Habit Stack Your Way to a Better Day

Life changes when we make changes, when we consistently incorporate new behaviors into our day. So, let’s be honest: If we think in terms of changing our life, we’re likely to feel overwhelmed and – no surprise – discouraged. But if we corral the notion of change by translating it into an action or a behavior we can incorporate into our day, we begin to change our life. It’s intentional and it’s incremental.

Case in point:

For years I thought I’d really like to do Pilates. It will be good for me. Oh, but that’s such a big commitment. When will I find the time?  Consequently, I did nothing. But then one day, I realized: What if I sandwich a 30-minute Pilates You Tube video between drinking my morning coffee and going for my 30- minute walk? And what if I did that just one day a week?  That was about a year ago, and, almost without fail, I am seamlessly incorporating that workout before my walk, at least once a week!

What I didn’t realize was that I was practicing a super-healthy behavior. It’s called “habit stacking” – piggy-backing on an existing positive habit – or habits – like a set of building blocks. What’s really cool is that the new behavior is likely to “stick” because you are building on a pattern that already exists in your brain, which makes habit stacking both effective and efficient! For me, it meant eliminating the fretting about when or if I’d manage to fit in a Pilates session; now, it’s simply part of my routine.

The How To of Habit Stacking

  • Identify an Existing Habit You Want to Piggy-back On. Be sure it is an ingrained habit, not something you only sometimes do. Brushing your teeth first thing is an ingrained habit or walking outside to check the mailbox may be another ingrained daily habit. The point is to snag a habit that is already deeply-anchored, and to piggy-back on it.

Example: Every morning, after I brush my teeth, I will set my timer and stretch for ten minutes. Or, Just before I check the mail, I will take a quick walk around the block. Or, After I make my bed, I will pick up any clothes that are lying around.

Here’s one I’ve recently incorporated: After my husband and I eat our leisurely Sunday breakfast, I read a spiritual book for at least an hour. In the past, doing so was an “If I get to it” activity. Now it is a welcome respite and a true celebration of my Sunday.

  • Build Your Habit Staircase. Once your new behavior has truly become part of your routine, ask yourself if and how you might want to enrich it. I’m not a huge fan of green tea, but I want to incorporate more of it into my diet. Now I have a cup after our shared breakfast, while I am doing my very personal readings. That’s three great habits – stacked! People who use habit-stacking often suggest that morning and evening routines can provide the best “triggers” for habit stacking, as you probably already have some form of routine in place.

Habit Stacking Tips

  • Link That New Behavior With a Value or Goal. Pilates supports my goal to be more fit in semi-retirement than I have ever been. My spiritual reading supports the value I place on nurturing my inner life and honoring the contemplative life.
  • One Thing at a Time. Habit stacking shouldn’t be a burden. It should make building the life you want easier by incorporating one small, new habit at a time. That might also mean limiting the time you spend on that habit – even five minutes to start – so that you can get into the groove with it instead of petering out or losing interest. Another good reason to mindfully and slowly build your habit staircase is that you want to make sure that you leave some room for spontaneity!
  • Acknowledge Your Wins and Reward Yourself. Every good habit you incorporate into your life is a personal win, so give yourself a pat on the back and treat it as such!
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