work Clothes to Exercise Clothes
I’ve discussed this on the blog before, but sometimes the hardest part of exercising is getting your butt out of bed or putting on gym clothes and leaving the house.
By making it a habit to change into your gym clothes, you’ll be a lot less likely to miss a workout.
As soon as you get home and get changed out of your work clothes, put on exercise clothes instead.
Brushing to Flossing
Here’s a really easy one, but it comes in so much handy if you’re struggling to floss your teeth consistently.
You brush your teeth every single day twice a day. After you finish that at night, immediately follow it up with flossing. You won’t forget to floss now!
Lunch to Business Emails
You can apply habit stacking professionally as well. For example, at work, you take a lunch break every day, right?
As your lunch break wraps up, take the time to send one email. Maybe it’s to a potential client or an existing client but send just that email.
That’s five emails a week and 20 emails a month. It adds up!
Habit stacking involves taking your everyday ingrained habits and adding to them. Since the adult brain dedicates more synapses to those ingrained activities, that usually makes building new habits harder. Not anymore!
The key to habit stacking is to start small and easy. Doing a habit for a few minutes at a time once per day is a great way to build that habit into your life more consistently.
I hope that habit stacking improves your quality of life as it has mine!