Imagine being able to rewire your brain and behaviors to help you effectively lose weight and feel better. Imagine yourself being on auto-pilot without the need to think about it - you successfully perform the actions that will lead you to diet and health change.
Imagine being able to effortlessly fit exercise or healthy eating into your day without adding stress and planning. Instead - these efforts become automatic and don’t require any mental energy to accomplish.
The technique I want to talk about today is habit stacking.
What is habit stacking?
Our discovery of habit stacking first came through James Clear in his book “Atomic Habits”. (This is an excellent read if you are looking for more in depth details about building great habits!)
Habit stacking is a technique that introduces a new habit into a familiar routine to help automate the process of remembering and actively doing the habit. Often it’s recommended that you input a new habit in between 2 existing habits to help rewire your brain and neural connections into putting these actions together.
The magic with habit stacking is in the ability to easily track and input new habits that you want or need in your life. Do you need to start remembering to drink water in the morning? Do you want to include more vegetables into your lunch meals? Do you want to meditate more?
These are questions and problems that habit stacking can solve with the right amount of work and awareness by you!
The role of your brain in habits
Our brains have amazing capabilities, one of which is the ability to get really good at doing things we do on a daily basis. Let's dive into a little neuroscience real quick!
Just like when you are first learning how to ride a bike - your brain fires neurons to your motor control centers to grow and adapt to the new stimulus of balancing, and coordinating your body in space on 2 wheels.
I think we can all go back and remember when we first learned how to ride a bike and remember how in the beginning it was very difficult to drive in a straight line as well as just balance and stay upright! I remember spending plenty of time on the concrete with some ripped up knees and elbows...ah the joys of childhood!
During this time your brain was becoming refined and learning how to make the necessary connections to allow for mastery in the skill.
With time and practice - the ability to stay upright and drive in a straight line becomes easier and easier. Learning to ride a bike exercised those neural connections helping them grow to become stronger, faster, and more efficient.
After a few weeks of practice you become a pro at riding the bike and can do so without having to focus so much on balancing on those 2 wheels. This is the power of the brain in creating true skill development.
Okay so what does this have to do with losing weight?
Well think about it for a second...your brain has become an expert on so many habits that you do everyday without needing to spend mental energy on them.
Do you need to remind yourself to take a shower in the morning?
Do you need to remind yourself to brush your teeth?
You probably don’t need to remind yourself to do these things (hopefully anyway), as these are routines that are most likely part of your morning.
This is the sweet spot for long term change - setting up habits that feel automatic and effortless! By instilling this into your life you will no doubt set up habits for ultimate success in health and fitness.
How to use habit stacking
It’s a whole lot easier to add a habit into a current routine rather than starting a new habit all together.
When we think about the brain real quick again - connections that are already made for your current habits (wake up, drink coffee, take shower, brush teeth etc.) are easier to input a new habit. This is the essence of habit stacking; inputting a new habit into an already existing neural framework so that it becomes easier to perform daily.
If we wanted to just start a new habit by itself, not surrounded by any familiar habits it will be that much harder to formulate a whole new neural connection system to make that activity feel as seamless as brushing your teeth daily.
In order to use habit stacking - here are some ways in which you can input a new habit into existing routines.
Complete this sentence for whatever habit you want…
After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT]
I want you to literally write this on a piece of paper, keep it near you and repeat it everyday until you start successfully performing this new habit.
For example, if you wanted to drink more water during the day your sentence may look like this..
“Before I brush my teeth in the morning, I will drink 12 oz. of water”
If you wanted to add a vegetable to breakfast each day it could look like this..
“After I finish my morning coffee, I will cut up 1 vegetable for breakfast”
If you wanted to gain control over your after dinner desserts it can look like this..
“After I finish eating dinner, I will take out 1 serving of cookies and put them on a plate”
Sounds simple right?
How you can make the next step
Make a list of all the habits you do each day (Include every single habit, small, big, and boring!)
Make a second list of all the habits you want to start doing more of.
Select one habit and place it before, or after one of the habits you are already doing each day.
Now you are ready to start grooming your brain and neural connections to make this habit repeatable, effortless, and automatic.
Once a habit is automatic you don’t need to give it mental energy to remember to do it. Just like brushing your teeth...your healthier habits can become your new routine.
Use this “life hack” to make those changes that seem too difficult to do. You will be surprised at how fluid this feels and how simple it really is. The hardest part is just getting started.
So what habits are you going to stack together?
Get to it today!