Habit Stacking: How to Leverage Current Habits to Create New Ones
Written by Fritz Nugent

The Importance of Habits

Habits. They are everywhere. Consider this: if we consciously weighed and measured every detail of our thoughts and actions throughout every day of our lives, we would expend a ridiculous amount of energy. It would be exhausting. 

To address this bio-energetically, over millions of years our brains figured out how to lump a string of consecutive tasks together into habits. Each of our lives are filled with habits. I like to use the analogy of brushing your teeth. We each have a specific time and place where the teeth brushing takes place. We each hold the toothbrush uniquely, put the toothpaste on in X manner, start on X side of our mouth and perform X pattern for X number of reps or time, then switch to X side of our mouth and continue on. 

The point here is to illustrate the significant amount of variance between each of our teeth brushing habits. To take this further, there is variety based on what habits we CHOOSE to utilize. Whether we consciously or unconsciously choose which habits run our lives, that is up for discussion, and potentially, changing.

What is Habit Stacking?

‘Habit Stacking’ (Atomic Habits) allows you to leverage your stronger habits to build new habits or refine older ones. Your old habits are deeply ingrained, so you can use the simple formula below to insert a desirable new habit either before or after a well-ingrained old habit (this is taken straight out of James Clear’s Atomic Habits. Buy the book!):

After / Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT]

Habit Stacking Example

Let’s just play around with an example. Perhaps you’ve been telling your coach (or yourself) that you desire the addition of meditation, journaling, or building solid nutritional habits into your life. You say you read about the benefits and want to make a change, but you have had trouble sticking to it. The ingraining of this new habit relies upon deciding a time and place to perform this particular young habit. Let’s say you wish to begin meditating in the mornings out on your porch. Great, you have a time (mornings) and place (on your sweet-@$$ porch, a perfect place to meditate). Now let’s assess the rest of your morning habits to see how to “stack” this new one.

Perhaps you wake up, brush your teeth and wash your face, and then you go make coffee. The night before, try adding a sticky note on the handle of your coffee pot that says “meditate on porch”. When you arrive at your coffee pot that next AM, get your coffee brewing and go out on the porch to meditate. For one minute. That’s all. Not two minutes. One…don’t get greedy. Congratulations, you just stacked a new habit within your old routine (a routine is a bunch of habits stacked together). Now, do this every day for a few months until it sticks. 

Habits and Consistency

Does It Really Take 21 Days To Build A Habit? Some more, some less. Simple habits can be adopted quickly. However, habits with greater complexity require more time to refine, or a heavier emotional weight, meaning that the more something matters to you, the faster you will make it part of your life. Here comes the cold water. If you keep failing at making life changes that you know will be good for you, how much do you care about improving your life? This may seem harsh, and there is truth and value in asking yourself this question.

How to Make a Habit Stick

You can habit stack literally anything. How do you think a dog learns to play the piano? The second part of habit stacking is decreasing your own barrier to entry so that it’s fail-safe. Make it short, simple, and EASY. For a longer article on this topic, check out How To Build A Long-Lasting Habit Without Falling Off The Boat

The idea is to give yourself a dose of success with these new sapling habits so they can take root and grow. Too much too soon (forcing yourself into 10 minutes of daily meditation when 1 will do just fine) and you’ll get a sour taste in your mouth for the activity and won’t stick to it. For most new habits, just a single daily 60-second block dedicated to them in a specific place at a predetermined time is enough to allow that habit to blossom. In the instant gratification culture we now live in, patience truly pays compounding interest.

What habits do you wish you had in your life? I’d love to help you brainstorm ways to make them work well for you. Post to the comments below!

Also Check Out…

Using Keystone Habits to Create Success

The 3-Step Process to Turn a Bad Habit Good

Creating the Habit of Going to the Gym

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