With the New Year fast approaching, many will be thinking about the resolutions they would like to make for 2023. After all, what better time for a fresh start than a whole, brand-new year?
However, the likelihood of you sticking to your resolutions isn’t always realistic, with stats showing that by February, as many as 80% of people have already abandoned theirs.
The New Year is the perfect time to create new habits which aim to improve our wellbeing, and a new trend ‘Habit Stacking’ could be the key to sticking to your resolutions:
What is Habit Stacking?
If you are accustomed to various daily habits – good or bad – it is extremely difficult to introduce new ones, let alone make them stick. It’s simply human nature to stick to our habits thanks to neural connections in our brains being strongest for the habits we already know and do and being weak for the habits we do not know.
Despite us being wired to keep doing what we’re used to, that doesn’t make it impossible to introduce new habits at all. With the help of a simple, yet effective, new technique called ‘Habit Stacking’, you can find yourself much more likely to stick to your New Year resolutions.
‘Habit Stacking’ involves taking one of your old habits and adopting a new behaviour with it, meaning you will be doing both at the same time. This way, you will be creating a new habit, with the familiarization of an old habit, meaning you will be much more likely to keep on doing it.
For example, if your New Year resolution is to look after your body more, try to find a way to do this during an existing habit. For example, when you brush your teeth in the morning and evening, also include some light stretching. By doing this, you are connecting two exercises, but still completing two habits at once and in less time – making the habit more likely to stick.
By doing this, rather than creating an entirely new neural network, you are building and strengthening a structure that already exists in your brain. This means the habit is more likely to stick, and therefore, your New Year’s resolution is more likely to last.
For maximum success when it comes to ‘Habit Stacking’ there are a few pointers to consider:
- Make a plan and be specific
If you’re serious about using ‘habit stacking’ to create new habits and behaviours, then you need to think about which habits you can realistically stack together. For example, if it’s your goal to be more mindful in the year ahead, you could try keeping a journal and writing down your thoughts and feelings at the end of each day while you’re relaxing. This could be in front of the TV or whilst listening to a podcast and can easily be done by keeping your journal visible in a spot you’ll normally relax in.
- Be realistic
Introducing habits or resolutions which aren’t realistic can often be the reason new behaviors don’t form successfully, even if you’re trying to ‘Habit Stack’. Start with a version of the new action that is very brief (no more than two to five minutes) to better guarantee it’ll stick, and then build from there.
For example, if your habit stacking plan is to exercise for 30 minutes each morning after you finish your morning tea, you may be tempted to skip the exercise if you’re running late, stressed, or didn’t sleep well the night before. With habit stacking, you can start small with a short 15-minute bodyweight workout which will feel much more doable. As working out becomes habitual, you can then stack another habit on top of that, like another short workout or cool down until you reach 30 minutes each day. Fitness apps like Freeletics can be greatly helpful with this, offering a wide range of workouts, warmups, and cool-downs at varying lengths so that you can build the workout that’s right for you on a specific day.
- Make a contingency plan
One of the keys to success when it comes to making a new habit which sticks is to abandon the all-or-nothing attitude and just do what you can. Even with the best intentions, life sometimes gets in the way, so having a contingency plan for when you have less time can be helpful to ensure you see a new habit through. For example, if it’s your goal to meditate for five minutes when you go to bed, but on some nights, you feel so tired that you can’t seem to focus, your contingency plan could be to take ten deep, mindful breaths before you go to sleep. Whilst it’s not the exact habit, it’s close enough and will still offer some benefit so that your brain can still draw the connections between going to bed and meditation, keeping the habit going.
words by David Wiener, Training and Nutrition Specialist at AI-based fitness and lifestyle coaching app Freeletics