Habit stacking: the new game plan for change

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Is it possible to build new habits by taking advantage of old ones?

Habit stacking: the new game plan for change

When you’re trying to make a change, whether it’s wanting to improve your work performance, make healthier choices, or to save more money, one of the challenges is ensuring the changes stick. It’s hard. Behaviour change requires discipline and, when life is busy, it’s all too easy to find excuses that prevent you from making new routines and lifestyle choices a priority.

But you do have something at your disposal that can help – your current daily habits. Yes, one of the most efficient ways to build new behaviours is to identify an existing habit that you can ‘stack’ a new behaviour on top of.

Habit stacking is a form of implementation intention and, according to life coach and therapist Claire Elmes, it’s one of the most effective techniques you can use for successfully introducing new habits.

“The idea is to use an already existing habit to help organise your new habits sensibly and logically,” says Claire. “The existing behaviour acts as a ‘trigger’, so you are teaching your brain that, when you have completed your existing habit, you then do your new one.”

How does habit stacking work?

The habit stacking formula is simple: ‘After/before [current habit], I will [new habit].’

It could be:

  • Before I brush my teeth each morning, I will meditate for two minutes.
  • After I sit down to eat dinner, I will think of one positive thing that happened today.
  • Before I turn the light off at night, I will kiss my partner.

Habit stacking works because your current habits are well-ingrained.“Tagging new habits onto ones that we do unconsciously allows the process to feel manageable and achievable, allowing more chances for success,” says Claire.

Once you get the hang of it, you can start to create larger stacks by linking more and more habits together. You can even create general habit stacks to guide you whenever the situation is appropriate. For example:

  • If I see a set of stairs, I will take them instead of using the lift/escalator.
  • When I go to a party, I will introduce myself to someone I don’t know.
  • If I buy a new item of clothing, I will donate one to charity.

Tips for success with habit stacking

1. Look at the bigger picture

Where and when you choose to place a habit into your routine is important. You need to think about the best window of opportunity for when you’re most likely to be successful.

“If you’re looking to include 10 minutes of yoga in your day, it would be helpful to consider where this will naturally fit into your routine,” advises Claire.

“It might be as soon as you wake up, after getting dressed, when you’re having a cup of tea/coffee, or when you’re fully ready. You might decide that after you make your coffee, you’ll do your 10 minutes of yoga while it’s cooling down, and then you can drink your coffee.”

2. Be specific with your cue

Goals like ‘read more’ or ‘eat healthier’ are worthy causes, but the inten

Cost of living crisis: how to protect your money and mental health

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As the cost of living increases, we’re looking at how you can mind both your money and your mental health

Cost of living crisis: how to protect your money and mental health

Recently, it’s felt like we’re stuck in a stream of mounting pressure, as we’ve faced one thing after another. And with the cost of living on the rise, many of us will be worried about the immediate future.

The Resolution Foundation Think Tank estimates that an extra 1.3 million people will fall into absolute poverty in 2023, including 500,000 children – and middle-earners will likely also feel the strain as bills and monthly outgoings rise.

It goes without saying that this is going to have an impact on our mental health, as financial wellbeing and mental health are connected. In a survey of more than 1,000 people by the mental health charity Mind, 73% reported that when their mental health is poor, they struggle more to manage their money, and 74% also said that difficulty managing money then went on to affect their mental health.

“If you live with mental illness you may be on a reduced income, face increased costs, or find it hard to budget, while money worries can also place pressure on your mental health, leading to increased stress, worry, and anxiety,” Laura Peters, head of mental health and money advice at the charity Mental Health UK, explains. “This can create a worrying cycle that can impact other aspects of your life, such as your relationships, work, or where you live. Improving your financial security and understanding the best way to manage your money can have a hugely positive impact on your mental health.”

Money where your mouth is

But, truth be told, even just talking about money can be difficult, let alone taking steps to manage it. Of course, speaking about it is the first step to getting help – both practical tips and emotional support – but our fears and anxieties are often an additional barrier.

