Turning new habits into established habits can be hard. REALLY hard.
There are always some habits that come more easily than others, and there are hundreds of books, articles and videos giving advice and suggesting methods to help get them to stick. But it’s amazing how complicated some of them can make it seem too!
I’m far from an expert on habits but it’s something I’ve been reading in to recently. A few things have really resonated with me and I thought they were worth sharing, mainly because they’re pretty practical. I’m all for understanding the theory behind different methods, but for me what’s key is that they’re versatile and I can adapt them specifically to me. Even better if I can do it without needing to spend a fortune on loads of new equipment with just good intentions to go on.
I first came across habit stacking when I read ‘Better than Before’ by Gretchin Rubin, but I’ve seen it mentioned in so many other places since. (One of those ‘once it’s clicked you notice it everywhere’). The general idea is that if you stack the new habits you want to ones you’ve already got then you’ll develop a new routine which takes less brain space and is therefore more likely to stay.
So, for instance, if you want to start taking vitamins in the morning, keep them next to the kettle/teabags to prompt you to take them as it’s boiling. This way you’re being prompted when doing something you already do everyday so no need to go out of your way to try to establish a brand new trigger.
It’s similar to the idea of batching together similar tasks or, if you’ve errands to run, collecting together what you need and planning an efficient route so you’re not going out, doing the errand, and coming home again to start from scratch on the next.
- If you've got regular tasks you want to get in to the habit of batching together, making a small checklist with them in categories can help you identify what could be done at the same time and keep you help you remember.
Personally I’ve found habit stacking really useful for smaller things and it’s been really effective at needing to think about them less. And for bigger habits I’ve found breaking them down into smaller chunks has made it easier to stack them. For instance, if I’m hoping to exercise the next morning I get my sports kit and water bottle all ready the night before as part of my night time routine. It doesn’t make the getting up, or the actual exercising, any easier but it’s put less in the way and made it much less stressful.
Tracking those habits - watch your good work add up
Sometimes having the habit itself just isn’t enough of a reward on its own. It’s not that we don’t don’t appreciate having our new habit but the day to day the satisfaction can wain. That’s where habit tracking** can come in - helping you see your progression, and maybe even identify patterns, and give you a boost.
For some it could be just a tick in the box, for others you might want to keep a tally of distance walked or use a colour code instead. But seeing how your habits can accumulate, especially in some sort of visual way, can really help it hit home how much value your new habit is bringing you. And help you celebrate your achievement!
- Record daily/weekly exercise targets with a stamp like this - recording distance (or steps) and time, either across the day or added up across the week. Stamps like this are perfect for lining up along the bottom or side of a planner spread or in the corner of a paper diary.
- Month grids are a really versatile tracker, enabling you to change up what you might want to track each month. Or have more than one on the go. From colour coding for tracking moods, colouring in for what day you've kept your new habit or just crossing through the box to see the whole month add up.
A progression from tracking, gamification of a new habit and turning it into something with a very tangible reward at the end can be a great way to help get a habit in place. Even if just for the early days. In a way it’s a step on from a reward chart you might have had when you were younger, but let’s face it there’s a reason they can work as in the right circumstances the same principles apply regardless of age!
Complete a certain habit daily? Get a point. Do it 10 days in a row and you could get a 5 point bonus. Hit 30 points and unlock a special treat that you can use to remind yourself of your success.
- Honeycomb lattice comes as a blank stamp so you can mark different points on it, giving you something to aim for and watch as you tick them off and get nearer your goal.
- Habit tracker stamps like this are a great way to track multiple habits, especially ones that you might not necessarily do everyday but are still important. Crossing the boxes as the month continues, you can then add up how many you've done each month, seeing your progress and maybe identifying patterns.
Whilst turning it into a game with an incentive might not work for every habit, it can be a great way of harnessing some of that ‘new habit enthusiasm’ and reinforce the behaviour while you’re still getting used to it. But pick your treat wisely - too easy to attain and you won’t enjoy it the same, something you’d probably get anyway won’t feel as special.
One thing a lot of the literature I’ve read agrees on is that when it comes to new habits, picking smaller ones and steadily implementing them has a much higher chance of success. And whilst not everyone wants to record minute detail, having something, no matter how simple, to help you look back and see what you’ve achieved can be a really great way of reaffirming your commitment to the habit.
And celebrate how fantastic you’re doing!