habit stacking

Habit Stacking for Change

As I have talked with many people about nutrition, I learned that they usually know what they should eat. Their problem is actually doing it.  They are not sure how to make the change to a healthy eating habit.  I have been making a study of habit change in order to help others. 

My word for the year is “write”.  I want to write every day to produce more articles for this blog as well as other outlets.  However, I have not successfully implemented this habit thus far in the year.  So I have also started to think about habit change for myself.  

Just this week I read a post in a Facebook group I am a member of (Hope*Writers) that sparked me. The idea is called “Habit Stacking” and it was popularized by James Clear in his book  Atomic Habits.  

Habit Stacking to Add a New Habit

Habit stacking involves creating a group of routines that you perform in sequence so that they become automatic.  Almost everyone has some sort of morning routine, even if they have not heard the term habit stacking.  Think about what you do when you wake up in the morning on regular weekdays.  Are there activities that you always perform and in the same order?  This is a habit stack.  

My current morning routine includes waking to the alarm. Next I get up and start the coffeepot; get back in bed until the coffee is done (!); get up again; take my thyroid medication; fix coffee; read my Bible and other books while drinking two cups of coffee; finally, I get dressed and ready for the day.  On most week days I have to leave the house by 8:45, so I do not have an unlimited amount of time for this routine.  

My plan is to put the thing I want to add (writing for 30 minutes) in the middle of this morning routine. It normally takes me about 30 minutes to get ready and then leave the house, so I need to start that process by 8:15 am.  Therefore, my plan is to write after my Bible study starting at 7:45 until 8:15. By putting writing in the middle of my stack, it makes it more likely to get done. I probably won’t get a full article completed during that time, but I will have gotten some writing done.  I just started this practice this week and will let you know how it works over the longer term.  

Identify the Healthy Practice to Add

What healthy practice do you want to add to your routine?  Perhaps you want to take supplements on a regular basis or drink more water.  If you are unsure of what you might like to add, check out my article Ginger’s Food Rulesfor a list of healthy eating practices.  

Once you have identified the practice, figure out where you want to add it.  Try putting this activity in the middle of a habit stack that is already in place.  Most people’s morning routine involves brushing their teeth at some point. For the supplement example, put your supplements next to your sink.  Then take them before you brush your teeth.  This makes it much more likely that this will become a routine.  

How to Change an Unhealthy Habit

Sometimes there is a bad habit that you want to eliminate, such as snacking on junk food.  At one point before all of my health problems and subsequent healthy eating changes I was going to the vending machine at work around 3 pm every afternoon to get a snack.  Now there is nothing healthy in a vending machine!  A good way to eliminate a bad habit is by substitution.  To learn more about this method you can read about it in another article I wrote on my blog.  

As Mary Oliver said, “the patterns of our lives reveal us. Out habits measure us.” Identify your habit stacks.  If something in them is not productive, then figure that out. Then you have the knowledge to begin to make the changes you want.

Comment below with any ideas that you have about habit change.  What have you found that works for you when you want to change something? 

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