Last year I learned the term “habit stacking”, and it has changed my life immensely.
As we’re at the beginning of a new year, it’s a natural time to reflect on what’s working in your life and what’s not. Often in January we feel overwhelmed and angry at ourselves–I’m going to finally lose the weight this year and I’ll beat my body into submission; I’m going to never eat chocolate again; I’m going to get up at 5 am every morning. You’re going to get so much more done, you’re going to stop with all the bad habits. You’re going to quit TV. But it rarely works.
What does work? Changing your routines, little by little, so that you create new habits and you don’t have to think about them.
The Ultimate Productivity Bundle is for sale right now, but only until tomorrow! It’s an amazing collection of 12 ebooks, 30 ecourses, 29 workbooks & printables, and 2 membership sites to help you get organized, form new habits, overcome obstacles, use your time well, map your life, review and reflect, and set new goals. As a goal-type person who is not naturally organized, I love it so much!
There are so many great products there that I can’t tell you about all of them, but I want to share some principles with you from just one–Habit Stacking from the Routines category–that can help you think differently about how to develop new habits.
1. Don’t Underestimate the Power of Small Things
He starts off by asking everyone to stop reading and go tell someone that you love them–send a text, go into another room and talk to a loved one, send a nice email. It doesn’t take long. But it feels great!
That’s the power of small things.
Imagine what life would be like if you began each day with small actions that created a chain reaction of positive benefits throughout your life.
You eat a healthy breakfast, have a great conversation with your loved ones, and then begin your workday focusing on the important tasks. Then, throughout the day, you complete other habits that positively impact your top goals. I guarantee you’d feel more fulfilled, get more accomplished, and have a better direction for your career. All of this can be possible when you focus on small actions that relate to your important goals.
These habits don’t require much effort. In fact, most only take five minutes or less to complete. But they have a powerful compounding effect if you repeat them often enough.
2. Understand that Success is a Process, Not an Event
Success isn’t something that just “happens” to people. Take this blog, for instance. I blogged everyday for years, from 2008-2011, before I finally had significant numbers of people visiting me. And then all of a sudden my traffic went up 20 times in one month, and kept growing from there. It’s easy to look at the blog in 2011 and say, “Oh, wow, look what happened to her!” But really, it was also all about the discipline and small things I put into practice from 2008-2011.
Like Thomas Jefferson said, “I’m a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more luck I have.”
3. Give yourself a break–Motivation alone doesn’t work.
You can want to lose weight all you want, and you can be determined to lose weight. But that doesn’t mean you will lose weight.
Why? Doing new things is hard, and we tend to shy away from things that require extra brain power or feel uncomfortable. Here’s a great study that the book shared that I found fascinating (and encouraging!):
Baumeister and his colleagues have tested ego depletion in a variety of scenarios. One was called the radish experiment. Here, they brought three groups of people into a room and offered a selection of food (before working on a puzzle): pieces of chocolate, warm cookies, and radishes.
- One group could eat anything they wanted.
- Another group could only eat the radishes.
- The final group wasn’t given any food options.
After that, each group was moved into a separate room, where they had to work on a challenging puzzle.
The groups that didn’t previously exert willpower (i.e., they ate whatever they wanted or weren’t given a food option) worked on the puzzle for an average of twenty minutes. The group that had to exert willpower and resist the tasty treats worked on the puzzle for an average of eight minutes.
What does the experiment show?
It’s simple: most people can resist temptations, but this effort leaves us in a “weakened” condition where it becomes harder to tap into that pool of willpower. People don’t achieve peak results with a task because of motivation. Instead, the number of decisions and completed tasks ultimately determine their level of success with a new task. This leads to two important lessons that will ultimately determine your success at forming habits:
- You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.
- You use the same stock of willpower for all manner of tasks.
Why is that encouraging? Because if you don’t get things done that you want to get done, it’s only natural!
But that doesn’t mean that you can’t change. Only that motivation alone can’t do it.
That’s where the power of habit comes in. When you make something more automatic so you don’t have to think about it, then it’s more likely to happen.
4. Understand WHY it’s hard to do the things we want to do (nothing’s making us do them!).
The reason you don’t do all those things you want to do is because there’s no reminder, and no real consequence to not having them done. That’s why habit stacking works–it gives you built-in reminders to do the things you want to do, and, if done correctly, it can also give you consequences for not doing them.
When you make something more automatic so you don’t have to think about it, then it’s more likely to happen.
5. When small things are anchored to something bigger, you tend to do them more.
Brushing your teeth is important. Tracking your expenditures and budgeting is important. But most of us (I sure hope!) don’t have a problem remembering to brush our teeth. Few of us track our expenditures. Why is that?
Because brushing you teeth tends to be anchored to big routines, like getting up in the morning or going to bed at night. When small things are anchored to something bigger, they get done.
