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How to create lifelong habits with habit stacking

Aug 26, 2020

Megan joined Flourish as our social media manager when Remington was a year old—I remember walking with my mom and I was so overwhelmed and desperate for help. Megan has been a total gem and one of the biggest unexpected blessings in my life! She is a mama to two adorable boys, wife to Noah and as a family they soak up lots of outdoor adventures in Montana!

We were chatting about rituals and productivity as a team and Megan introduced the idea of habit stacking to me. I instantly loved the concept and know that you all will find it so helpful to cultivating positive rituals in your life. Enjoy this special post from Megan!

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How to Create Lifelong Habits with Habit Stacking

Like Caroline, I am an enneagram one. This means I tend to love goals and bettering myself and others. Today, I’m going to share a technique known as ‘habit stacking’ which can help you achieve your goals, even if you aren’t naturally inclined to goal setting in general. Here we go!

As we age our brains undergo synaptic pruning, meaning that the number of neural connections we have actually decreases to support and strengthen the routines we’ve developed over our lives. (SIDE NOTE: I used to be an IB Biology teacher, so excuse me while I nerd out for a second!)

This doesn’t mean we can’t learn new things or form new routines, but does mean that oft-used pathways become more established with time. These strong ‘highways’ in your brain make the habits you have happen without much thinking, but can sometimes make building new connections or pathways difficult because old routines are so established. This is where habit stacking comes in. 

Rather than creating a new habit that will pop in at some point during the day, habit stacking uses existing habits as the cue for the new ritual.

This allows the new habit to come alongside the established highway in your brain and build around existing connections, increasing the likelihood of the new practice becoming a permanent part of your life.

To begin, think of a habit that is hard-set in your life, one that you do without even thinking about it. For many of us, personal hygiene habits come to mind, like brushing your teeth, washing your hands etc. So, if you want to add daily affirmations to your life try stacking it with one of these well established activities. 

It will take a little reminding at first, but everytime you wash your hands try repeating an affirmation to yourself in the mirror. Or everytime you brush your teeth, do 30 squats if you’re looking to add a little more movement to your life. With time, the habits you’ve stacked will come alongside old habits with little to no thinking involved. That is the power of habit stacking!

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Personally, I’ve used habit stacking for things like drinking more water and taking my daily supplements both of which I’ve stacked with bruising my teeth. I’ve also stacked my quick daily journal practice (I write 3-4 lines a day on a notecard for memory preservation, which I highly value) with eating breakfast as my journal cards are placed near the fridge. I read what I did over the past years as well as add activities from the day before while eating breakfast. This habit stack has resulted in a collection of notecards that contain daily memories of my life for the last 8 years!

Other habit stacking ideas:

  • Make your bed + morning makeup or shower ritual
  • Clean up dinner + set out vitamins for next morning
  • Brush your teeth + text your mom
  • Open up your email in the morning + spend 5 minutes saying affirmations
  • Go the grocery store + set aside $5 in a savings jar
  • Put the kiddos to bed + quiet time with your husband/partner
  • Check your email one last time before day’s end + clear off your desk

As an enneagram one, I can easily get carried away with goals and habits and put too much pressure on the achievement part of my life. I want to join my voice with Caroline and encourage you to work on intention over perfection

Grace within your habit life is KEY! If you quit at a goal or habit because you miss one day, you are missing the point as well as the benefit of that positive change over the long haul. If you miss a day, a month, a year of a great habit…don’t wait to restart until the time is ‘right’, give yourself grace, and start again! 

You’ve got this and your future self will thank you for the effort you’ve made today.

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Photos by kylie martin

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