We all know how hard it is to stick to a new habit. Whether it’s exercising, eating healthy, or simply reading more, we often struggle to make these changes a long-term part of our lives. That’s where habit stacking comes in.
Habit stacking is a strategy that helps you build new habits by anchoring them to old ones. It’s a simple but powerful approach that can help you reach your goals with greater ease and efficiency.
In this post, we’ll explore what habit stacking is, how to start habit stacking and share some examples of habit stacking. We’ll also dive into the scientific research behind why habit stacking works.
What is Habit Stacking?
At its core, habit stacking is the process of linking new habits to existing ones. It involves taking an established habit and using it as a cue to trigger a new habit.
For example, if your current routine includes brushing your teeth, you could stack a new habit of doing 10 minutes of yoga right after you finish brushing. This means that every time you brush your teeth, you have a gentle reminder to practice yoga. For other stress-busting tips, check out 4 Ways to Stress Less.
Habit stacking works because it takes advantage of the existing neural pathways in our brains. When we link new habits to old ones, our brain recognizes the familiar cue and makes the new habit easier to form.
In an interview with Everyday Health, licensed psychologist and mother of two Carolyn Rubenstein, PhD, breaks down her winning strategy.
“After I have a cup of coffee in the morning, I have disciplined myself to meditate for 60 seconds, then write my to-do list for the day. After my kids eat dinner, they put their plates in the dishwasher, lay out their clothes for the next day and begin their homework,” Dr. Rubenstein says.
How to Start Habit Stacking?
The first step to starting habit stacking is to identify the cue for your existing habit. Once you’ve identified this cue, you can stack a new habit on top of it. It’s important to choose habits that are relatively small and easy to do so you won’t feel overwhelmed or intimidated.
For example, instead of committing to an hour of exercise every day, start with just 10 minutes of stretching after your morning coffee. Once you’ve gotten comfortable with this new habit, you can gradually increase the amount of time or intensity.
Looking for more goal setting inspo? Read Tips For Staying Motivated After You Set A Goal.
Examples of Habit Stacking
There are endless possibilities for habit stacking. Here are some examples to inspire you:
- After you make your bed in the morning, meditate for 5 minutes.
- After you finish eating dinner, take a 10-minute walk around the block.
- After you put your kids to bed, read for 15 minutes.
- After you brew your morning cup of coffee, write down 3 things you’re grateful for.
Why Habit Stacking Works
As mentioned earlier, habit stacking works because it leverages the existing neural pathways in our brain. However, research has also shown that habit stacking can lead to greater goal accomplishment.
A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people who used an implementation intention, which is a form of habit stacking, were more likely to follow through on their goals. Additionally, a meta-analysis of behavior change interventions found that habit-stacking interventions were more effective than traditional behavior change interventions.
Whether you want to exercise more, eat healthier, or read more, habit stacking can help you make these changes in a way that’s sustainable and effective.
Looking for tools to help you fine-tune your goals, identify the habits you need to achieve them, and even tools for tracking those habits and your progress? Be sure to download our Goal Setting & Habit Tracking Ebook by entering your email in the form below.
Want more healthy habit-building tips? We’ve got ‘em! Head to How To Build Habits That Stick.
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1 Gollwitzer, P. M., & Brandstätter, V. (1997). Implementation intentions and effective goal pursuit. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(1), 186–199. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.206