6. That’s why you need to try habit stacking
Here’s what habit stacking essentially is:
1. Identify those small important actions (like writing a loving message to the important people in your life).
2. Group them together into a routine with equally important actions.
3. Schedule a specific time each day to complete this routine.
4. Use a trigger as a reminder to complete this stack.
5. Make it super easy to get started.
This year I’ve created a new habit stack that is taking care of a lot of my issues. I’ve been finding it hard to fit in when I want to do my devotions. I’ve been really bogged down by negativity and depression because every morning I wake up to a ton of heartbreaking comments on the blog and heartbreaking emails. I haven’t been exercising enough.
So I’ve created a new morning habit stack!
Instead of heading to the computer first thing to finish up the post for today and check comments, I schedule the post the day before. And I start my day with 40 minutes of stretching and exercise with Amazon Prime videos (they have great yoga and pilates videos for free!); I do a morning liturgical meditation through the Northumbria Community online; I have my shower and get dressed and make my bed; I read a few chapters of the gospels; I make my breakfast. And only THEN do I get on the computer.
Those are all things I was trying to fit in around work, and I realized I was never going to. So instead, I created a habit stack at the beginning of the day.
7. Identify your goals and break them up into small steps
Let’s say that you want to cook healthy meals at night. What’s stopping you from doing that? Is it that you don’t know what to cook at 5:30 at night? Is it that the groceries aren’t there? Is it that you’re always rushing from the thing right before, and you don’t have time to cook? So what can make these things easier? Some ideas might be:
- Create a meal plan
- Make a grocery list
- Plan slow cooker meals
- Read about healthy cooking
None of those things needs to take very long (all take less than 5 minutes a day, or even a week), but when they’re done, it will be so much easier to reach your goal!
Similarly, let’s say that you want to save money this year, and one of your major expenditures is eating lunches out at work. What is keeping you from packing a lunch? You don’t have time in the morning? You don’t have any food you’d like to take for lunch?
Then you could create habits like:
- Make a grocery list with lunch foods
- Pack the lunch the night before
8. Create your stack
Make a list of small habits that would help you reach some of your bigger goals, like spending more time with your kids, saving money, losing weight, etc. Now you can create the stack.
Here’s the thing about the stack: it doesn’t all have to be about the same goals. They’re just tasks that naturally go together. I exercise and do my devotions at the same time, even though those are different goals. You may choose an evening stack like: do the dishes; make my lunch for tomorrow; review my to-do list for the next day; answer 5 emails; read one chapter of a nonfiction book. That may be your evening stack that you do every night–things that are easy to do together and that can naturally flow.
9. Anchor it to an existing routine
My daughter Katie has a simple habit that she’s anchored to something: Before she’s allowed to go up her stairs, she has to complete one chin up in the doorway to her kitchen (which is right by her stairs). She started off in September not being able to do any chin-ups at all, and she’s now up to 4! That’s how you can anchor one small thing.
But this works for stacks of habits as well. I choose to do my new morning stack as soon as I wake up. Your stack may start “as soon as I get back from driving the kids to school” or “as soon as my lunch break begins at work” or “as soon as the kids go to bed.”
Keith and I have developed a new habit that I’ll tell you about in a few weeks of choosing something fun that doesn’t involve a screen to do every night. We anchor it this way: Before we watch netflix, we have to choose something to do from a list of 8 possibilities. It’s worked so well and we’re enjoying ourselves so much more!
The book then goes on to help you figure out your goals, figure out rewards and accountability, break big goals down into tiny steps, and more. He even has 127 ideas for small habits that you can build in 7 different areas of your life (career, family, spirituality, health, etc.) to start growing where you want to grow.
I love this concept, and I’ve been using it for a while, and I know it will help you, too. You don’t have to feel guilty for not having enough motivation! And you don’t have to aim for the moon right off the bat. You just have to try small habits.
10. Start with tiny habits and then grow them
Let’s say that you want to read several nonfiction books this year, but you’re totally out of the habit of reading. Then you say to yourself, “today, I will read one page.” That’s it. Just one page. Or if you want to start writing, then you can say, “today, I will write one paragraph.” The point is not how much you’re doing; it’s that you’re doing it. Breaking that barrier from doing nothing to doing something is huge. And once it’s broken, it’s easy to scale up your habits and start doing more!
That’s just one book in the Ultimate Productivity Bundle, but it’s one of my favourites. But there are so many more, including books that help you map your life and figure out what your career goals and personal goals should be; that help you review and reflect on the previous year; that help you overcome obstacles, including anxiety and comparison; that help you manage your time, including your housework schedule and schedules with kids, and so many more.
Here’s what I recommend: Get the bundle, and then spend some time reading through different books and taking different courses that appeal to you.
Your brain will start firing at a million miles a minute and you’ll get so excited about the possibilities! Then choose one – three resources that you’re not just going to read–you’re actually going to do, completely. I’d suggest choosing one set of planning workbooks and worksheets; one item on time management, organization, or new habits, and one item on setting goals, shifting your mindset, or reviewing and reflecting (but you can choose whatever you’d like!).
Decide which one you’ll start with, and do that one. Then, after it’s done, move to the next. Do that, and I guarantee that 2020 will look very different from 2019!
Take a look at all of the resources in the bundle, and see which ones fit you best.
Have you ever tried habit stacking? Or what’s the biggest obstacle for you in reaching your goals? Let’s talk about it in the comments!