Building a habit, like eating more fruit, takes time and strategy.

In the Line of Sight : Throwing Habits in Your Path

Sometimes, building a good language learning habit is about giving your brain a leg-up with good environmental clues.

In fact, the same is true for any habit. If you want to incorporate a new one, start with what you already have. You can use your existing routine to give it a piggyback. It’s known as habit stacking, and a key part of many habit coaching guides.

A fruity habit

For an everyday, non-language example, take fruit consumption. For too long, I’ve not included enough in my diet (and I know I’m not alone here!). It’s not for want of knowing. I’m well aware of the five-a-day rule (aren’t we all?), but having advice consciously available does not equate to remembering to act upon it.

The crux of it: it’s jolly hard to build a new habit when it’s free-floating in isolation.

It was time for a bit of habit-stacking to tether my intended new habit to something solid. And what’s more solid than the first thing I do in the morning? Religiously, after getting up, I’ll sit at my desk with a pot of coffee.

So what about putting a bowl full of fruit on my desk? Right in the line of sight.

Building a habit, like eating more fruit, takes time and strategy.

Building a habit, like eating more fruit, takes time and strategy.

It’s even more powerful when you simplify those tethered habits too. A big win was admitting to myself that I’ll only eat easy-access fruit. Yes, I’m that lazy. Satsumas and bananas for me, and no having to plan in cutting up or preparing anything.

It worked a treat. Having a couple of pieces of fruit is now a natural part of my day, and I’m reaching for the chocolate bars and crisps less. Habit-stacking made it automatic, and it’s now simply routine.

From Fruit to Phone

So how do these fruity shenanigans transpose onto language learning? How can we throw that into our daily paths to regularise our polyglot habits?

Since a lot of my learning is digital, that means acting on my digital environment to habit-stack. My stalwart apps, Anki and Duolingo, are on the first page of my Home Screen, so they’re the first thing I see when I switch on each morning. I’ve also turned off notifications for most of my apps, but I ensure they’re left on for that pair, so they cut through the noise.

A more low-fi method I’ve used in the past is the mini whiteboard. I picked one of these up from Poundland years ago, and it sits dutifully on my hall wall, usually carrying grocery and appointment reminders. But it’s in my line of sight every time I enter or leave the home, so it would be a wasted opportunity not to enlist that in my language adventures. Needless to say, there’s now a spot on it reserved for a word of the day/week/month, usually lifted from some problematic Anki deck I’ve been working on.

In short, habit-stacking works. And the beauty of it is that it’s so simple. so simple, in fact, that I sometimes forget to do it (the whole can’t see what’s right under your nose syndrome, I guess). So, for me, writing about it in this blog – one of my firm weekly habits – should provide that stacking action I need.

Have you habit-stacked to self-train a language routine? Which habits have you paired up? Let us know in the comments!

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