Things we know all too well: “it takes 30 days to form a habit”, “habits will be broken if not disciplined enough to do it every single day”, etc. What if those things could be true, but they aren’t the right focusing point for every person out there trying to implement something new or positive into their life?
Beginning a new habit can be daunting; and placing focus on the end goal and the potential pitfalls may not be the best option for every single person, I know it isn’t for me. But what has consistently worked for me is habit stacking.
Habit stacking: a simple process of adding a small portion of a new habit onto an existing habit of yours.
This method or mindset stems from the idea that if you put emphasis or focus on something new during the same time that you already do something on a regular basis, you are more likely to remember it, find less fear in it, and become slowly consistent. The focus goes to small behaviors, so that although the successes may be smaller than the end goal, you are creating positive memories and experiences around this behavior. That can mean the world for someone’s ability or willingness to continue on with the process.
One example of habit stacking that I have used for myself in the past and often offer to patients is taking something they already have in their general schedule, like a shower, and take that as time to begin working on a breath work practice for overall health and stress.
The process began for me in this way: so I know that I would like to help manage my stress in a natural way and do something to positively benefit my long term health. I choose breath work as my new habit and way of getting there. But I quickly find that I don’t actually wake up and immediately go to my yoga mat and start this new practice, like I might have imagined. It is too new for me and it just isn’t realistic with other things going on in my life. That’s ok, let’s stack it onto an existing habit. Something I already find stress relieving and that I do every day is take a shower. It would be easy for me to do breath work while in the shower as all I can do is wash my body and not much else, so I won’t be distracted. But, a gentle reminder might help on those early mornings I have to jump in and out, so I will place a sticky note on my bathroom mirror that just says “breathe”. That is my little prompt and this simple beginning for my new habit has allowed breath work to become a regular practice for myself and now can take it into other parts of my day.