- Marie Belzile-Davidson, MS, RDN, LD
How to Hack Your Habits
Have you ever experienced the following?
You want to start a new habit. A habit you know is beneficial to your well-being, that will help you meet your health and personal goals, and that seems simple enough to implement. You are motivated, you are excited, and you can picture how this will positively impact your life immediately and in the future. You seem to have everything in place physically and emotionally but despite your best efforts, you cannot stick to that new habit for even a week. It quickly falls to the wayside and you feel defeated, unsuccessful, and possibly even a little incapable as you think to yourself: "This is so simple, why can't I do just this one thing? What's wrong with me?"
If that resonates with you, I hear you, I've been there several times.
Starting a new habit is one thing but making it last long-term is difficult. Stacking these new habits with existing ones can help. Side note: breaking old habits is a whole other blog post so we will save that for another time. Right now, we are just going to focus on starting new habits. I will walk you through the concept of habit stacking, then I will guide you through a simple exercise to help you identify what habits to stack and how. Before you know it, you will be on your way to starting and sustaining a new habit.
What is habit stacking?
Habit stacking is pairing a new habit you want to implement with an existing habit of yours. This takes the intention of starting a new habit even one step further by helping you identify where in your day and life this new habit will fit in. It is more concrete than just saying "Today, I will _______." On top of that, this helps you build a routine around your new habit more quickly because you are integrating it into an already existing system.
For example, say you want to start drinking 8 ounces of water before you leave for work in the morning. We all know how chaotic mornings can be so even with the best of intentions, it can be easy to forget to drink that water. Rather than just telling yourself to drink 8 ounces of water before leaving, pair it with something you already consistently do before heading out the door. For example, if you make coffee first thing when you wake up, you can pair drinking 8 ounces of water with filling the coffee machine up with water. So tell yourself "When I get the water for the coffee maker, I will drink my 8 ounces of water."
How to Make Habit Stacking Work for You
Grab a piece of paper and a pen or start a new note on your phone because this is going to be interactive!
Step 1: Write down the habits you would like to start implementing and/or have previously tried to implement but have not successfully done so in the past. List as many habits as you would like here - you can go back to reference and update this list at any time.
Step 2: Read over those habits you just jotted down. If any of them seem overwhelming and daunting, you may need to break them down further. For example, if you wrote down something along the lines of "practice yoga 4 days per week" and right now, you practice yoga zero days per week, that is a pretty big jump. Simplify it. Maybe you want to start with "practice yoga 1 day per week" instead.
Step 3: I mean it, really simplify those habits and make them realistic to give yourself the best chance at sustaining them long term. Read over those habits one more time and see if there is anything you need to adjust. You can always build on your habits in the future. Progress over perfection here.
Step 4: Write down existing routines and/or habits you already have. Think of things you consistently do here, not just every-now-and-then things. No routine or habit is too simple, jot it all down. I am talking about things as simple as getting out of bed, walking to the kitchen, making coffee, putting your lunch together, taking the dog for a walk, writing your to-do list, getting dressed for work, brushing your teeth, getting into bed, etc. It can help to walk through the previous day in your head to help you remember the things you seemingly do on autopilot all the time.
Step 5: Start small. Pick one or two habits from the list you made and pair them with existing habits or routines you wrote down. Try to pick a combination that makes sense so it flows in your day.
Step 6: Once you feel like these once new habits are well integrated into your life, then you can stack on another new habit you want to implement. Do not try to overdo the stacking. Sustainability comes from starting small and slowly building over time.
If you are feeling stuck, here are a few examples from my own life that may help you get started and see that these new habits and the ones they are stacked with can be simple.
The following are habits I wanted to implement at various points in time and I can tell you that as simple as they seem, I really struggled to stay consistent with them until they were stacked with existing habits.
Habits I wanted to implement:
Chopping veggies for snacking throughout the week
Doing breath work at least twice per week
Practicing gratitude daily
Habits I already had:
Preparing dinner on Monday night to get the family through Thursday night
Getting into bed
How I stacked these new habits I wanted to implement with existing ones:
While I am cooking dinner for the next several nights on Monday evenings, I chop the veggies I purchased over the weekend to have on hand for snacks.
I am already in the kitchen, I go in the fridge so I see the veggies I need to chop anyways, there is some waiting around as things cook on the stove or in the oven, so it made sense to pair these two together.
When I get in the shower, I start with one to two minutes of breath work.
I shower multiple times a week so that set me up for getting breath work in at least two times a week, if not more. Showering is also a way for me to shut out whatever else is happening in the world so stacking breath work with that made sense.
When I get into bed at night, I think of three things I am grateful for.
Getting into bed at night is something I do daily so that paired up with my goal of practicing gratitude every day. Additionally, bedtime is a time to wind down and stop that never-ending to-do list that is constantly flowing in my brain. Thinking of things I am grateful for at this time made sense and helped me unwind even more before bed.
If you are unsure where to start or feel like you need additional guidance on what habits to implement and how you can stack them, click here to schedule a complimentary call with one of our registered dietitians. We regularly guide individuals like you through implementing new habits and lifestyle changes to help you live the healthy and happy life you want and deserve.