How habit-stacking can help you form and keep an important habit
I know why you don’t floss. I get it.
- Flossing can be gross and awkward
- No one likes feeling like they’re shoving their entire fist into their mouth
- The floss is hard to get between your teeth
- It makes your gums bleed
- It’s slimy
- Tiny particles of food are hurled at your bathroom mirror
- Flossing feels tedious, time-consuming and annoying
- There is no reward – we aren’t wired to develop habits that we can’t see the benefits of immediately
Let me introduce you to habit-stacking.
The most effective way to form a habit with no immediate reward is to hijack an existing strong habit. You piggyback on your brain’s reward centers for that current habit that you have mastered. When you complete a newer activity (like flossing) following a strong habit in sequence, the rewards from the first habit begin to spill into the second. This method works for almost any habit.
Let’s create a flossing habit. (We’ll get into WHY you need this in another article).
Choose the time of day when your self-care routine is the most constant. Morning or evening?
If most days you are overwhelmed at night, then I don’t suggest trying to start a flossing habit at a time when your other personal-care routines might be compromised. Maybe your mornings are more mindful? Either way, pick the time when you already have the best habits in place.
Once you have chosen morning or evening, focus on your habitual routine that includes brushing your teeth.
Is there a step that you complete immediately before or after brushing that is also on autopilot? Perhaps applying deodorant, washing your face, moisturizing, or brushing your hair?
*Technically, you should floss BEFORE you brush, but we don’t have to be too picky while we are trying to build the habit.
Identify the objects associated with these two habits.
Let’s say your first habit includes a bottle of face-wash, and your second habit involves toothpaste.
Line up your habit objects on the counter and place your floss between them.
You are going to embrace the power of the two existing, extremely powerful habits you do every single day.
*Ideally, your choice in habit-objects should be things that you pull out of a drawer and put away afterward. Pulling something out of a drawer and putting it on the counter is list-building that your brain loves!
You can do it!
- Pick up the first habit-object, and complete the first habit as usual.
Put the first habit-object away (i.e. face-wash). Done!
Commit to flossing only one tooth. Do more if you feel like it, but floss at least one. Put the floss away. Feel the to-do item getting checked off. Done! Congratulations! Holy cow, you did it! 👏🏼
- Pick up the third habit-object and complete the task.
Put it away in the drawer. Done!
Repeat this routine every day for the next month, even if you are on your family vacation. Make sure you pull out all three habit-objects from your drawer every day at the same time.