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Published on January 6, 2020

4 Steps to Build a Positive Habit Stacking Routine

4 Steps to Build a Positive Habit Stacking Routine

There is an old Buddhist quote that says that the path to Many always leads through One. And when it comes to habits and habit stacking routine, the impact (the Many) that you want to build for yourself has to go through the right input (the One).

So here is the 4-step process to build a positive habit stacking routine. But before we jump into the process, we need to cover a fundamental matter that would serve as the base of our habit stacking routine:

What do you want to accomplish?

There was a guy driving a car once and he got lost in the city. So he stopped by the first house he saw to ask for direction.

“Hey, I’m lost. Can you help me out?”

“Sure thing.”

“Can you point me to Bleecher’s street?”

“Where do you want to go?”

“To the town hall, I have a meeting there.”

“Well, don’t go to Bleecher’s street. Just take this road until the end, turn left, and head straight. You will reach the town hall easier like that.”

“Ok, thanks”, and the guy drove away.

The town hall wasn’t on Bleecher’s street, but the guy who was driving the car and wanted to go to the town hall meeting thought he had to drive through that exact street to reach the town hall.

But he got an easier route and an easier way to reach is because his goal wasn’t Bleecher’s street, it was the town hall.

The same thing applies to your habit stacking routine. It’s not about what you need to do, it’s about what you want to accomplish. The starting point is always the endpoint.

What do you want out of that habit stacking routine at the end? Only once you’re clear on that can you develop an actual path of getting there which is your habit stacking routine.

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And the way you build your habit stacking routine is through the next 4 steps.

1. Outcome-Based Action

This is the step where most habit stacking routines fail actually. Because it’s not about people being lazy and not working stuff, it’s about the decision-making process in distinguishing what is actually important to do. And I want to include a term I picked up from MJ DeMarco here known as “action-faking.”

What is “action-faking” you might ask:

Action-faking (as opposed to “action taking”) is when you take a solitary and/or uncommitted action that is NOT a part of the bigger process.

So what you’re doing is not actually acting to imbue real change, but to momentarily feel good and fool yourself about progress. Action-faking can be many things in many different contexts.

It’s like reading books — if you’re reading them to learn how to build a habit and to understand nuances behind it –cool, then it’s action taking.

But if you’re reading books just to read books or to “double down” on your knowledge because you’re still “not ready,” then you’re simply action-faking. Reading books is important for your progress…. until it’s not.

You mistake that you indeed act, maybe once, twice or for a week, but your actions aren’t directly correlated to what moves the needle. And as I already mentioned in many of my previous articles, the things that move the needle are the only things that matter when it comes to habit building.

But this trick works perfectly for our brains — we’re secreting a momentary dopamine high, fooling ourselves with the progress illusions, when in truth, we’re just wasting time.

So find out what’s your 80/20 (80% of outcomes come from 20% of actions — also known as the Pareto Principle) and just do the 20.

If you want to build a great body and you know that you will need to do it in a gym, then what’s your “20” there? It’s actually going to the gym.

Watching YouTube videos about it is action-faking. Reading books about it is action-faking. Buying equipment like gloves, shoes, clothes, and a gym bag is action-faking.

The only thing that matters is for you to show up at the gym regularly.

That’s the thing that will move the needle and that’s the thing you need to do.

2. Environmental Design

Great, you’ve figured out what you want to accomplish and what the best forward through the process is. I congratulate you on that.

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The next step in our habit stacking process is to design your environment in a way that helps you make a habit out of the “action-taking” process.

So by taking the example above of building a great body and the action-taking process of going to the gym, we come to the point where we need to build a support system for that.

And when it comes to the environmental design, we have two different sides to it and we should use both of them:

Negative Environmental Design

Negative environmental design is about eliminating the things, stuff, people, and situations from your surroundings that make your action-taking (habit stacking routine) harder.

So negative environmental design is about eliminating stuff that prevents you, in the example above, from going to the gym.

