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Systems and efficiency expert and the creator of The Daily Page Planner.
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From the time we are born, our brains are busy building neural pathways for the habits and routines we do frequently. As we reach adulthood, our brains undergo “synaptic pruning” which removes extra synapses it has deemed irrelevant and leaves the ones we regularly rely on. This can make developing new habits as an adult a bit of a challenge.
Thankfully, you can “hack” this with a method known as Habit Stacking. Habit Stacking suggests that you connect the new habit you want to develop, to a habit that has stuck around and is well-formed. By connecting the new habit to the old one, you place it along the same neural pathway, making it easier for your brain to remember and initiate.
After I make the bed in the morning, then I will do 5 minutes of stretches on the bedroom floor.
After I get the coffee brewing, I will journal for 5 minutes by the kitchen table.
When I walk my dog past the library, I will go up and down the steps 5 times.
After my alarm goes off in the morning, I will drink the 12 oz glass of water I keep next to the bed.
In these examples, the italicized text is the new habit you want to create. Now, when you perform the well-established habit (making the bed, brewing coffee, walking your dog, turning off your alarm) it will act as a cue to remind your brain of the new habit you are trying to form.
There are a few additional tips that can make this process even more effective:
Make sure to include the details. Being specific about when, where, and how long/much you’ll do the new habit will help it become more routine.
Start small with your new habits. Habits need to be developed before they can be improved, so start small and then increase it. For example, it’s best to start with a 3-minute meditation practice until the new habit becomes part of your routine, then increase it to 10 or 20-minute sessions.
Once you’ve successfully established a few of these habit stacks, you can try a more advanced method called a “habit staircase”. This is when you combine multiple habit stacks together. For example:
After I make the bed in the morning I will stretch for 5 minutes on the bedroom floor and then do 5 minutes of meditation.
The original stack was making the bed and then doing 5 minutes of stretching. The staircase is making the bed, doing 5 minutes of stretching, and then 5 minutes of meditation. You can start to see how habit stacking can help you create new daily routines simply by taking advantage of the existing pathways in your brain.
Thinking of giving habit stacking a try? Here are some additional resources that can help:
Try a planner with Habit Tracking features. The Daily Page Planner is designed to help align healthy habits alongside your productivity and has a “reminder” section meant to help with Habit Stacking. You can click here to learn more about how to use the Habit Boxes on The Daily Page Planner. You can take 10% off any planer purchase with the code HONEY at checkout.
Learn more about Habit Stacking: I have used Habit Stacking for years and credit it with the daily routines that keep me happy, healthy, and hydrated. You can learn more in the book Atomic Habits by James Clear.
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