“We are what we repeatedly do.” — Will Durant
Habits are a powerful way to create positive change in your life.
The challenge is adding new habits and breaking bad habits.
But you can stack the habit deck in your favor. More precisely, you can structure yourself for success by stacking habits, or habit stacking. Habit stacking is simply linking together a chain of small actions into a routine, where the sum of the whole is more than the parts.
In the book, Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take 5 Minutes or Less, S.J. Scott show us how we can use “habit stacking” to add small changes to make great changes in our life.
Develop the Habit of Following the Routine
The key to habit stacking is to build the habit of performing the routine. The routine should combine the habits into a simple flow that you can perform. Repetition will help you build the habits. In essence, it’s about frequency and flow.
“The key to habit stacking is to stick to the routine instead of the individual habits. You want to automatically flow from one action right into the next action without thinking about each individual component. That’s why it’s important to develop the habit of following the routine.
When you’re able to perform the habits without breaks or hesitation, that’s when you know you’ve built a powerful habit stacking ritual.”
Here are the 8 steps, according to Scott, for building a habit stacking routine…
1. Pick a Time and Location.
Build a routine around a specific location, time of day or combination of both. Scott Provides examples:
- in the morning at home
- the first part of the workday at the office
- the end of the workday at the office
- in the evening at home
- at the gym while you’re working out
- during travel or on the road
- on your lunch break
2. Build One Routine at a Time.
Focus on one routine at a time because it reduces the amount of depletion of your willpower. Scott recommends that you focus on one new routine for a month before making any changes or additions.
3. Start with “Small Wins”.
Look across areas in your life where small wins would pay you back. Scott provides 97 actions in Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take 5 Minutes or Less, organized by 7 categories. The 7 categories of habits are:
- health/physical fitness
4. Create a Logical Checklist.
Create a simple checklist of your habits and actions required to accomplish each habit. Scott recommends that the haibts should work together and flow seamlesslessly. He also recommends that your checklist of habits reflect moving from one room to another to keep the progress flowing.
5. Have a “Reason Why”.
Have a good reason why behind each individual action so that you don’t quit. Scott says that some people adopt habit stacking techniques to help them live longer, while others adopt them to spend more time with their families.
6. Be Accountable.
Scott warns that it’s always easier to do nothing than to take action. He recommends updating people on our progress to help you stick with it. As an example, Scott tried a scale that tweets his weight.
But another way to stay accountable is to structure it. Scott suggest having an alarm on your phone to trigger you to start to use your routine each day. Scott has also tried the Lift App and that works well for him.
7. Create Small, Enjoyable Rewards.
Reward yourself with small treats for tetting through your routine every day for a week or month. Scott recommends you keep the reward small and choose rewards that have a positive long-term impact, such as a movie, date night, or small healthy treat.
8. Focus on Repetition.
Repetition of routine helps build your muscle memory. Scott says that repeition is key for the first 30 days of habit stacking.
Example of a Productivity Habit Stacking Routine
Scott provides a simple example of one of his habit stacking routine for productivity:
- Review my quarterly goals. (Reason: Reviewing three-month goals on a daily basis helps me stay focused on my most important projects.)
- Research the top 100 free and paid books in the Kindle market. (Reason: From a business perspective, it’s important to keep track of what’s currently selling in my market.)
- Identify my three most important tasks. (Reason: While I have a lengthy project list of everything that needs to be done during the week, I like to focus on accomplishing a few major ‘wins’ for each day.)
- Map out the action steps and specific milestones for each project. (Reason: I need to be precise with the most important tasks. Instead of writing down a vague statement such as ‘work on next book,’ I write down the specific results I’d like to achieve.)
- Clear my desktop. (Reason: I like to start working with an organized desktop. Ultimately that helps me stay focused on specific tasks and not get distracted.)
- Start on the most unpleasant task. (Reason: As we’ve discussed, when you focus on the hardest task first, the rest of the day doesn’t seem that hard. For me, that initial task always involves some form of writing.)
- Set my Commodore for the first task. (Reason: I prefer to work in small blocks of time. Specifically, I write in 25- to 50-minute blocks, using a modified version of the Commodore Techniques. This is yet another way I can stay focused on the task at hand.)
As you can see, Scott reinforces taking small actions, flowing from one habit to the next, and having a reason why so that he knows both what he’s trying to accomplish and why he’s doing it.
Dealing with Habit Stacking Disruptions and Challenges
Setbacks, slipups, distractions and disruptions will happen. The question is, what will you do about it? But a better question is, how will quickly get back on track when you need to?
You need to know both how to deal with disruptions and how to get back on track.
Scott outlines a few key strategies to help you deal with disruptions and to get back on track:
- Strategy 1: Have an If-Then Plan. Disruptions happen. Scott says your job is to create a plan for when those triggers occur. Scott also recommends to accept that disruptions happen and don’t get discouraged. He also says to quickly forgive yourself and move on so you can get back on track.
- Strategy 2: Know Your Triggers. To create an If-Then Plan you need to know your triggers. Your triggers are the distractions and bad habits that take you off track or where you slip up. Scott recommends keeping track of your negative habits to help you develop your routine.
- Strategy 3: Reduce Overall Expectations. Too much pressure on yourself can cause a negative reaction. Instead, Scott recommends focus on the minimum, but focus on the habits that are most important.
- Strategy 4: Start Small (Again). Starting over can be discouraging, but that’s what it takes to succeed. Scott recommends looking for small wins and concentrate on sticking to your routine instead of focusing on the length of the routine. You can add more habits after you have a firm grasp on your routine.
Good luck (er, skill), and here’s to you building better habits, one habit stack at a time.