Alright let’s face it, by this point we pretty much all know what are considered “good habits” and all the advantages that will benefit us if we develop them. Actions like exercise more, eat less junk food, read more books, wake up earlier… etc. So why aren’t we doing them?
Because the challenging part is not starting these actions, but it’s sticking to these routines long enough for them to turn into habits. When you first start something it can take up a lot of mental energy and requires lots of self discipline. That’s why it’s so difficult. I feel ya.
What if I tell you right now that there’s a way to “trick” your brain into believing you’ve been doing a routine long enough, so it’s more likely for you to stick with it long-term?
This is called habit stacking, which is the method of stacking a new routine on top of an already established habit.
THE HABIT LOOP
Before we dive deeper into how it works, however, it’s important to first understand how habits are formed. Our brain is always looking for ways to save effort. It has the tendency to “chunk” our actions into sets of automatic routines. Charles Dughigg in the Power of Habits described each set to consist of three steps: the cue, routine, and reward.
Cue: A sign that triggers the brain to go on autopilot mode
Routine: Physical or mental behavior that follows after the cue
Reward: A positive stimulus that reinforces the routine
The next time the same cue is present, the brain would crave for the reward and you would perform the routine on autopilot.
For example, I used to place my workout clothes on my bed before work. Every day after work I would come home and see the workout clothes (my cue). I would get changed and hit the gym (routine), and afterward I would congratulate myself by making a delicious smoothie (reward).
Overtime, when I see the workout clothes, I’d immediately think about the smoothie afterward, and I’ll be able to perform the routine easily.
And there you go, a habit is formed, woohoo! By understanding the habit loop and how habits are formed, you can already make conscious decisions to change an existing habit or create a new one.
What is Habit Stacking?
On a daily basis, we perform many habits already. Actions like getting out of bed, turning on the coffee maker, taking a shower, driving to work, eating lunch, heading home from work, eating dinner, turning off the lights, going to sleep, etc.
Have you ever had a time (or many times) where you came out of the shower and immediately began brushing your teeth without realizing? These habits are already rooted in our brain that they barely require any mental energy at all to perform.
The “trick” to developing new habits faster is to use these “established habits” as the cue to trigger the new routine that you want to create.
After I take a shower, I will stretch for 20 minutes.
After I come home from work, I will go out for a jog.
Right after I wake up, I will make a prayer.
After I eat dinner, I will read 10 pages of a book.
Basically, you are stacking your new habits on top of an existing one and your brain will learn to “chunk” these two routines together. With this method, it will be much more likely for you to actually form a habit and stick with it. However, make sure that these established habits must be actions you ALREADY do regularly in order for it to work.
I also used this habit stacking technique to create my morning rituals.
So try thinking about which habits you want to create, and see how you can schedule those routines so they can be immediately before or after an already established habit.
MORE TIPS ON CREATING HABITS
Try not to be too ambitious to create many new habits at once. Each new habit requires mental effort to form in the beginning, and you don’t want to diversify that energy (because that was me haha). Instead, try focusing first on the keystone habits that will impact you the most.
Last but not least, if you aren’t able to a habit that you want right away, it’s okay! On average, the length of time it takes to form a habit can range anywhere from 21 to 254 days!
Remember, slow progress is better than no progress.
So be patient with it. As what I LOVE to say (but very true), it REALLY is a journey. So just keep trying, and if things don’t work out, change things up and try again (For example, you can try altering the cue. Maybe you cannot work out in the morning because you are a night person!)
Anyways, hope this article gave you some tips on creating habits faster! I really hoped that this has helped your growth journey in some way.
Wishing you best of luck & as always, you know I’m rooting for you 🙂 Sign up to my weekly newsletter below and join the community!
Until next time,
Great blog! I love the idea of stacking something that you are trying to change onto a habit that you already have! I have recently made a huge habit change in my diet and need to start adding exercise into the mix. I will have to try out your suggestion of doing it right after I wake up or maybe right when I get home!
The stacking technique works wonders. Let me know how they go for you!
This was such a helpful read! Two habits I want to work on forming: getting back to the gym regularly and reading daily. Definitely going to try out the techniques you outlined!
Hi Miranda, those are great habits to form! Let me know how the progress go 🙂
So happy you read it Jennifer!
Lovely blog! Thank you for the workbook! I really enjoyed working with it!
Hi Ina, thank you so much! So glad you find it helpful!