Habits do not restrict freedom, they create it.
When starting a fitness journey, it can feel overwhelming when you look at all the things you are told to do in order to see results…
- Get your steps in
- Hit your calorie target
- Focus on your macros
- Exercise 2-4 times per week
- Get 8 hours of sleep
- Drink 2-3L of water
Being able to successfully do all of these things can feel out of reach, which can leave us feeling low in motivation.
Habit Stacking is a term coined by SJ Scott in his book ‘Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less’.
The idea is pretty simple:
Group together a series of small actions (habits) into your daily routine that takes less than 5 minutes to complete.
The idea is you add a new ‘habit’ to an existing action within your day so it acts as a trigger for you to complete this new action.
The idea behind mini-habits is, that by starting small, you will eventually see the bigger result with consistency.
Stephen Guise gives the example of ‘The One Push Up Challenge’ in his book ‘Mini Habits: Small Habits, Bigger Results’.
He fell into the trap that most of us find ourselves in.
He tried to suddenly increase his exercise load/intensity, going full steam ahead in his first workout, creating an ‘all or nothing approach’.
This also meant he was focused purely on the goal, not the process.
He decided to strip things back and do the complete opposite so he only did one push up.
But he did not stop at one. He built up, one by one, day by day.
One push up doesn’t feel too overwhelming. It is manageable. It is achievable.
The next day, adding one on also feels manageable and achievable as it is only one extra to the previous day.
The core idea behind this is a concept we can use in every aspect of our lives.
Most people will have the motivation and ability to do one push up, so suddenly getting started is an achievable, manageable task.
Once you’ve got going and taken time to slowly build up, carrying on and persisting with the habit is much easier.
Process Focused versus Outcome Focused
Remembering your why is important to help keep you on the right path and stay focused on the journey ahead.
However, there is more to success than just looking at the end result.
What gets us to that end goal? Consistency and dedication to the process.
When you start to focus your attention on the journey you are taking and the processes you are going through, research suggests that you learn faster, feel happier with the outcomes and are more successful.
It can be easy to not feel satisfied with a current situation if it feels a long way from where you want to be.
But this can result in feelings of disappointment, guilt, and anxiety and ultimately halt you from progressing forwards.
What about everything you have already achieved? All those things you have done that you weren’t or couldn’t do before.
For example, you’re looking to lose 5kg.
You’re 2.5kg down, with your weight starting to stabilise and that is leaving you feeling a little demotivated.
But in that time, you have:
- Improved your squat technique
- Learnt how to deadlift
- No longer have shoulder pain when overhead pressing
- Got faster on the Ski Erg
- Learnt how to get the appropriate macronutrients in your diet
Just because you have not yet reached the end goal of 5kg, does not mean you aren’t progressing.
Appreciating everything you have already done can spur you on to keep pushing forward. Things are changing and that end goal really is insight.
The purpose of habit stacking is to create simple, manageable and repeatable actions that contribute to your overall goal.
This is achieved using checklists. You follow the same set of actions, in the same order.
Checklists not only tell you what to do next, but they help with complexity and productivity.
Let’s look at this in relation to health and fitness goals…
1. Are you struggling to hit your protein target? Then take a protein shake immediately after your workout, every time.
- Complete workout
- Have a protein shake
2. Forget to take your supplements? Have them ready where you eat breakfast and take them as soon as you’ve finished your first meal of the day.
- Make breakfast
- Eat breakfast
- Take supplements
- Clear up
3. Finding it hard to reach your step count? Go for an evening walk directly after dinner every night.
- Eat Dinner
- 10-minute walk
- Clear up
- Relaxation time before bed
4. Have rehab/physio exercises you keep putting off doing? Do them as soon as you’ve cleaned your teeth morning and night.
- Wake up
- Clean teeth
- Physio exercises
- Get dressed
What you are doing is taking current ‘actions’ that you already do without much thought, and attaching a new habit that you want to implement.
“Linking habits together is a way of getting more done in less time, resulting in a positive change in your life. As you perform the stacked actions every day, they become part of your daily routine.” -S. J. Scott
Becoming 1% Better Everyday
Jame Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, talks about how if you focus on becoming 1% better every day, in one year, you will be 37 times better than at the start.
Most people want rapid success. They want this incredible transformation and only look at the bigger picture.
What we often fail to realise is that these small changes, these mini habits, are transforming us daily.
A lot of the time, people are looking for motivation. They are looking for something that will drive them to wake up every day and achieve their goals.
‘If I had the motivation to exercise, it would be so much easier and I would just do it.’
However, where is the plan? Where is the clarity on how you are going to do the task?
We can take the decision-making out of this process by planning when, where and how you are going to implement the habit.
Instead of ‘I am going to attend 3 Bootcamp sessions this week’ think ‘I am going to attend the 7 am Bootcamp on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday this week.’
And then take it one step further to create ‘if-then’ plans:
‘If I cannot make a 7 am session (due to whatever reason), then the 6:30 pm evening session will be the next best opportunity for me to do a session.’
The Failure Premortem – another concept from James Clear.
Think about your long-term goal. Now imagine we are 6 months from now and you have failed that goal.
Why? Why did you fail?
What barriers did you encounter? What challenges did you face? What stopped you from achieving your goal?
Once you have all this laid out in front of you, it is easier to make a better plan.
How can you stop those encounters from happening? How can you ensure you are closer to your goal in 6 months’ time?
Naturally, unexpected things will occur along the way which we cannot plan for.
However, this task is going to help you look inside yourself and identify what is holding you back.
Take it day by day, action by action, using the methods above to help you become that 1% better each day.
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