Start the New Year Habit Stacking…

Happy New Year and welcome to 2023, a fresh start, a time to begin again and a time to plan ahead.

The trouble is we’ve all been here before.  In the New Year I will resolve to…and then we list a number of often very reasonable attainable goals as well as a few more aspirational dreams. 

Week one goes pretty well. Week 2 you only remember at 11.30pm that you haven’t done the 50 daily push ups you had committed to in order to achieve that super summer bod in time for the holidays later in the year.  By the end of January its all over and you feel you’ve let everyone, especially yourself, down again.

This week I’ve been presenting early morning radio for a National Station called Premier. On Thursday I had 2 guests who both explained to me how it is possible to make and keep a new years resolution using a technique known as ‘Habit Stacking’.

Before I explain the practice let me try to explain the scientific theory behind ‘Habit Stacking’. 

Scientists have found that new born babies brains have 41% more neurons than your typical adult. As time passes humans go through a process called ‘Synaptic pruning’.  As you grow up you start to concentrate on certain activities, say playing an instrument or a sport.  That leads to strong connections between parts of the brain that need to work together for those activities. As a consequence your brain starts to ‘prune’ away other potential connections you don’t use. 

There are lots of habits you have that you probably take for granted.  The alarm clock goes off, you groan, and head to the bathroom for a shower.  You go downstairs put the kettle on and reach into the cupboard for the cereals. Its automatic.

The trouble with a new year’s resolution is that all of a sudden you are trying to add a new habit into a day which already has quite a bit of structure.  Maybe that new fitness regime doesn’t fit in with your other habits and you end up trying to remember to do it when you get a spare 5 minutes.

‘Habit Stacking’ is when you take one of your engrained habits and add something new you want to do to that existing habit.

Back to the 2 guests I had on my radio show this week who were practising Habit Stacking, one consciously and the other almost by accident.

First to the guest who had worked it out on her own. For over 50 years Rosemary Conley has been advising the nation on how to lose weight and keep fit.  I don’t think Rosemary had heard of the term Habit Stacking but that is exactly what she has been doing for the past 6 months.  As well as being passionate about fitness Rosemary also has a strong faith. One day she had a bit of an epiphany, what if she combined the 2?

Every morning Rosemary would take her dog for a 30 min walk through the nearby countryside.  One morning she started praying out loud for people she knew who were struggling.  Rosemary has the benefit of being in the countryside so maybe this isn’t something you could try in a city centre without getting some very strange looks. Over the weeks more and more people have asked Rosemary to pray for them and whilst in the past that might have been a bit hit or miss she now says yes and knows she has built a structure for doing just that. She has stacked a new habit on top of an older one.

It was only an hour later when I found out this process had a name.  My next guest was in to review the news. Cal-I Jonel is an actor, musician and writer.  Being multitalented brings its own problems, with so many strings to your bow what do you concentrate on today.  In a world when any project is possible how do you make sure you do something!!

For Cal-I it has been a few simple things that he has ‘Habit Stacked’ to help bring a bit of discipline to his life.  Cal-I realised that it was possible that some days he would spend hours sitting, writing at his desk. He needed to do more exercise but when would he fit it in, and would he remember to do it consistently?

One of Cal-I’s ‘habits’ was taking the children to school on the bus.  It wasn’t just a habit it was there in tablets of stone.  Cal-I decided that he would take the kids to school on the bus but then walk home.  Now, he didn’t have to remember to exercise it became a new habit.

As Cal-I was telling me this and giving the process a name I realised that I had already decided I would try something similar.  In a world that seems slightly out of control I have listened to more and more podcasts about mindfulness, just taking a few moments each day to concentrate on your breathing and to let your brain relax. 

One podcast said 40 minutes every day.  Now I’m not sure about you but finding 40 minutes every day to sit, breath and think about nothing is nigh on impossible.  Maybe I could do it for the first week of January, but it would be another lost resolution by February.

So I decided to try…a different podcast!!  This one said, why not try to be mindful for 4-5 minutes every day.  I reckoned that was possible but when would I do it and would I remember? Then it struck me…making the tea.

In recent months I have taken the hit or miss aspect out of tea making by adding the water to the tea bags and putting the timer on the oven for 4 minutes.  My insistence of the 4 minute brewing process has made some people laugh but I’m used to that.  I now have a new habit.  What if I add another habit to tea making, 4 minutes of mindfulness and the reward is the perfect cup of tea?

It’s the end of the first week of January and I must admit that although I have forgotten a few times my tea making meditation sessions are almost ‘Habit stacked’. Maybe you could try it too?

Starting the New Year still dreaming with Tim Hamill


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