In preparation for the new year ahead, I thought it would be fitting to talk about habit formation rather than “New Year’s Resolutions” (we are all sick of that word anyways, right?). While we all like to set goals and resolutions for the new year (dang it, I said it), I think it’s more appropriate to talk about habit formation instead – which is essentially how we enact those goals in the first place.
We are all creatures of habit. We wake up at the same time each day and follow relatively similar patterns. Have you ever heard of the term habit stacking? Research suggests that this is the ideal way to form new healthy habits. The phrase ‘habit stacking’ was coined by Wall Street Journal bestselling author S.J. Scott. His book, Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less proposes you, “build routines around habits that don’t require effort”. And I mean, he isn’t wrong!?
We habit stack by tying a new habit to an existing habit, experts say. Look at your day to day and think about how you can stack a new, healthy habit to one of your existing habits. Many of us also fall into “end of the day” habits. What’s the first thing you do when you get home from work? Flop on the couch and turn on the TV? Maybe flopping on the couch is a good habit to stack a 5-minute meditation or drinking a full glass of water on the couch. Habit stacking works by eliminating procrastination and instead, making a practical routine out of the things we put off. Have a hard time remembering to floss? Work it into your existing habits by flossing right before brushing your teeth. Assuming you’re remembering to do that one that is…
Habit researchers also say that it’s more likely we are to form new habits when we clear the obstacles that stand in our way. For example, putting your exercise clothes beside your toothbrush in the morning. So, after you brush your teeth (existing habit), you put on your workout clothes (new habit). This eliminates the obstacle of finding clothes in your closet or deciding what to wear.
Habits take a long time to create. In fact, researchers showed that the average time to create a habit ranged from 18 to 254 days! However, habits form faster when we do them more often. So, start with something reasonable that is easy to do and you’ll be well on your way!
Scott, S.J. Habit Stacking: 97 Small Changes That Take 5 Minutes or Less. Oldtown Publishing LLC; 2nd edition. April 14, 2017.