“There are lots of reasons why people find it hard to talk about money worries,” Laura says. “Parents or carers might feel pressure to support loved ones who rely on them. Some of us might feel like we want to keep up with friends, even though we can’t afford to match their spending habits. And many people in debt tell us they feel a huge amount of shame and stigma around their situation.”

In research by the Money & Pensions service in 2020, which surveyed more than 5,200 people across the UK, researchers found that nearly half the adult population (48%) say they have worried about money once a week or more in the past month. It would be fair to say that that number may have risen in 2022, but the survey also looked into the most common reasons why UK adults avoid talking about their money situation, finding ‘Shame/embarrassment’, ‘Not wanting to burden others’, ‘It’s not how they were brought up’, ‘It causes stress or anxiety’, and ‘Thinking they should be more successful than they are’ were among the top causes.

“Money worries can make people feel really isolated, but a lot of people will experience money worries at some point in their lives,” Laura says. “You are not alone, and it’s

Tips for flying when you have a mental illness

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Travelling by plane can be a uniquely challenging experience, so we’re sharing our tips to avoid any turbulence

Tips for flying when you have a mental illness

The stress, lack of sleep, crowded airports, and culture shock of far-flung soils are all known triggers for those with mental illness. Some years ago, I attempted to board a flight to Ibiza, but had to check out at the last minute due to some mild hallucinations which make up part of my schizo-affective disorder – I thought I could see people from the past at the airport which disturbed me.

According to the World Health Organisation, severe mental illness contributes to one in three health crises in air travel. There’s also been a paper in Psychiatric Times that looks into the subject of travelling with a severe mental illness, which says that 20% of travel incidents have been described as ‘psychotic’.

All this to say: if you worry about air travel, you’re not alone.

The good news is that, with some strong planning and the right tools for relaxation, you can travel safely and happily with a mental illness like mine.

Since the ill-fated flight to Ibiza, I’ve flown to Barcelona and Belfast happily, calmly, and incident-free. With the help of transformational coach Kanika Tandon’s expert advice, we’re exploring some essential tips for flying with a mental illness.

1. Take your medication

It’s crucial that medication is factored into travel to prevent relapse. As luggage can sometimes be lost, you can take your medication in hand luggage to keep it near you at all times, which can give you some peace of mind. For the stay, a pharmacy can sort out a scheduled pack of medication for each day. Plus, don’t forget to order any repeat prescriptions in advance to cover your time away.

Kanika supports these sentiments, adding that it’s important to factor in medication when you prepare for your flight: “Take all your necessary medication in advance and have all you might need.”

2. Stay calm and breathe

“Stay calm and take some deep breaths,” says Kanika. “Using exercises, such as square breathing [breathe in for the count of four, hold for four, breathe out for four, and hold for four] or 7-11 breathing [breathe in for the count of seven and out for the count of 11] to stay calm.”

Some other tested ways to relax before, during, and after your journey are to order a camomile tea, take lavender oils to inhale, and listen to soothing music. I found leather recliners you could pay to relax on at Liverpool airport once. These had built-in massagers, and were helpful in soothing me before my journey.

3. Stay out of your mind

“Trying to engage in senses other than your thoughts can be a distraction to worry and panic,” says Kanika. “Staying out of your mind means that you keep all your five senses engaged. What do you see, feel, hear, taste, and smell during your journey?

Any scents that you associate with relaxation can work well. For instance, peppermint, or lavender for staying calm.”

4. Try therapy

“You may wish to consult a therapist before you travel,”

Is yoga nidra the secret solution to burnout?

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Are you finding it hard to focus, or even to string a coherent sentence together? When burnout hits, the secret to de-stress could be found in this ancient yoga practice

Is yoga nidra the secret solution to burnout?

Is your brain feeling fried? Have your thoughts checked out – or worse still, are they spinning endlessly, and you can’t turn them off? Maybe you can’t get to sleep, or you’re nodding off in meetings, or waking up in the middle of the night totally wired? If you know, you know; all these unpleasant experiences are signs of burnout, and it can feel like a desperate situation – maybe on a bad day you can even smell the smoke from your over-fired nervous system?

