Over a year ago, my boyfriend and I decided to get into shape together. I was already hitting the gym five days a week, and while I was seeing notable strength gains, I was not looking as svelte as I would have preferred.
I knew my diet was getting in the way of leaning down, and I found out that changing the way I ate would become the biggest challenge for me.
My boyfriend, who had always been into both gaming and productivity hacks, gently suggested a fun and sustainable way to instil good habits.
He called it Habit Stacking.
Why do people fail at implementing new habits?
Most people fail at drastically changing their behaviours because things that are not already ingrained habits usually take plenty of effort to implement.
Unfortunately, understanding (and even wanting) the benefits of a new behaviour often isn’t motivation enough. Big changes can feel overwhelming to most people as they attempt to introduce them into their lives.
For me, I realised that I had put my physique goal on hold for so long precisely because the thought of changing so many aspects of my life left me hyperventilating with anxiety.
What is Habit Stacking?
Habit Stacking is a simple solution to introducing new, productive habits to your life. Basically, you can consciously learn how to “reprogram” yourself gradually!
The idea is to introduce tiny, manageable changes over time, in a way that isn’t disruptive or intimidating.
In fact, being able to look at my life as an ongoing game with plenty of fun “skill upgrades”, “immediate goals” and optional “side missions” made it all very doable and even enjoyable!
Why does it work?
Instead of diving straight into a gruelling fitness routine and/or doing a complete diet overhaul immediately, the aim was to fit in a new change to usual behaviours every few weeks, or even every few months.
For example, as part of an effort to live a healthier lifestyle, maybe every Monday could mean a salad for lunch on the day, and just that one meal, on that one day, for three to four weeks, before introducing yet another small change, such as walking an extra ten minutes every Thursday.
I was always averse to cardio exercises because they left me feeling winded and physically incapable, so instead of going on lengthy runs or even a gruelling HIIT workout, I just started with 5 minutes of any one cardio workout, daily.
From there on, as my stamina improved, I slowly got over the psychological barrier I had towards these exercises.
From just a once-a-week salad lunch, to a more mindful overall approach to eating, these new habits start out as easy-to-implement little changes that begin adding up after a while.
The best part of all this is that as time progresses and these healthy behaviours are internalised and normalised, it gets easier and easier to add on more new habits.
Is Habit Stacking just for physique goals?
No! Habit Stacking is applicable to just about any aspect of your life. It’s really a behaviour modification hack.
Taking this approach to fitness eventually got me thinking more about changing other aspects of my life in seemingly effortless ways, and all these changes in my usual modus operandi became a really fun and empowering thing to do.
I knew I was hooked when I realised how I was essentially installing many shiny, new, life-improving habits over time!
I used to thrive in a convoluted system of organised chaos, but now I suddenly realised that I had slowly reworked my entire productivity model for a more streamlined way of conducting my work and life.
I was expecting to lose a few kilos of fat and gain a little more muscle, but ended up being better with handling a life by the end of my physique goal. It was almost ironic where my vanity had led me.
How to successfully do Habit Stacking:
- Be honest with yourself.
- Pick goals that are achievable.
- Start with small things to keep the momentum going (ie. “gaining skills” and “small missions”)
- Don’t give up if you slip-up! That happens. As long as you acknowledge it and aspire to do better, you’re still on the right track.
- Start with a schedule for progressively adding on new changes in order to prevent from getting complacent on stacking new habits
- Be patient with yourself. If you find yourself getting overwhelmed, maybe you might be trying to do too much too soon.
- Do frequent progress check-ins and give yourself an honest self-appraisal.
- An accountability buddy can be very motivating, especially if the both of you are working to hit goals together.
- Do keep in mind what the “main mission” is!
By the completion date for the fitness challenge, I had exceeded all the goals I had set myself, and had progressed way beyond expectations.
Truth to be told, by that point my body recomposition goal had became secondary to what I had gained from the experience – it taught me a more balanced perspective on how to manage my day-to-day life.
I hope this gentler approach could be useful to anyone who has been struggling to make changes to their lives stick. Let me know in the comments how it goes!
For more articles on self-improvement read 5 Simple Ways to Power up Your Day in Less Than 30 Minutes, and 4 Tips When You Move Outside of Malaysia (From Someone Who’s Done It).