Do you want to create a new habit? It can be truly challenging to first decide what habit you want to create and then to make the habit stick. The author, James Clear, advises readers of his book, Atomic Habits to use the technique of habit stacking when creating a new habit. Do you know about habit stacking? It is when you link two habits together. This sounds simple, right? Well, it is and it isn’t.
How to create a new habit
There are several steps to take when undertaking this task.
Step #1: Identify the habit you want to create
Be specific about the habit you want to create.
Let me tell you about a habit I would like to create. At the end of my day, I would like to leave my desk tidy.
Step #2: Why do you want to create this habit?
Understand your reason for wanting to create a new habit.
I want to leave my desk tidy so that when I come into my office in the early morning it is tidy, and I can easily pick up where I left off the night before.
It is not enough to say, ‘because someone else wants me to make this change’. Change will not happen unless you buy into it. Making a change can be a slow and difficult process.
It is so easy for me to leave my little piles out on my desk. They aren’t bothering anyone, and no one is pestering me to clean them up so why do I want to bother?
Because I know I will benefit from the result. I will feel confident that the little tasks have been done. I could argue that doing this will take time, but I know that it will take me, at most, an extra 10 minutes at the end of my day to do this tidying up.
Step #3: Determine a current habit you can link to the one you want to create
This is a tough one for me. My current habit is to come home from work, stop in my office quickly to put away my work bag, and then to take my dog, Josie, for a walk. Sometimes, I return to my office after I take Josie for a walk to check email one last time for the day. If I did that regularly I could link that habit with spending 10 minutes to tidy my desk.
It’s important to keep the things that already work for you. Take time to think through what works and then determine how you can stack onto that.
It works for me to check email one final time for the day and add tidying my desk to that existing habit.
Step #4: Create visual and/or audible cues
I know I will need a visual cue to help me until this new habit becomes a routine. Audible cues don’t work for me. I will just turn off the alarm.
My plan is to put a bright pink note on my office door to remind me to check email then tidy my desk at the end of the day.
The bright pink will catch my attention, I know.
Think about what will work for you. What will remind you to work on this new habit? Do you like alarms? Do you prefer a note?
Some people use the item as a reminder. For instance, if they want to create the habit of bringing gym clothes with them in the morning, they pack the gym bag the night before, and leave it at the front door so it’s impossible to leave without tripping over the bag.
Use the cue that will work for you.
Step #5 Mindfully practice the new habit
It takes time to create a new habit. Mindfully practice your new habit and give yourself grace to forget now and then.
I am aware I pack my days so full that I am almost always working at my desk until the last second before I need to leave my house to get to a client. This is the reason that things get left out on my desk here and there. I believe leaving it messy until the end of the day is the best for me.
Think through the steps to create a new habit before you take on this challenge. Be intentional about it and honest with yourself about the reason for changing what you do.
If you have a habit you would like to change and want help working through the steps consider joining the Clear Space for You virtual clutter support group I run with Jonda Beattie. New groups start at the beginning of each month.
Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer® ,a Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization®, Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC and co-owner of Release●Repurpose●Reorganize, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia.
I think we underestimate how long that #5 can take. New things take intentionality and effort. That’s why I don’t do well to work on too many habits at once. It’s exhausting, and I just can’t do it. I need to be focusing on establishing one new habit at a time, if possible. Once the system is in place, I can move on to another one.
I decided I needed more calcium, so I started eating yogurt each morning. It actually took me awhile to get onto that, but now that step feels “baked in” to my morning. Strange, but there’s my example!