Here’s the problem with building habits:
In order to build brand-new ones, you already have to be a disciplined and organized person. You need to have good knowledge of how habits work and what mistakes you tend to make.
If you don’t, building habits becomes tricky. You don’t know what to pay attention to, or you give up because of a lack of motivation.
How do you build productive habits when you’re not sure how to start or you’re not the most disciplined person?
The answer is: habit stacking.
What is Habit Stacking And Why is it Important?
Habit stacking is a term coined by Steve Scott. The core of the technique is using the end of an existing habit as the beginning of a new one. For example:
- Every time you finish your cup of coffee in the morning, you meditate for five minutes.
- Every morning after I get dressed, I’ll do 10 push-ups.
- After I brush my teeth, I’ll floss one tooth.
You’re using the reward of your current habit (drinking coffee in the morning) as a way to start your new habit (meditating for five minutes every day). The reason this works so well is because the cue is clear and specific.
Everyone has existing habits they can build on. Even if they’re not the most productive, you can still use getting up in the morning as an opportunity to do something productive for 5 minutes.
What habits you stack onto your existing ones is up to you. However, there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind in order for this to work.
5 Tips to Make Habit Stacking Work For You
1) Start small
One mistake people make when they’re trying to build new habits is they’re trying to build massive habits all at once. The problem with this is it demands too much time and willpower to keep it going. You get in a situation where you do it a couple of times, but give up after the first setback.
With habit stacking, it’s best if you start as small as possible. So instead of meditating for 20 minutes after you drink your coffee, start with five minutes (or one minute if you have to).
2) Start with one habit
I know, learning something new is exciting and you want to apply it immediately. But in this case, piling on new habits only adds more mental stress and more things to think about. This, in turn, makes it easier to give up and fail.
Instead, start with one habit and focus on consistently doing it until you don’t have to think about it anymore. Once you’re at that stage, you can add another one.
3) Focus on consistency.
It’s better to do one very small habit consistently over a longer period of time, then doing something once and never doing it again.
In this case, quick wins matter. Habit stacking is meant to give you a quick boost or a quick taste of what a new habit can feel like. Which brings me to my next point.
4) Celebrate quick wins
In his amazing program, tiny habits, BJ Fogg explains that it’s crucial to celebrate any quick win you get.
This is also true when you’re using habit stacking. Meditating for five minutes might not seem like much, but after four or five weeks you’ll notice you’re much calmer than before.
In my experience, this is also the most difficult part of building new habits. I tend to think of the smallest mistakes as a disaster and the biggest wins as “normal”.
This creates a scenario where it’s very easy to beat yourself up for your mistakes, and not patting yourself on the back when you’re doing something right.
So when you drink that glass of water, celebrate. Be happy you’re doing 10 push-ups instead of none. Walking for five minutes is better than sitting on a couch.
It’s okay if you want to aim high, just make sure you’re not putting yourself in such a position where you can’t seem to do anything right.
5)Pick the right habit to build on
A common mistake that people make is that they pick the wrong habit to build on.
For example, doing an exercise routine right after you take a shower is stupid. This is quite an obvious example, but it illustrates the idea of building the right habits on top of the wrong ones.
Instead, you want to build new habits where they make sense. If you want to get into the right frame of mind before you start working, then it might make sense to meditate for five minutes when you turn on your computer.
The first pitfall is that people try to implement too many habits at once.
With habit building, it’s better to advance 100 meters in one direction then 1 meter in 100 directions.
Trying to build five habits at once fragments your attention and it sets you up to fail.
The second pitfall is that the cues that you build your new habit on are inconsistent. If you go to the gym every so often and you try to build habits on top of that, it’s not going to work as well as you’d like because the core habit isn’t there in the first place.
Instead, pick a habit that you had for a long time and that is ingrained in your lifestyle. This will make sure you have consistent cues to build on and it’s much more likely to work.
Keep Stacking the Bricks
It’s easy to look over the power of improving in small steps. Big wins are sexy, they make you look good at parties. They’re also completely unreliable.
Small improvements are boring, but they work. You gradually improve and before you know it you’ll end up where you want to be.