Sticky Notes and Habit Stacking

I’m a list person. I love to check off boxes and cross things out.

When I’ve tried to develop new habits in the past, I generally keep the ideas in my head. And after a while, negative self-talk takes over — “I don’t feel like it today,” and that new behaviour drops off rather quickly.

During my self-care commitment in January, I wrote things down on sticky notes, as I pictured in my last post. To my pleasant surprise a few things happened as a result:

  1. I don’t have to remember the new habits in my head.
  2. I have a visual list to “check off.”
  3. I’m (kinda) being held accountable.

The lists became visual cues to remind me what I wanted to do for myself. Even though my husband has never commented on them in the bathroom, they (kinda) hold me accountable because I’ve gone “public” with the ideas. I find myself running down the list before I leave the bathroom. Or, for the list by my bed, I do a check-in there as well.

Now something I learned from reading Atomic Habits by James Clear (highly recommend!) is “habit stacking,” which means connecting habits together so they become automatic by association. Utilizing this idea, I adjusted how I wrote out my sticky notes.

The sticky on the left was the original with my re-thought out list on the right using habit stacking. Using the original list, I’d just run through it before leaving the bathroom and make sure I’d checked it all off. Using the list on the right adds an order to things. Flossing is now associated with brushing my teeth. So it will become automatic to floss after brushing as the two habits get associated together. I dry-skin brush after flossing; dry-skin brushing is obviously done on dry skin, so it has to happen before a shower. Warm showers feel good to start, cold showers feel awesome at the end. (I will have a whole post on cold showers coming soon.) No sense in applying lotion before a shower… so it ends my routine. Overtime, I’ll no longer need the sticky because these will all become part of a daily routine, but in the meantime, I don’t need my negative thoughts cutting in and messing up my self-care.

I made similar changes to the list by my bedside:

So now I wake and meditate first thing. Check in if I need to journal – I don’t always feel the need to journal, but having it written here reminds me to check-in with myself if there’s something I want to journal about. Affirmations and gratitude go into the same book, so they are already associated together. At bedtime, meditation is the last thing I do before turning out the light.

There are days when I’m busy and time is tight and maybe I don’t have time to do everything as listed (especially in the morning). So, I pick my priorities for the day. Maybe I can journal later? Meditation (even just three minutes) and cold water therapy tend to become my shortlist.

Are there habits you’d like to build into your life? Maybe a visual list in a useful place will help you remember what you promised to yourself. Stack your new habit with an established (but still desirable!) one to build association.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. I too am a list maker but usually have them on my desk. Placing them at relevant places in the house sounds like a great idea.

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