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Improving Work Performance: How to Train Your Brain with Habit Stacking

We often hear residents and associates of 180 Piccadilly discuss the million dollar question: How can I improve work performance and maximise potential? Half the time we know exactly what we need to do to get to where we’re going, but it can sometimes feel like an uphill struggle to put these steps in place. Making lasting changes requires discipline, but there are ways you can harness your potential and ensure the changes you make stick. 

One popular approach which continues to receive noise at the moment is ‘habit stacking’. We’ve all heard of neural pathways – our brains build a strong network of neurons to support our current behaviours. The more we do something, the stronger and more efficient the connection becomes. So when it comes to building new habits, we can use connection to our advantage.  

One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit and then stack your new behaviour on top. This is called habit stacking. The approach was developed by BJ Fogg as part of his Tiny Habits program, and written about by journalist, Steve Scott. The idea is that if we ‘cluster’ the habits or traits we want to cultivate and keep as part of our repertoire of go-to behaviours, then we have a better chance in remember to do them if we associate them with related tasks. 

Rather than pairing your new habit with a particular time and location, you pair it with a current habit. This method can be used to design an obvious cue for nearly any habit. Habit stacking means you can plan these habits in a way that makes logical sense for the way your day works already. 

How to Habit Stack 

Start by making a list of your pre-work, work and post-work habits. Things you do automatically, e.g. brush your teeth, commute, buy a morning coffee etc…

Then review all the things you would like to start to do – the new habits you would like to create to maximise your potential, e.g. re-start healthy eating, practise mindfulness, find time to pitch to new clients, drink more water, do more exercise, come up with new business ideas. 

Then organise your list sensibly and logically in terms of what time of day you could do these things .

Then take your behaviours and stack them. 

Habit Stacking Examples 

The habit stacking formula is: 

After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT]. 

For example: 

-After I make breakfast each morning, I will write my to-do list. 

-While I’m drinking my first coffee, I will brainstorm new business ideas. 

-After I take off my work shoes, I will immediately change into my workout clothes. 

The main reason habit stacking works so well is that your current habits are already built into your brain. You have patterns and behaviours that have been strengthened over years, and what you’re doing is linking your new habits to a cycle that is already built into your brain, making it more likely that you’ll stick to the new behaviour. Once you have mastered this basic structure, you can build momentum to create larger stacks by chaining small habits together.  

Stack 1 – Getting Ready for Work & Commute 

Wake up and drink water 

Eat health breakfast 

Mindfulness session on train to work 

Make a list of five new prospects to pitch to 

Take longer route to give you 15 minutes of extra exercise 

Stack 2 – Upon arrival to Office 

Keep water on your desk 

Email five new prospects / suggest meeting 

Make coffee & spend 15 minutes brainstorming business ideas 

Answer emails / meetings / reports 

Habit stacking works because it is based on the brain’s desire to create short-cuts by associating clusters of activity with one another. For example, keep your water by your bed and on your desk to associate those places with water. Once on your commute, listen to mindfulness and directly after make your prospect lists. Your first coffee of the day always goes hand in hand with brainstorming new business ideas etc. 

Overall, habit stacking allows you to create a set of simple rules that guide your future behaviour. It’s like you always have a game plan for which action should come next. If you like the sound of this approach, you can find out more at the end of this post. 

More Info on Habit Stacking 

If you would like to download a habit tracking worksheet from Strenghtscope, click here 

Or to check out SJ Scott’s famous book on the subject Habit Stacking: 127 Small Changes to Improve Your Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Most are Five Minutes or Less) 

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