I’d heard of habit stacking for awhile. Do this one thing and then it leads you into another thing.
But I just didn’t get it.
As someone who is in the “productivity writing niche” you’d think I’d get a brochure in the mail. Nope, I didn’t.
So it wasn’t until I read Atomic Habits by James Clear to full get a grip on how to habit stack. Essentially it’s all about taking how to take the things you normally do and then add the things you normally don’t with ease.
With the right approach, you use little willpower at all.
But before we get into it, let’s make sure we all know the lingo, shall we?
When I talk about willpower, I am talking about the energy expended to do what you don’t want to do.
Does it take willpower to eat a cupcake? Maybe not normally. But it does to resist that Pinterest famous Cookie Monster cupcake, especially when it’s Janice’s birthday and she made them. You can smell the willpower burning like the smokestack plume from a coal plant.
That’s willpower. It’s the expenditure of energy to do what you don’t want to do.
We only have a limited amount of willpower per day. If you’ve burned it out by the time you get home, the refrigerator looks like a buffet table and you’re yelling, “Honey, do we have any more ice cream in the house?”
So securing our willpower, guarding it, is essential for us with an ADHD/distracted mind. Why? Because we have leaks in our willpower bucket. We just do.
So we want to guard our willpower, our precious commodity — so we can spend it elsewhere instead of bouncing this willpower check we write.
Habit stacking does just that.
And before we get into habit stacking — we need to talk about what an actual habit is.
When I ask people, “What’s a habit?” They will generally respond with a “it’s like a goal that you have. It’s like “going to the gym regularly” or “always keeping a clean house.”
Nope. Full stop.
The best definition I’ve seen is from James Clear: A habit is a [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] and will be in [A LOCATION]. So for me, I go to a Crossfit gym on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 9:00 AM in the Crossfit gym. That’s my habit. You know exactly what, when and where.
It’s not vague. It’s not obtuse. It’s very specific.
And we have these habits good and bad all over the place.
When I get home from work (time) I will have some ice cream (behavior) in the kitchen above the sink (location).
Now that we’ve got the habit part down — on the to the habit stacking!
Habit stacking is taking a habit that is already established and connecting, chaining or stacking it to another.
When I turn on the pan to cook my eggs, I clean off the counter.
When I turn on the shower, I wipe down the toilet. (I started doing this when I read that in Atomic Habits. You’re going in the shower anyway . . .)
When I grab the back door doorknob, I make sure I have everything that I need for the day.
Here’s something I implemented recently that changed the game:
I usually keep a lot of stuff in my car. It’s not exactly an episode of Hoarders but you know, they might take a second look.
I usually have empty cups and books in there. That’s my life I drink coffee. I read books.
But I couldn’t figure out how to get that stuff out of the car. Sure I could just load it all up in three trips, but I live in a third story apartment, no elevator and I just thought, “I’ll do it later. Much later.” And the books and cups piled up.
So I instituted this habit, “When I arrive home and get out of the car, I’ll grab one thing to take up with me or throw out.”
Now, getting out of the car isn’t a habit per se, everyone gets out of the car, but it triggered the habit of grabbing one thing.
Even if I have groceries, I have to grab one thing — one empty cup, one book on productivity and bring it upstairs.
Lo and behold, my car became more and more empty! Huzzah! Now I falter when I bring stuff into the car, so I have to work on that part, but all and all the improvement works.
James Clear uses a bunch of other examples:
- Every year on my birthday, I donate to charity.
- After I turn on the shower, I will do five burpees.
- After I lay down in bed for the night, I think of one positive thing that happened today.
- After I get in my car, I will take three deep breaths.
- After I get home from my violin lesson, I will take my violin out of the case and put it on a stand where I can see it.
- When I see my water bottle is half empty, I will fill it back up.
- When I close the trunk, I will look to see if I am holding the keys.
- When I feel stressed or anxious, I will close my eyes and take five deep breaths.
- Before I travel on a plane, I pack a healthy snack to take with me.
The key to habit building is first making it incredibly easy. (In other blog posts, I’ll go over the laws of habit building he artfully describes.)
Try it today. Find just ONE thing to add to a habit you already do. Maybe it’s flossing. Maybe it’s taking the garbage out. Maybe it’s donating to charity. Whatever it is — start it today.
I’d love to know what you start doing, just reply and let me know.