Bundle your habits for greater effectiveness

If you're looking to build better habits, the good news is that you don't need to start from scratch. In fact, adding to existing habits - called habit bundling - is an efficient way to increase your mental and physical performance.

How? Our brains work by building up connections that are used more frequently, so if you play a sport, you become better, faster and more proficient each time you get on the field.

If you're looking to imbed a new habit into your everyday life, start with piggybacking off a current habit. You're likely to have more habits than you think you do, and they are often something small, like making the bed as soon as you get up.

Behaviour Connections

The idea behind habit bundling is to use behaviour connections. Find a habit you do on a daily basis and bundle or pair a new one on top.

For example, if you want to start the day with stretches, link it to the existing habit of making your bed. This makes it more likely that you'll stick to the stretches, as your brain will start to associate the automatic habit of making your bed with the new habit.

This is where things can become even more effective, as you can add more habits into the chain. For example, after the stretches, you may want to introduce a refreshing glass of lemon water into your day to rehydrate. Or you could add this before the stretches, the order of each habit doesn't matter.

What is important though, is selecting the right habit or sign to initiate the chain. Where and when you perform a new habit is also crucial. There isn't any point saying that you'll go for a short walk every day at 4pm when work phone calls start to ramp up during this time. You want to ensure the best chance for success, not select a time when you're likely to be doing something else.

How can I find the right prompt?

Looking at what you already do on a daily basis or regularly, combined with the things that happen to you at the same frequency is the best starting point. Make a list of what you do - this is likely to be a list of small tasks, as simple as 'saying hello to my kids as soon as I get up' or 'opening the bedroom window to let the air in'. Things that happen automatically are events like the sun shining into the bedroom.

Compare these two lists and you should be able to envisage a space where your new habit can fit best.

Final Tips

Be specific with your habit goals. Actions like 'eat more vegetables' are too vague. You have more chance of success when you are more precise e.g. 'eat more vegetables with homemade dinners.'

Once you've mastered the above, you’re then ready to create general habit bundles. For example, if you're at a restaurant, whenever there is a vegetarian option on the menu, I will select that, or whenever I walk past someone in my neighbourhood I will smile and say hello.

Author: Peter Robinson
Team Leadership Services