With that in mind, we could remove the remote controller and the TV from our living room to stop us from binge-watching TV instead of going to the gym, we could stop hanging out with our colleagues after work that just sucks out all of our energy and depletes us from any resources that we could use to go to the gym. We could also stop going shopping every afternoon because it would free up our time to go to the gym.

These are just a couple of examples of how you can eliminate things our of your environment that prevent you from, in this case, going to the gym.

And then, there is the other side of the same coin.

Positive Environmental Design

Positive environmental design is about adding things, stuff, people, and situations from your surroundings that make your action-taking (habit stacking routine) easier.

So positive environmental design is about adding stuff that helps you, in the example above, to the gym.

With that in mind, we could put our gym bag right next to the doors or carry it with us on our work to jump to the gym as soon as we finish working. Or we could get a gym membership from a local gym which is just 10 minutes away. Also, we could start going to the gym with a partner — it would increase our accountability toward our goals.

These are just a couple of examples and you’re free to create your own. But the point isn’t to just have one or the other, but about having both of them. Some of you will react better to a negative environmental design, while some will need positive environmental design more.

I, personally, am more of a negative environmental design person because I found out that it helps me so much more to stick with my habits than a positive environmental design. And I discovered great ways on how to create the negative environmental design through gamification process[1] I learned from Glisser.com’s blog section. It helped me design my own nega tive environmental process.

Since everyone is different and needs a different dose of both, try out different things and see how they work for you.

3. If/Then Clauses

When most people think about habit stacking routines, they think about if/then clauses.

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“If I put my shoes on, I will go to the gym. If I go to the gym, then I will exercise. If I exercise, then I will get results.”

If/then clauses work perfectly in a habit stacking routine… until you put too much of them. Because you can create the next habit stacking routine:

“If I put my clothes on, then I will go to the gym.
If I go to the gym, then I will exercise.
If I exercise, then I will buy healthy food to eat.”
If I buy healthy food to eat, then I will jog for an hour after.
If I jog for an hour, then I will do a series of push-ups.
If I do a series of push-ups, then I will put clothes next to my bed.
If I put clothes next to my bed, then I will go to sleep.
If I go to sleep, then when I wake up I will put my clothes on.
If I put my clothes on, then I will go to the gym…”

The problem with if/then clauses is that they work for a limited set of factors and lines.

What I mean by that is that you can, and you should, create an if/then clause but only for a limited number of actions.

I always give the advice to limit the number of actions to two. And by that I mean the following:

“If I brush my teeth, I will floss afterward.”

Or

“If I go to the gym, I will exercise.”

Or

“If I buy a healthy meal, I will eat it.”

That’s it. I always recommend just this because it’s easy and it doesn’t program you to do a million different things that change your day drastically. That will have a failure rate of 99,7%.

This is a simple if/then clause that helps you add up just a tiny bit of action for a massive result (remember the 80/20 rule).

And you should limit these clauses to only two new ones per day.

So with our example above of adding up a gym habit, then you can add up just one separate, tiny action on top of something else to stack the habits.

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We already have:

“If I do X, then I will go to the gym.”

If you want to build a great body, then I suggest adding up a tiny if/then clause to something else that is complementary with the gym habit. And here is an example:

  • “If I gossip at the water cooler, then I will eat a banana/apple/something healthy after that.” (positive env. design)
  • “If I have breakfast, then I will add up eggs to it.” (positive env. design)
  • “If I drink coffee today, then I won’t sugar it. (negative env. design)
  • “If I go out for drinks with friends, then I won’t go to a fast-food joint later.” (negative env. design)

You can create your own one, these were just a couple of examples but remember, you have to stick with only one (besides the gym habit).

If you try with more, you won’t be able to pull it off and you will regress back to the starting positions.

4. Make a Straight Line

And this last one is more of a psychological than a technical one. I see this quite often with successful people with a lot of energy and vigor– they want to do things fast because they have the capacity and energy to do it.

But that approach fails the most out of any.

Making a straight line toward your accomplishment isn’t about rushing to the goal and pushing yourself day in, day out. It’s about investing in creating that habit stacking routine that will be a part of your life–forever.

