Habit-Stacking: Creating Compounding Change

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

Habit stacking is a great tool for personal improvement. It simply means to consecutively incorporate small changes into a routine. Done over time, these small changes can have huge effects.

When striving to make positive personal change, people typically make one of two mistakes. They either take on too much at once. For example, saying they’re going to wake up early, exercise more, quit some vice, all while reading more or spending more time with their loved ones. While these goals are all admirable, taken all together, they’re too much to do at once – especially if one hasn’t developed a consistent habit of discipline. Instead, what usually happens is that they begin to suffer from ‘willpower fatigue’ and gradually give up on all of their goals. The second major mistake people often make is focusing too much on the result and not the process. People who promise themselves to get in shape without promising themselves to exercise regularly are bound to fail.

Habit stacking, on the other hand, aims to start small by making incremental changes to regular behaviors. Once a new behavior has been sufficiently solidified into a routine, more behaviors are incorporated. Under this model, someone might focus exclusively on exercising regularly and consistently for 30 days. After this is complete, they might wake up early for 30 days. Then they may work on eliminating some vice, etc. Not only does this help ensure success, but it builds momentum. The feeling of accomplishing a single small goal encourages one to keep going in building new habits. Over time, the willpower and disciple ‘muscles’ are developed and made stronger. Suddenly, consciously incorporating new habits becomes much easier.

It’s recommended that one focus on a new habit for a set amount of time, no less than 30 days or but up to a year. Such a set timeframe has two functions. First, it has to be long enough to actually develop a new habit. Typically, the brain rewrites itself after 45 days. However, many habits will begin to stick much earlier, so a shorter timeframe allows one to continue to solidify a recently developed habit while applying the enthusiasm gained by success onto something new. Such a limited timeframe also provides a bit of ease. Telling oneself that one will quit drinking coffee for a year (for example) sounds much less intimidating than telling oneself that one is quiting forever. This makes it much easier to follow through without giving up.

A final thing to consider with habit stacking is developing new habits in an order that is synergistic. For example, it is wouldn’t make sense to write a song every day if one hasn’t yet practiced an instrument everyday. Along a similar vein, it may be easier to give up a vice after one has developed a new habit which can replace it, so quiting smoking, drinking or tv watching may be easier after one has developed an exercise routine or another enlivening habit.

By consciously focusing on small areas of life for a set amount of time, then moving onto others, and carrying this out over a long period, it is possible to completely reinvent one’s life. Whether you are hoping to be more financial secure, healthy, our socially successful (or all three and more!) the effects of habit stacking can accumulate and give you the results you want.

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