January is basically over, which means it’s time to take a pause and evaluate where you’re at with your new year’s resolutions. How did you do? Are you still on track to accomplish your goals? Making and keeping resolutions can be really hard. It’s easy to be motivated for a short period of time, but it can often wear off in less than a month. Why is that?
A common flaw in setting new year’s resolutions (or any type of goal in general) is that we often go to the extreme. We want to eat better, so we swear off sugar. We want to get fit, so we try to wake up at 5am every morning and hit the gym. However, if you’re used to eating junk food and sleeping in, then doing a complete 180 on these habits is not sustainable. For goals to be successful, you have to ease into them – aka, learn the process of habit stacking.
So, what is habit stacking? It is the process of using already formed habits to then stack a new behavior on top. Whether you are consciously aware of it or not, you perform hundreds of simple habits every single day. It can be something as simple as making a pot of coffee in the morning, scrolling through social media as you eat your breakfast, or changing out of your pajamas before going downstairs. These all sound like very simple tasks (which they are) but they are also simple habits that you have pre-established. Therefore, to be successful at forming new habits, you can use these pre-existing habits and stack your new habits on top. Rather than pairing your new habit with a time and/or location, you pair it with a current habit.
Here is the formula: After/Before [Current Habit], I will [New Habit]. Let’s take a look at some examples:
- After I pour my cup of coffee in the morning, I will journal for 5 minutes.
- After I sit down to dinner, I will say one thing I am thankful for today.
- After I go to the bathroom when I wake up, I will drink one glass of water.
This approach may seem over-simplified, but it’s successful because your current habits are already built into your brain so you don’t have to think about them. These patterns and behaviors have been strengthened over the years. Therefore, by linking your new habits to these already existing habits, there is a much higher chance for success. Once you master this simple pathway to creating and maintaining new habits, then you can start creating larger stacks by linking several small habits together.
The formation of a habit follows this pattern: Cue → Craving → Response → Reward
This cycle simply repeats itself over and over as new habits are formed. The cue is what triggers your habit stack, and the more specific the cue, the better. A cue could be as simple as getting out of bed, taking the kids to school, or eating lunch. When forming a habit stack around the cue, make sure you designate when the new habit will be implemented. Will you run 1 mile before or after you drop off the kids at school? Will you take your vitamins before or after you eat lunch? Etc. It is important to be specific and clear when creating a new habit stack. The more tightly bound your new habit is to a specific cue, the better the chance you will notice when the time comes to act.
Want to learn more about habit stacking? Check out the book Atomic Habits by James Clear