This isn’t a “accomplish and drop” type of work. It’s about a lifestyle. And the only you get to incorporate that into your lifestyle is by going slow, going steady, going straight and going small.

It’s about the daily actions that you do that accumulate into massive results at the end and create the habit in the first place. You don’t build a bridge from a single piece of stone or metal. You do it by stacking small pieces on top of each other to create something strong that lasts.

And with that in mind, I will leave you with a quote you read at the beginning of this article because it perfectly encircles the message.

The path to Many (habits) always leads through One (habit).

More Tips on Habits Building

Featured photo credit: Ben White via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Bruno Boksic

An expert in habit building

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Last Updated on January 24, 2020

10 Good Habits To Have in Life To Be More Successful

10 Good Habits To Have in Life To Be More Successful

Habits are behaviors and patterns that you showcase by default. They enable you to carry out crucial activities like taking a shower, brushing your teeth, getting prepared for work.

Interestingly, you follow this routine every day without considering them. Your unconscious habits create room for your brain to perform more advanced activities like problem-solving and choosing what book to read.

Everyone has habits, and several of those habits are activated every day. I would classify them into three groups:

  • The first category includes the habits that you hardly notice as they have become a major part of your life- such as brushing teeth or wearing clothes.
  • The second category comprises good habits to have to be more successful-like eating healthily, exercising your body and reading books.
  • The last group consists of those habits that are harmful-like procrastinating, smoking or overeating.

Habits are fundamental to becoming successful in life — or probably ending up a failure. Yet, as significant as habits are, some lack the knowledge of their capabilities.

Habits are default activities that you engage in without giving an afterthought. They are automatic behavioral or mental activities. They help you carry out some actions without exerting too much energy. They simplify your life.

Several people aspire to break bad habits. For instance, some people diet to stop overeating. They exercise to reduce obesity. Habits can hinder or impact your performance and productivity.

That’s why I would share 10 good habits to have to be more successful in life.

1. Begin Your Day with Meditation

I recommend mindful meditation early in the morning. This practice helps you to be in the present moment. Consequently, it enables you to be mindful of challenging situations during the day.

Different stressors may trigger as you go through the day; meditation helps you to remain calm before taking on the challenges.

Personally, it helps me to devise strategies and think about ideas. Meditation is a good habit to have if you want to be connected to what’s significant in your life.

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2. Be Grateful for What You Have

Sometimes, you waste time thinking of what’s not enough. You become immersed in those daunting challenges. However, challenges justify the presence of hope. When you have life, you have expectations. You will be free from challenges when you are six feet under. The only strategy you have to stop focusing on your problems is to focus on what you have.

Gratitude is a time-tested pathway to success, health, and happiness. It redirects your focus to what you have from what you lack. Here’s what James Clear does every day,[1]

“I say one thing I’m grateful for each day when I sit down to eat dinner.”

3. Smile

Can you pause and smile before you continue reading this?

Now here is what just happened based on research conducted by the Association for Psychological Science; you set a pace for living a happier life when you smile. A genuine smile or what’s called a Duchenne smile is a good habit to have if you want to find spiritual, emotional and mental peace of mind.[2]

Smiling induces the release of molecules that function towards fighting stress. The physiological state of your body determines the state of your mind. When you slouch or frown, your mind takes cues relating to unhappiness and depression. But, once you adjust yourself by putting up a smile, you begin to feel a new level of excitement and vibrancy.

Can you smile again?

4. Start Your Day with a Healthy Breakfast

Starting your day with a healthy breakfast is a good habit to have and forms a crucial part of your life. Nevertheless, about 31 million Americans skip their breakfast each day.[3]

If you are fed up hearing that breakfast is a crucial component of your day, you are only fighting the truth. If you want to become more successful, you need to ‘break your fast’ with healthy foods every morning.

This habit is not difficult to form if you usually rush out the door every single morning. You can wake up earlier to fix yourself a meal so you don’t break down during the day.

