Habit Stacking: Join the October Back to Self Challenge

About a month ago, I kicked off a new initiative with a small group of friends called the “Back to Self” Challenge. The idea was simple: Take 30 days to rebuild a habit you’ve let go of during COVID times. Or maybe, something you’ve been procrastinating for these past 18 months.

My personal objective was to write every day (which is why you’ve seen quite a bigger uptick in posts on the blog starting in September). Throughout the first 24 days of September (today included), I’ve met this goal on 21 days — 88% of the time.

While not 100%, I do feel like I’ve started to reset the precedent in my body to get up and “do the thing” more days than not. It’s starting to feel worse on days when I don’t write. And in fact, I now often wake up even before my alarm, even though I’ve started setting it for one hour earlier than I had been doing in August.

But that’s not where the challenge ends for me. I’m going to keep running the Challenge for another couple of months to keep building on top of this foundational habit.

I invite you to join the Back to Self Challenge for October here. It starts in one week on October 1.

I’m all about finding “cheat codes” to make it easier to do the thing I’m trying to do, which is why I love this concept of “habit stacking.”

Popularized by James Clear in his book, Atomic Habits, the idea is that you can build new habits by taking advantage of old ones. As he says:

“When it comes to building new habits, you can use the connectedness of behavior to your advantage. One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behavior on top. This is called habit stacking.”

By linking new habits together against older ones that have already become foundational, we increase our likelihood of doing the thing. For example, if the first thing you do when you get up in the morning is make a cup of coffee, you can “stack” a new habit on top of that pre-programmed thing. (Ex: “After I make my cup of coffee, I will read the news for 10 minutes before I check my email.”)

Once it becomes normed in your brain to read the news every morning before checking email, you might add another habit to the stack. For instance, meditate for 5–10 minutes.

Advanced habit-builders can do stack habits on top of each other in a recurring series. Here’s what this looks like in a visual form:

Source: James Clear (Habit Stacking: https://jamesclear.com/habit-stacking)

I’ve been thinking a lot about habit stacking for two reasons:

  1. Because one option is for current habit-builders in the Back to Self Challenge to build on top of their newly formed, cemented habits and add in something else.
  2. Because I also think, once you’ve been through the mode of creating a new habit in one month, it feels mentally lighter on your brain to substitute in a new habit for the following month.

For me, September was all about breaking through the inertia of inaction, the lethargy of pandemic times. Getting started sucks. It’s hard, it’s mentally exhausting, and it’s not always gratifying or linear. But once you’ve started, you have momentum, which means it’s a little easier to keep going.

October is about building upon that momentum to keep driving toward the next habit.

I’ve learned a few things from running the Back to Self Challenge in September that I’m changing for October. So here’s how it’ll go.

  1. Pick a habit you want to start or rebuild. This is your Challenge Project.
    It should be simple and it should be singular. “Write a poem every day” is better than “Write and read every day, and go for a walk in the afternoon.”
  2. Pick your Challenge Cadence.
    One thing I learned from September is that not every habit needs a daily cadence in order to re-cement itself in our brains. You can pick a habit to rebuild 2 days a week, 4 days a week or 6–7 days a week.
  3. Get regular reminders to Do the Thing and join the Back to Self Community.
    Based on what you choose, you’ll get periodic reminders during the week to do your thing. This month, we’ve been using a daily leaderboard to track our individual progress, which I’ll rework for October.

That’s it. Pick a thing, commit to the thing, do the thing.

Oh, and if you want to bring along a friend for a little support — a “motivation mentor” if you will — I’m all about that too.

It’s one week until October 1.

You can sign up for the Back to Self Challenge here.

Originally published at Dry Erase.

VP @ BolsterTalent, alum of @USV, @StackOverflow and @NorthwesternU, board member at @CompSci_High and @NUalumni, co-founder of #BeyondCodingNYC