Whenever we tell ourselves that we’re going to exercise more or read more, we often fail not because we lack motivation or discipline - it’s because we forget to do it.
To combat that, we can link two habits together to make your desired behaviour obvious. This is called habit stacking. It’s like a rule for your brain. Similar to Jenga, your habits need to be stacked.
The formula for habit stacking is: After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].
- After I close my laptop for lunch, I will do 10 pushups
- After I drink my coffee, I will say one thing I’m grateful for
- After I lie down on my bed, I will read one page
Habit stacking creates obvious cues for your habits. Instead of forgetting to act, habit stacking reminds you to do it. It gives clarity on when and where to act. Most of the time, we don’t lack motivation. We lack clarity.
To create your own habit stacking, list all your current habits. Make a list of all the habits you do each day without fail, e.g., brushing your teeth (I hope you are doing this without fail), eating lunch. Then, make a list of everything that happens to you each day without fail, e.g., you get a notification, the sun sets.
Then, match your desired behaviour with your list.
To pick the right cue, consider:
- Frequency: How frequently do you want to do the habit? Match it with how frequent the cue happens.
- Location: Cues and habits that do not happen at the same place are too hard to complete.
- Theme: If taking the first sip of coffee is relaxing for you, consider something like taking a deep breath. If taking the first sip of coffee is productive for you, consider opening your to-do list instead.
It’s also important to not sabotage yourself. Don’t tell yourself to read in the morning if your mornings are chaotic. Nothing is more demotivating than giving yourself a cue you can’t commit to.
When it comes to the habit you want to cultivate, make it specific and immediately actionable. After lunch, “I will read” is fuzzy. After I close my laptop for lunch, “I will read 10 pages” is specific.
We often forget the goals we set. We tell ourselves we’re on a diet but end up eating chips. We tell ourselves to read more but end up going on social media. Habit stacking is a way to remind you to act on your good behaviours.