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Get inspired by these 20 Healthy Breakfast Choices That Will Save You Time.

5. Exercise Daily

One of the good habits to have is to exercise your body and muscles every day. You don’t have to run a marathon or lift a weight. You only need to engage in less strenuous activities that oxygenate your blood and inject endorphins in your body.

Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, classified exercise as a good habit to maximize his already jam-packed schedule.[4] He said,

‘I wake up by 5, meditate for 30 minutes, seven-minute workout times three, make coffee, and check-in.’

He said on Product Hunt that he follows this routine every day as it gives him a steady-state that empowers him to be more productive.

6. Manage Your Time as You Manage Your Finance

Another good habit is the act of managing your time effectively. This goes a long way to impact your achievement.

Time management is what separates the successful from the rest of the world as we all possess the same amount of time. How you leverage time determines your potential to succeed in life.

So how do you manage your time effectively?

Here’s Jack Dorsey’s recommendation in one of the Techonomy events;

“I accomplish effective time management by theming my days and practicing self-discipline. These themes help me handle distractions and interactions. If a request or task does not align with the theme for that day, I don’t do it. This sets a cadence for everyone in the company to deliver and evaluate their progress”.

And this is Dorsey’s weekly theme:[5]

  • Monday – Management
  • Tuesdays – Product
  • Wednesday – Marketing and growth
  • Thursdays – Developers and partnerships
  • Fridays – Culture and recruiting
  • Saturdays – Taking off
  • Sundays – Reflection, feedback, strategy, and preparing for Monday

No wonder he was able to run two companies when others were struggling with one job.

7. Set Daily Goals with Intentions

Everyone has goals. It may relate to business or personal life. The truth is, we’re all tending towards a particular direction or another. Nevertheless, while long-term goals can offer you direction, it’s your daily goals that you establish that help you develop short-term goals that are essential for your success.

Long-term goals may not give you the motivation you need to keep on. But when you implement your short-term milestones daily, you become fired up, and you can overcome the challenges that come with taking on bigger tasks.

Here’s the main truth:Successful people don’t set goals without establishing their intentions. According to Jennifer Cohen of Forbes,[6]

“What helps you to achieve your desired expectation is ensuring intentions accompany your daily goals.”

Be intentional about your daily goals!

8. Seek Inspiration

It is usually difficult to be inspired for a considerable length of time. Sometimes, you become discouraged and feel like giving up on your goals when things are not working out as intended.

A practical approach to stay on top of the situation is to inspire yourself each day. When you wake up in the morning after meditation, watch some motivational videos, and let the story of great leaders inspire you.

Establish what Anthony Robbins called the ‘hour of power.’ Determine how many minutes you spend but make it count. Inspiration is the fuel for achievement because when you can conceive it in your mind, you can accomplish it.

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Michal Solowow, an investor and the founder of Mitex, a construction company puts it this way,[7]

“The problems I encounter in everyday life motivates me to find solutions. This is a self-propelling mechanism. becoming a billionaire was never a motivating factor.”

9. Save Steadily, Invest with All Prudence

I can exhaust the good habits to have without talking about saving and investing. Most times, you overlook the significance of saving for the future when you are living in your present moment. According to CNBC, a $1000 emergency will propel several Americans into debt.[8]

However, it is not enough to save, and you must invest your fund and be wise with it. If you pay attention to this now, you will set yourself for a life of success in the future. Ensure you save at least six months in your emergency account so you can be prepared for any future emergency.

10. Budget and Track Your Spendings

Benjamin Franklin warned of taking the precaution of little expenses. He said,

“A small leak sinks a great ship.”

It is easy to discard little expenses, but the truth is they always add up. This happens when you fail to budget.

Budgeting is a good habit to have, which can impact your financial life significantly. The money you spend on extravagant lifestyles can be saved and invested in your future.

The Bottom Line

Endeavor to cultivate these good habits to have to become more successful as you journey through life. The quicker you cultivate them, the faster you achieve your goals.

More About Habits

Featured photo credit: Andrijana Bozic via unsplash.com

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Reference

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