Stack Habits to make them Stick
Use what you already do to start a new good habit
I am about to share with you a shockingly simple way to make a good habit stick.
Have you ever wanted to start a good habit, but not just start one, stick to it?
I am turning 50 soon with a four year old son. I want to make sure that I stay looking young and feeling healthy for as long as I can because he has a lot of growing up left to do. I want to be able to keep up with him, remember his milestones and be there to celebrate his achievements.
I needed to get into a regular routine of exercise to keep my mind and body in good shape. We all need to start somewhere and for me it is a walk for 30 minutes a day. That may build up to something more over time, but for now this is manageable.
We start out well and then it drops off
So I got started. I did three days, then I missed one, then I did another day and then missed two. I did another two days and then missed three. I was becoming inconsistent. This had to change.
It is at this time I have to acknowledge James Clear. He has written an enormously successful book (over One million copies sold) called “Atomic Habits.”* It is from his book that I share with you this incredibly simple strategy for starting a good habit and then sticking to it. He calls it Habit Stacking.
When we stick with something, we get good at it. When we get good at it, we are rewarded handsomely for it.
Good habits are used to make progress in life
Before I explain this concept, I just want to back up a bit and explain why a habit is important. When we stick with something, we get good at it. When we get good at it, we are rewarded handsomely for it.
The reward is personal and include appreciation, belonging, recognition or money. For me the reward is being mentally and physically present for my son and to be able to celebrate his achievements and milestones.
A habit, good or bad, is triggered by a ‘cue’.
- Wake up (cue), go to the bathroom or look at phone (habit)
- Walk into a dark room, turn the light on
- Finish breakfast, brush teeth
- Walk to work, buy a coffee
- Drop off children at school, say “Have a good day” before they get out of the car.
For me to successfully stick at my habit of a daily walk I needed to identify a cue. A daily habit that I already did, that would trigger me into remembering to do my 30 minute walk and make it stick.
Habit stacking saves us from false starts
At the moment my husband and I get a coffee each morning from a local coffee cart. Besides liking their coffee over making our own, we like to support them. The two guys, brothers in law, have their own families to support.
This made me think, I can attach my daily walk to our already daily habit of getting our morning coffee. The other important thing to note here is the frequency. The regularity of the new habit must match the regularity of the current habit.
For example, there is no benefit in attaching a daily walk to an existing habit I only do once a week like putting the bins out. The ‘cue’ is not regular enough to trigger me to keep doing my walk each day. This is especially important in the beginning when doing something new feels hard.
As I mentioned earlier James Clear calls this Habit Stacking:
After I “existing habit”
I will “new habit”
After I buy a coffee
I will walk for 30min back home
Four characteristics of a sticky habit
The cue helps make the habit obvious, just like having a bowl of fruit on the kitchen bench rather than in the fridge.
The walk is also attractive to me because of the reason I mentioned at the outset. The anticipation of the walk keeping my mind and body healthy for my son as he grows up.
It is also easy because Peter drops me at the shop, buys the coffee and I walk home while he takes Harry at Kindy.
Finally the daily habit of my 30 minute walk is satisfying because I feel good at the end of it. What I anticipated to happen, does.
Adding more to your stack of sticky habits
Since I started this I have begun to “stack” more habits onto it. So after I get home I do 10 sit-ups and stretch for 2 minutes before I have my shower.
Instead of getting home and going into the shower, I am reminded, oh before I have a shower I have to do my sit-ups and stretches. This new habit is cued before I do an old habit.
You can habit stack anything:
- When I wake up, I will drink a glass of water beside my bed
- After having breakfast, I will brush my teeth
- After I get home from my guitar lesson, I will take it out of the case and put it on its stand in my bedroom
- After dinner, I will do homework for 1 hour in my bedroom
- Before I go to bed, I lay my clothes for tomorrow out on my chair
- After I have lay my clothes out, I will put a glass of water beside my bed
- After I lay down in bed for the night, I think of one thing I was grateful for today.
When I put my bag down at the front door, I go to the fridge for a snack
I will do 1 hour of homework each day in my bedroom
When I have finished my after school snack in the kitchen, I will do 1 hour homework in my bedroom.
Understanding how we can make our habits sticky is incredibly useful for #creativity – the creative process. So much of creativity is sticking to the process so you can come up with new ideas over and over.
In summary to start a new good habit attach it to something you already do. Make sure that thing you already do is at the same interval as your new habit to make it much easier to stick with.
* Should you click this link and purchase it, we may earn a commission from it. All funds go back into creative initiatives for girls. It has no impact on the price of the book.
Join the Weekly Wrap Up
Four things for you each week that you will find useful for nurturing creativity.