Habit Stacking: A simple technique to form successful routines

I often find myself in situations where one of my actions leads to another which then leads to another and so on. I open my laptop to browse something important, get some news notifications, and then spend the next 30 minutes or more reading news and skimming through Page 3 articles. Or, my phone rings, I answer it, feel a sudden urge to check Facebook, and end up scrolling mindlessly and checking random profiles. Sounds familiar? Been there and done this? Well, this is one of the most interesting aspects of human behavior — most of our actions stem from a preceding action. To be more specific, what we do now becomes a trigger for what we do next.

Here’s good news — this behavior has a bright side too. You can leverage it to form successful routines using a method called habit stacking. It’s a simple yet extremely effective habit formation strategy recommended by experts like James Clear, Stephen Guise, and others.
Let’s find out more?

What Is Habit Stacking?
First things first — what exactly is habit stacking? As the name suggests,

it is a habit-building technique where you introduce a new habit by stacking or linking it to an already existing habit.

Imagine that you want to develop the habit of reading before going to bed. The best way to go about it is to find a habit/action you do regularly at night and pair the new habit (reading) with it.

Example: Every night after brushing my teeth (existing habit), I will read for 20 minutes on my bed (desired habit).

Once you have got a hang of this technique, you can use it to form large habit stacks with multiple mini habits or even expand the current stack by adding a new habit to it. No matter how many habits you are stacking, the basic structure remains the same — one habit should trigger the next one.

Example: Shut down the laptop & Call parents & Brush the teeth & Take a shower & Iron clothes for the next day & Take multivitamins & Read for 20 minutes & Sleep.

The Principle Behind Habit Stacking
Though habit stacking seems like a simple strategy, it works on a pretty complex behavior pattern. As we’ve already seen in the blog on implementation intention, all habits start with a cue that triggers a certain response from you. For instance, you feel stressed (cue) and you
instantly start biting your nails (habit). The principle behind habit stacking is that once you have found the right cue, it starts a chain reaction where each action becomes the cue for the next action.

Consider the following habit stack:
Wake up & Make the bed & Brush the teeth & Do yoga & Make coffee & Check mails.

Here, waking up is the cue for making the bed. Then, making the bed serves as the cue for brushing, which serves as the cue for doing yoga, which serves as the cue for making coffee, and so on.
In other words, habit stacking makes use of the momentum created by one action/habit to start another.

How to Form A Habit Stack?
The success of habit stacking depends a lot on how you are implementing it.
Given below are a few things to consider while forming a habit stack:

- Take a stock of your current habits: The first step is to make a list of your existing habits or things that normally happen in your day.

- Find the right trigger: It’s always better to go for triggers that you can instantly act upon. For example, exercise can be an actionable trigger for taking shower; not the other way round.

- Avoid ambiguities: Be as clear and specific about the trigger as you can. Don’t just say, “I will take deep breaths when I start my work”. Instead, phrase it like “After sitting down at my table for work, I will take 10 deep breaths”.

To sum it up….
Developing five or six different habits at a time might sound like a trying task. However, once you chain them together into a stack, each leading to the next, it helps you create a successful routine and stick to the habits. That’s the power of habit stacking!

References:
 Atomic Habits (2018) by James Clear
 Mini Habits: Small Habits, Bigger Results by Stephen Guise

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