Habit Stacking and Motivation

"Habit Stacking and Motivation" Yellow Field
December 10, 2017
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Habit Stacking for Success

Have you ever wished you could get your day off to a better start? Or that you could actually get to bed on time without getting hooked into staring at Facebook for two hours?

If so, I get it. And I have an idea that could really change everything for you.

The idea is based on creating morning and evening routines, and you create these routines using habit stacking. Let me explain.

What is Habit Stacking?

Habit stacking is when you take a current habitual action and add a new, desired habit to it. You add the new habit either just before or just after your existing action. You can even add more than one new habit, and create an entire routine.

Here’s a great example. Let’s say your current habit is to wake up in the morning and immediately get a cup of coffee. You want to add a meditation or prayer habit to your morning. So to habit stack, you decide that immediately after you get your coffee, you will sit down and meditate for 10 minutes.

Because you’ve connected your new habit to an existing, hardwired action that’s already in your brain, it will make it much easier to add your new habit. It’s like having a shortcut already built in!

You can add any number of small habits to your “stack”, but keep in mind that the more you add the harder it will be to get them all accomplished. Not only are there more opportunities to be distracted, but the power of your initial ingrained habit diminishes as you get further past it in your morning.

How Habit Stacking Sets You Up for Success

Habit stacking takes an already existing strong trigger and uses that momentum to add additional desirable actions to your life. As you practice your new stack, your new habits will become ingrained as well.

Think about your day and think about what very strong existing habits you have. Do you always get coffee at work at 10am? Do you always take your coat off and hang it up when you get home? Do you always brush your teeth before bed?

Each of these existing habits gives you the opportunity to stack one or more new habits onto it. You can work small, positive changes into your life with minimal resistance. And small changes add up quickly!!

If you’re like me, this is very exciting to you and you immediately want to start creating six new stacks in your life. Unfortunately, this isn’t setting you up for success. Instead, start with just one. Pick a Stack: A Morning or Evening Routine

A Morning Routine

Existing habit: Get up and get coffee
Additional habit 1: Meditate or pray 10 minutes
Additional habit 2: Think of one thing you’re grateful for
Additional habit 3: Read one chapter of a devotional or motivational book

Those four habits together constitute one “stack”. You should be able to complete the stack in 30 minutes or less, making it easy to add to your day. Think about how much better your day would be if it started this way every time!

An Evening Routine

Additional Habit 1: Tidy one messy “hot spot”
Existing Habit: Brush teeth right before bed
Additional Habit 2: Lay out clothes for the next day
Additional Habit 3: Pray or meditate for 10 minutes

With this evening routine, you’ve stacked one habit before your existing action of brushing your teeth, and two afterward. This also creates a great stack. Again, the whole routine should take 30 minutes or less. Wouldn’t you sleep better if you did this routine every night?

Motivation is an emotional state where you are revved up and really want to do your work. As you probably know, motivation is fickle. Emotions aren’t predictable and consistent enough to be trusted.

Fortunately, there are other ways to be successful. Here are just a few.

Create a Pre-Game Ritual

James Clear was a baseball player all the way through college. In high school, he didn’t do very well, but in college he found a rhythm and was an ESPN Academic All-American in 2008.

What changed? He learned to create a pre-game routine that got him in the mindset to perform, even when he wasn’t feeling like it. He would start off by running to a certain place, throwing specific warm up pitches, and following other habits. By the time he was finished, he was ready to play.

If you’re interested in creating a pre-work ritual, Clear suggests three steps:

  • Start with something very small. You want this to be something you can’t say “no” to.
  • Include physical activity. Physical movement helps the brain become more alert.
  • Do it the same way every time. A habit that triggers your mind to be ready to go has to be done the same way every day.

Create New Habits

The beginning of your day isn’t the only time that having a ritual will help. Anything you can do habitually will reduce the amount of strain on your willpower. Willpower is like a muscle – it can be developed over time, but it will always be limited.

Instead, create new habits to take advantage of your subconscious mind. There are many ways you can approach habit-making, but the key is to find the one that works for you.

Here are some ideas on how to create habits:

Start First Thing. If you do have to use willpower to create a habit, be sure to do it first thing in the morning while your willpower is still strong. When it becomes automatic, you can use your willpower to add on.

Triggers. If you already have something you do every day, use that as a trigger to create a new habit. Directly after your existing habit, add in one or two actions of a new habit.

Start Small. Some people find success by doing a much smaller version of their desired habit. For instance, instead of a full workout right before breakfast, do one pushup. This eliminates excuses and gets you used to acting on your habit.

Keep a Streak Going. Every day that you successfully complete your new action, mark an X on your calendar or a tracking sheet. Your mind will encourage you to act to avoid breaking the chain.

One thing that’s important about forming new habits is not to overload yourself. Work on one or two habits at a time. It may seem “boring”, but at the end of a year you’ll have 8 – 15 new habits!

Having Accountability Helps

Many people find they do better when someone else is holding them accountable. It’s why people get to the gym when a friend is meeting them, but put it off when no one is expecting them. Find a coach or accountability partner who understands your goals. Their support will be priceless!

Habits get you away from the up-and-down tyranny of emotional “motivation.” When you simply follow through every day, you’ll find more success than you imagined.

As you can see, it’s very easy to pick an existing habit and stack 1 to 3 new habits with it. Try creating one new stack per month and see how much your life changes in 2018. You won’t even recognize yourself at this time next year!

Zona Garrett is the author of Identity and Influence and founded Plan to Succeed Coaching in 2014. She lives in North Carolina and is building a tiny house to call home. She specializes in the transition from employee to startup, expansion, and team building in business.



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