Using Habit Stacking to Build a Healthy Routine

How experts are advising ‘habit stacking’ as the key to building healthy habits.

It is healthy
The One Pushup Challenge

What is Habit Stacking?


Habit stacking is a powerful technique to build healthy actions into our daily routines. It involves taking an existing habit and adding on another one that you want to form. This way, the new habit becomes associated with something that we are already comfortable with, making the chain of habits increasingly easier to maintain over time.

When we link new behaviors with existing ones, we are more likely to stick with them for longer periods of time. This is because our brain is wired for efficiency. It prefers to not learn something completely from scratch.

By piggybacking on familiar habits like brushing our teeth or taking a shower, we make it easier for ourselves and reduce procrastination. Instead of feeling like a burden, the new habit seems like a natural extension of our existing one.

The Science Behind Habit Stacking

One of the reasons why habit stacking is so effective is because it leverages the already existing neural connections in our brains.

When we tie a new habit to an existing one, we capitalize on a structure and cycle that already exists in our brain. This makes the process of habit building easier on a neurophysiological basis, and it provides a built-in reminder to repeatedly engage in the new habit – a useful, naturally-occurring cue, so to speak.

The benefits of habit stacking go beyond just forming new habits; it can also help break old ones. By linking a behavior we want to stop with something we don’t like doing, we are less likely to do the former because it will remind us of the latter.

The History Behind Habit Stacking


The method of habit stacking was originally proposed by BJ Fogg, a social scientist and professor at Stanford University. He created it as part of his Tiny Habits program. At the time, he called it anchoring because the old habit acts as an ‘anchor’ that keeps the new one in place.

The term ‘Habit Stacking’ was later coined by S.J. Scott in his book Habit Stacking: *97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less*.

Like most social scientists, Fogg knows that no behavior happens without a trigger. But by intentionally anchoring a new behavior to an old one we, at least, get to choose that trigger.

Popular cues for habit stacking range from waking up, showering, or brushing our teeth to washing our hands, waiting in line, or eating breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Creating a Habit Stacking Plan


To create a good habit stacking plan, you first have to identify the existing habits that you want to link with new ones.

For example, if your goal is to gain more knowledge with Kinnu, you could link this with brushing your teeth every morning – so after brushing your teeth, you would then go straight into five minutes of learning.

Your existing habit should share the same frequency as your desired one. If you want to learn more every day, then stacking your Kinnu habit on top of a habit that only happens on weekends won’t work.

Other examples could be: “After I get into bed at night, I will spend ten minutes practicing deep breathing.”

Or: “Before I start working, I will spend ten minutes reviewing my daily goals and priorities.”

The 8 Elements of a Habit-Stacking Routine


According to S. J. Scott, author of the book, Habit Stacking, there are 8 elements that make up a successful habit-stacking routine:

– Each habit takes less than five minutes to complete.

– It is a complete habit. For example, ‘exercising’ can vary greatly each day and is therefore not recommended, but doing five jumping jacks remains the same.

– It improves your life.

– It is simple to complete.

– The entire routine takes less than 30 minutes.

– It follows a logical process.

– It follows a checklist.

– It fits in with your life.

Scott proposes that “your habit-stacking routine should flow like a well-oiled machine.” It should require little conscious effort, becoming increasingly easier to complete.

For this to happen, you need a systematic approach. Writing down the steps in a checklist provides a clear roadmap and prevents your routine from becoming a guessing game. Additionally, seeing each item checked off as you progress through your list creates a sense of accomplishment and boosts your motivation.

The Importance of Starting Small When Habit Stacking


When it comes to habit stacking, starting small is key. Stephen Guise, the author of Mini Habits, proposes a great example of this with his ‘One Pushup Challenge’. He suggests that instead of trying to do 50 pushups in one go, start with just one and gradually increase the number over time. This allows you to build up your confidence and momentum. It also helps to stay motivated by seeing progress along the way – even if it is only one extra pushup each day!

To make consistency easier, start with simple, existing habits like “When I get out of bed, I will…” This is actually a great one for habit stacking as getting out of bed is something we can’t really escape.

Of course, the new, added habit should be small too.

Finally, while some people promote stacking multiple new habits on top of old ones, others suggest that it might be better to find individual triggers for each new habit as it will keep the mental link between the two habits stronger.

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