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Habit Stacking

Ila Gartin

Humans are creatures of habit. We tend to like routines. Even if some of us are considered spontaneous, we spend most of our days repeating the same actions, talking with the same people, and watching Netflix. Oops. We’re inclined to do the same things over and over, without even thinking about it. One of the most helpful tools for creating a new habit or changing a routine is habit stacking. 

In the beginning, building a new habit is often frustrating and difficult because it hasn’t been established as part of your routine, so it’s repeatedly forgotten. When it’s remembered, the timing is all wrong and the task can’t be accomplished. It can take MONTHS to incorporate a habit into your existing routine or change a current habit if you don’t start with intentionality and a plan. 

So how DO we build a habit? The trick to establishing that new habit, so you don’t forget it again, is habit stacking. Habit stacking is exactly what it sounds like. You stack your habits so they become a sequence you just don’t forget, but you probably don’t really have to think about it, either. I mean, do you forget to brush your teeth in the morning? Probably not. But do you specifically remind yourself to do it? Also, probably not. It’s ingrained into your routine, so it’s become a habit – a healthy one, at that!

In essence, stacking habits means looking at your current routine and choosing where to place your new habit so that it is never forgotten, stacking it against another ingrained habit that makes the most sense. For example, if you want to start walking for 20 minutes every morning, you’d most likely choose to walk BEFORE you shower and not after. It just makes more sense.

Now that we know what will happen AFTER your new habit, what can you stack it against to remind you to complete the exercise? What makes the most sense? Perhaps you need to let the dogs out. In my experience, that’s one of the first things that happens in the morning because the poor pup has been holding it all night! If you place your workout shoes by the door, you could put your shoes on to take the dog out, then either walk the dog outside for 20 minutes or when you get back inside the house, you could immediately do the workout of your choice! Thinking about what naturally leads into the completion of your new habit and being intentional with the habit stack, but also the setup, is really what can help you succeed. 

Make this habit stacking as simple as possible! Choosing the most logical placement of the habit within the routine contributes to the simplicity. Setting yourself up for success also makes completion of the habit more likely. Placing your shoes by the door, wearing your sports bra to bed, and setting a reminder in your phone are all examples of preparing to succeed in your habit stack. 

Don’t misunderstand – simplicity does not equate to ease. It may still FEEL difficult to actually accomplish the task, but by making it simple, you give yourself the best chance possible to ignore those feelings and chase your goals!

  • What is a new habit you’d like to add (or replace an old one) using the habit stacking technique?
  • How will you incorporate it into your routine?

Need help with habit stacking? Leave a comment and let us know what habits you’re working on and how you’re doing it!

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