Inside: Learn what habit stacking is and how to use it to change your life without a lot of effort!
A guest post by Jessalynn Jones of Doable Simplicity
I’ve been doing this thing called habit stacking for a while now. But I didn’t know I was doing it. We all do it. Habit stacking is where you have a bunch of little habits that you do one right after the other, like washing your face and then brushing your teeth.
But habit stacking can change your life. How? It can help you start doing things you have been wanting to do for a long time but didn’t think you had time for.
For example, it had been about 16 years since I had regularly practiced by violin but I added it to my morning routine this year and I always get at least 5 minutes of practice in each day. I’m finally seeing improvement and I’ve rediscovered something I love!
What have you been wanting to do? Write more? Exercise every day? Read a book? Declutter your home?
You can do it with habit stacking! You can make the things you have been wanting to do part of your life in a small way that makes a big impact. Let’s find out how habit stacking can change your life!
What is Habit Stacking?
The first time I heard of habit stacking was in James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits. But I had already been habit stacking without even knowing it.
The idea behind habit stacking is that you put a habit you are trying to develop right next to one you already do. You can develop whole routines of tiny little habits that you do one right after the other.
Attaching a new habit to an old habit can help you to keep on track with the new one until it is established. You simply have to remember that after you do your old habit, it’s time to do your new habit.
For example, after I have my morning coffee with my husband I always learn Spanish on Duolingo for at least 5 minutes and then I always try to practice my violin for the next 5 minutes.
It has become a habit to do all three things and when I don’t have enough time to learn Spanish or play my violin in the morning it feels so weird that I spend the rest of the day looking for ways to get those things done because I enjoy them.
Why Should You Start Habit Stacking?
You may be, like me, the type of person who loves having routines. If that’s the case you probably already see the value of creating good habits and sticking to them every day.
But what if you are the type of person who feels restricted by routines and to-do lists? Why would you want to try habit stacking? What are the benefits of creating habits like this?
Think about it this way, when you learned to drive, you had to focus really hard on every single step and rule. It made you nervous and it took all your brainpower.
But you aren’t like that anymore. Now you can hop in your car and drive somewhere without thinking very much about any of the many steps you are taking to drive that car. That’s because driving has become a habit for you.
When you establish new habits, it takes a little work and brainpower at first, but eventually, your brain doesn’t have to think about it anymore. You just do it.
The power of habit stacking is in the fact that you already have some habits. When you add a new, beneficial habit to your preexisting habits, you start doing something you have been wanting to do for a long time.
You start reaping the benefits of that new habit. And best of all, that new habit eventually becomes a natural part of your life that you don’t have to think about.
In the end, having daily habits ends up freeing up your mental power and energy for other things!
How Do You Start Habit Stacking?
The first thing you have to think about when you want to start using the power of habit in your life is what habit you want to start and why.
For example, if you want to start exercising every day you probably want to do that so that you will lose weight or become healthier, right?
If you want to get in the habit of making your bed every morning and doing the dishes every night the benefit is a cleaner home. If decluttering your home is the goal, the benefit is having a space that’s easier to maintain where you can relax.
It’s important for you to have a clear picture of your new habit and the benefit it will bring you in your mind before you start.
Next, you have to think about when you want to do your new habit and figure out how to stack it with something you already do. You need to be super-specific. For example:
- “After I brush my teeth I will make my bed.”
- “On my way home from work, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I will go to the gym.”
- “When we are done watching TV in the evening we will straighten up the living room.”
- “In that spare half hour I have before the family comes home I will read my book.”
Do you see how it works? You stack the new habit right on top of something you already do and you know exactly when you will do it!
Keep Habit Stacking Simple
That sounds great, right? So now you are thinking of all the new good habits that will make your life wonderful and you’re stacking them one on top of the other and you are going to be perfect at all of it! Right?
Not so fast! Take it down a notch. You need to keep your habit stacking simple. Don’t create a bunch of new habits all at once and don’t expect perfection right away.
In Atomic Habits, James Clear recommends only starting one or two new habits at a time. He also says that your new habit should be very very short. You should start with 2-5 minutes at first so you can master the art of showing up. Then you can add more time to it.
I’m thankful I took this advice. I’ve now been doing crunches for 5 minutes every morning and writing for 10 minutes every afternoon. I stacked my crunches on top of my violin playing habit which was already well established.
As for my writing habit, I stacked it up against my afternoon nap (or right after work depending on the day) and I’m following it with a big glass of water and an apple.
Just remember that you don’t have to be perfect or do a lot at first. Keep it simple and you will keep showing up.
Habit Stacking and Habit Tracking
The whole point of creating a new habit is to do something consistently enough that it eventually becomes a normal part of your life. But that consistency can be hard at first for just that reason. Your new habit is not yet normal for you.
That’s why habit tracking can be so beneficial. You can use habit tracking apps, a calendar, or a planner. The important thing is that you keep track of when you succeed at keeping up with your habit. Eventually, your new habit will be a part of your life you no longer have to track.
It can be very motivating to do habit tracking because you won’t want to break your streak! It makes you accountable to yourself. I personally have found that I will move mountains to get a star in my planner!
But what about that inevitable day that you miss doing your new habit altogether? That’s ok. It’s normal. Just try not to miss twice! That way a miss doesn’t turn into giving up entirely.
Want a free habit tracker worksheet? Sign up on the form below to get it and you’ll also get weekly tips on simplifying and living intentionally sent straight to your inbox!
How Can Habit Stacking Simplify Your Life?
I know that at first, it sounds kind of tedious to create habits and stack them against other habits and track them and keep up with them every day. It sounds like you are trying to be a robot. But that couldn’t be further from the truth!
The purpose of habit stacking is to help you achieve the goals you have been dreaming of for a long time. It is designed to help you automate small changes that will yield big results without thinking too hard. In that way, it is very freeing.
If your goal is to simplify your life then habit stacking can help you make consistent progress. Here are some habit stacking ideas that might help you simplify your life.
- Every weekend before I go anywhere I will select 10 items I want to declutter and take them to donate or trash.
- Before I buy anything new I will wait for at least 24 hours to decide if I truly need it.
- On Sunday mornings, with my coffee, I will plan my week, including meals, appointments, exercise and self-care.
- Every morning I will make my bed and wash my breakfast dishes right after I brush my teeth.
- In the evening, before bed, I will straighten up the living room.
- When I buy something new I will get rid of something old.
Do you see how these tiny changes could simplify your life? Can you see how you can stack your new habits on top of things you already do? Do you think small habits like these could simplify your life?
Start Habit Stacking to Change Your Life!
I am proud to say that I have not missed one day of learning Spanish after almost a whole year. In the last month, I have been doing crunches and writing every day.
These small changes, tiny habits, are making a huge difference in my life. But they wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have a clear plan to do them.
Habit stacking can help you do things you have to do but it can also help you do the things you want to do. The things you’ve been wanting to do are finally within your reach, in bite-size portions, that slowly build into huge results.
Stop waiting to start living the life that you are dreaming of and start habit stacking! Trust me, little habits can bring big changes when you are consistent!
Jessalynn Jones writes her blog, Doable Simplicity, with the goal of helping you find the version of minimalism that is just right for you. She wants minimalism and simple living to make your life more enjoyable as it helps you reach your big-picture goals!
Sign up on the form below to get weekly tips on living simply and intentionally sent straight to your inbox. You’ll also get the free Habit Tracker Worksheet to help you get started with habit stacking right away!