Thankfully there’s a balm that offers the perfect solution to quieten your burnt-out brain: the yoga of sleep. Yes, yoga nidra literally means the ‘sleep of the yogis’. And it’s probably not what you’re expecting…

What is yoga nidra?

When you think of yoga, you might conjure up images of sweaty contortions to improve flexibility – but yoga has so many other important elements and benefits. Yoga nidra is an ancient form of yoga that helps you relax and hover on the threshold of sleep – effectively it’s a meditation on the moment of falling asleep. And it’s the perfect potent balm for your burnt-out brain. Yoga nidra has the effect of reducing stress so you can sleep better, and it can boost your creativity. It’s so simple that you can easily practise at home.

This restful yoga requires no physical movement whatsoever. Instead, you listen, and are skillfully talked into the fringes of sleep. Hovering there, you often drop off. It’s the perfect antidote for burnout: horizontal yoga under your blanket or duvet.

So how does it work? All you do is rest for around 20 minutes, listening to a yoga nidra recording, as your body and mind naturally restore themselves to balance and quiet. You don’t even need to pay any particular attention, just be there and hear the voice. And rest, very deeply.

Where did yoga nidra originate?

This nurturing and healing practice is the fastest-growing form of yoga in the world, and it originates in ancient India. The special state of yoga nidra – the ‘yogic sleep’ – is described in many ancient South Asian epic poems. Yoga Nidra Shakti herself even shows up as a super-powerful goddess in an ancient hymn to the triumph of the Great Divine Mother – she sends Vishnu, the sustainer of the known universe, into such a deep sleep that no one else can wake him up. Yes, yoga nidra is that powerful.

How does yoga nidra work?

The truly wonderful thing about yoga nidra is that pretty much anyone can do it – it’s completely accessible. Anyone who has ever fallen asleep can practice yoga nidra because it is a conscious meditation upon the very natural process of falling asleep. All you need to do is to lie down and listen; notice what happens and be with just that. The more you practise yoga nidra, the more easily you can cultivate the capacity to drop off anytime you need. And when you wake up – bingo! The burnt-out brain feels restored, even if you have only been resting for 20 minutes.

How does the magic happen? Neurologically speaking, what is actually going on inside your

30 affirmations to create a sense of calm

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Try repeating these affirmations, designed to help you soothe your mind and develop a sense of calm

30 affirmations to create a sense of calm

It can be difficult to find moments of calm and serenity when we’re going about our busy lives. Our heads may be full of mental to-do lists that we must keep ticking off, or the demands that others make of us could weigh heavy on our minds.

Affirmations are short, simple phrases that we repeat to ourselves, to give ourselves a message or to confirm something that, deep down, we know to be true. And when it comes to affirmations for creating calm, repeating your mantras can have a really grounding effect, putting the problems at hand into perspective and reminding you of your values and priorities.

Here, we’re sharing 30 affirmations to help you create a sense of calm.

  1. I let go of stress
  2. I can feel a sense of calm moving through my body
  3. My mind is quiet
  4. Setting boundaries is healthy
  5. I only need to take one step at a time
  6. I deserve to rest
  7. If I reach my capacity, I can stop
  8. I am safe
  9. I breathe out stress and breathe in peace
  10. I speak to myself with kindness
  11. If I need it, I can ask for help
  12. It’s OK to take a break
  13. I deserve to feel at peace
  14. I am not responsible for things I can’t control
  15. I invite joy into my life
  16. I don’t need to prove myself to anyone
  17. I am doing the best I can
  18. It’s OK to say no
  19. I will have a peaceful day
  20. My anxious thoughts don’t rule me
  21. I let go of tension
  22. I trust myself
  23. I am grounded in this moment
  24. I am capable
  25. I let go of intrusive thoughts
  26. I have the tools I need to face challenges that come my way
  27. I am loved
  28. External stress doesn't need to affect me
  29. I deserve self-compassion
  30. I am calm

Interested in working on self-belief with a life coach? Connect with a professional using lifecoach-directory.org.uk