The Habit Hack You Need

by Kim Palmer, 11th September 2023

We've all been there – trying to build new habits or kick old ones to the curb, only to feel like we're losing the motivation game. It's tough, right? But guess what, understanding how our brains work can help us unlock the secret to forming new habits. It's all about keeping things familiar. Say hello to habit stacking – a simple and super effective technique that's like a magic trick for your brain. It helps you create habits by building on what you already do.

What is Habit Stacking?

Habit stacking is like connecting the dots in your brain. You take a new habit you want to pick up and connect it to something you already do regularly. Let's say you want to drink more water every day. Well, you can stack this new habit onto your existing routine of brushing your teeth in the morning. Over time, brushing your teeth becomes your signal to grab a glass of water.

This cool idea got famous thanks to S.J. Scott and his book, "Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less." Experts like BJ Fogg and James Clear also give it a big thumbs up.

The Science Behind Habit Stacking

Ok now we are going to break down a concept called ‘synaptic pruning’ for you so that you can really get to grips with how our wonderful brains work. Knowing this will help you to adopt habit stacking.

Imagine Your Brain as a Garden - Think of your brain like a beautiful garden. Inside this garden, you have special pathways, like secret trails, that connect different parts of the garden. These pathways are like connections between your brain cells, which we call neurons.

Use It or Lose It - Now, here's the cool part. Your brain is super smart, and it knows how to save energy. So, if you use one of these pathways a lot, like when you practice playing the piano or learning a new skill, your brain makes that pathway stronger. It's like making a trail in the garden wider and easier to walk on.

But, if you don't use a pathway often, your brain thinks, "Hey, we don't need this trail," and it trims it away, just like trimming overgrown branches in the garden. This is what we call synaptic pruning. Your brain cleans up unused pathways to save energy for the important ones.

Babies and Adults - Now, think about babies and grown-ups. When you're born, your brain is like an empty garden with lots of possibilities, but no well-trodden paths. As you grow up, your brain starts building strong pathways for things you do often, like talking, walking, and playing.

Grown-ups, on the other hand, have well-established paths in their brain. They've trimmed away the ones they don't need and made the important ones super strong. That's why adults are really good at the things they practice a lot.

Habit Building - Now, let's connect this to building new habits. When you want to learn a new habit, like reading more, being kinder to yourself or being grateful, it's like creating a new path in your garden. At first, it might be a tiny, overgrown trail, but if you use it often, it becomes a wide, easy-to-follow path.

So, by understanding how your brain cleans up unused pathways, you can see that if you want to build a new habit, all you need to do is use that pathway regularly. The more you use it, the stronger and easier it becomes to follow.

Getting started

No let's walk through how this works in practice if the goal is to slow down and set intentions for the day before the craziness and to-do list start whirring. We’ll use the daily routine of having your first cuppa.

Step 1: Choose Your Trigger

Identify a specific moment during your daily tea/coffee making routine that will serve as a trigger. For example, you can choose the moment when you turn on the kettle. This action will be your reminder to slow down and think about your day.

Step 2: Define Your Intention

Before you even start making your tea, take a few deep breaths. As the kettle heats up, use this time to think about how you want your day to go. What are your goals? What kind of mindset do you want to have? Keep it simple, like "I want to stay focused today" or "I want to be positive and calm." If you find this step a bit tricky and need more guidance you can listen to one of our morning sessions.

Step 3: Create a Simple Cue

To reinforce this habit, create a small cue or phrase that you associate with your intention. For example, when you hear the water boiling in the kettle, you can say to yourself, "Today is mine to own” or “My day, my way” This cue helps solidify your intention.

Step 4: Visualize Success

As you wait for your cuppa to steep or cool down a bit, visualize yourself having a successful day, following through with your intention. Picture yourself accomplishing tasks, handling challenges calmly, and staying on track.

Step 5: Sip Mindfully

Now that your tea is ready, take your first sip mindfully. Pay attention to the flavor and warmth. Use this moment to reinforce your intention. Remind yourself of your goal for the day and how you want to feel.

Step 6: Repeat Daily

Consistency is key in habit stacking. Practice this routine every day when you make your cuppa. Over time, the act of making your drink will become a natural cue for setting your daily intentions, helping you start your day with purpose and focus. And remember you can incorporate listening to one of our morning sessions or mini-mindset sessions into this if you need the help of our therapists to guide your intentions for the day.

By incorporating this habit stacking technique into your daily tea/coffee routine, you'll find it easier to slow down, reflect on your goals, and create a positive mindset for the day ahead. 

Here’s a bit of inspo for other daily habits that you could use to attach new habits to:

  • Shower's warming up
  • Bath is filling up
  • Making bed
  • Drawing curtains in the morning
  • Making breakfast/lunch or dinner
  • Going to the toilet
  • Before picking up kids from school (sat in car waiting, walking on route)
  • Before or after key work meetings
  • Brushing your teeth - AM and PM



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