Habits usually start out reasonably well. You’re excited about this new routine and eager to start making changes. You create your routine and see immediate, positive benefits. However, in life something always comes up and gets in the way. The key is to have a plan in place for when you have to stop your habit stacking routine for one reason or another. Possible reasons include vacations, illnesses and emergencies.
People often quit their routines not because of laziness, but because an outside event derails their efforts for a few days. The few days that go by without completing the routine quickly turn into a few weeks and then they don’t know how to get started again.
Fortunately, there are a few ways you can prevent this if it happens to you.
Strategy 1: Have an If-Then Plan
Disruptions to your routine will happen—that’s just a fact. It is okay to accept these disruptions without getting discouraged because they are to be expected. Always be prepared to forgive yourself for the disruption and move on. You might have to stop your routine for a bit, but instead of getting down on yourself for not following through, turn those feelings into motivation to complete you routine the next day.
A great example of a disruption is going on vacation. This can hinder your habit stacking routine because you are no longer in the location or time frame of your normal routine. Having an “if-then plan,” allows you to rebound from this disruption and continue your habit stacking success.
An if-then plan, also known as implementation intention, is based on finding triggers that cause you to not finish your routine. Your job is to create a plan for when those triggers occur.
For example, let’s say one of your habits is to check your bank account each day online, but today the Internet isn’t working. Do you have an if-then plan? If you cannot check your bank accounts online, then you will call the bank and ask for the account balance.
Strategy 2: Know Your Triggers
Of course, to create an if-then plan, you need to know your triggers. Understand your bad triggers, which are the distractions and bad habits that make you slip up and negatively impact your habit stacking routine. Keeping track of your negative habits will help you develop your routine. Perhaps you want to live a healthier lifestyle but you habitually eat fast food. Track when this happens and what is triggering it.
For instance, do you skip meals during the day and then binge on fast food? Maybe you only eat fast food when you are in a bad mood. These are the triggers that are important to recognize so you can create an if-then plan to kick them to the curb and continue making positive changes. If I pack my lunch and healthy snacks, then I won’t be hungry on my way home and tempted to go to a fast food restaurant.
If-then plans can battle bad habits and reinforce good habits, but what if you can’t prevent yourself from quitting your habit stacking routine all together?
Let’s take a look at the bigger picture here: not just missing one or two habits, but skipping the routine as a whole. You need to know how to get back in the swing of things if this ever happens to you. Here’s how.
Strategy 3: Reduce Overall Expectations
There’s a fine line between the pressure you need to complete your routine and putting too much pressure on yourself. Too much pressure can actually cause a negative reaction, which is exactly what you don’t want.
Instead of taking on too much and trying to complete more than is realistic, focus on the minimum, but make sure you focus on the habits that are most important. When building your habit stacking routine, always keep this in mind. It’s easy to try and overcompensate when an emergency comes up; I’ve had this happen to me. However, when you fill your plate and it’s too full, it is much more likely to tip over.
Strategy 4: Start Small (Again)
Starting over can be discouraging, but it is imperative when it comes to a habit stacking routine. If you need to start over, start small. Focus on a few small habits first to get back into your routine. The more you perform these small habits, the better you will get at starting and completing them.
Look for small wins and concentrate on sticking to your routine instead of focusing on the length of the routine. Then, when you have a firm grasp on your routine, you can add more habits to it. Don’t forget to never miss more than one day of your routine, though.
Keep at It!
Let’s face it—we all have those moments when we start a habit only to quit a few days later. This is a natural part of a society that is overstressed and overloaded with information. You might find yourself starting and stopping a habit stacking routine a few times. The real secret to making it stick isn’t the individual habits—it’s focusing on turning the routine into an instinctive habit.
If you find that you’re struggling with developing this routine, then I recommend following Stephen Guises’s mini-habit example. Think of the easiest, “stupidly small” habits that take almost no effort. Then focus on doing a few of these every single day. Include tasks like brushing your teeth, taking vitamins, texting a loving message to your significant other or reading an inspirational article.
This whole routine takes less than five minutes to complete, so you shouldn’t have a problem following it every single day. Then, when it becomes a daily ritual, you can add more complex or challenging changes to your life.
No matter what happens, keep at it. The most important takeaway from this book is to focus on the routine, not the individual habits. This is true even when you get busy and overwhelmed by life. It doesn’t matter if you complete a habit stacking routine comprised of three actions that each last one minute. The important thing is to do it on a consistent, daily basis.