How To Use Habit Stacking To Make Healthy Habits REALLY Stick

If you find yourself talking about your workout or wellness routine and saying, “I just can’t stick to it,” it’s time to try habit stacking.

Erin Fisher Author Image
Erin Fisher

July 11, 2024 - Updated July 11, 2024

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What is habit stacking?

Habit stacking is where you stack a new habit on top of an existing habit or behaviour. It was first coined by S.J. Scott in his 2017 book, Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less, and the practice has since gained popularity amongst behavioural experts.

By building a new habit on top of something you already do without thinking, the idea is to help you remember to do it and make it a more seamless part of your routine with much less effort.

How does habit stacking work?

According to Cambridge Dictionary, a habit is something that you do often and regularly, sometimes without even knowing that you are doing it. Within psychology, habits are defined as actions that are triggered automatically in response to contextual cues associated with their performance, such as washing your hands after going to the toilet or putting your seatbelt on after getting into the car.

With habit stacking, you’re capitalising on an autopilot behaviour to cue a second, new habit and make it feel just as second-nature as your existing routine. As research explains, once the initiation of the action is transferred to an external cue, you’re immediately reducing your reliance on conscious attention, willpower or motivation to make the habit stick, taking advantage of the strong neural connections already hardwired into your brain.

It’s a powerful way to create a new routine, lifestyle or even improve your sense of self.

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How to try habit stacking

Step 1: Think of a new habit you want to make part of your routine

You might start with a broad idea such as wanting to exercise or meditate more often, but then you want to nail down a specific, achievable action. Big dreams are realised with baby steps. Given we’re talking about healthy habits in general, this isn’t just limited to exercise. It could be anything from mindfulness, muscle recovery and sleep to nutrition, self-care and hydration. Here are some examples to get the ball rolling:

  • I want to meditate for five minutes every day.

  • I want to start exercising in the morning before work.

  • I want to hit between eight and ten thousand steps every day.

  • I want to eat another piece of fruit each day.

Step 2: Choose an existing habitual behaviour to stack your new habit on top of

Now you want to think about your existing routine and the actions you take every day, and pinpoint something that you can easily stack your new habit on top of. You might land on something like:

  • As soon as I wake up, I am going to do a five-minute meditation.

  • When I put on my pajamas for bed, I am going to choose my workout clothes for the morning or pack my gym bag.

  • After eating my lunch, I’ll go for a 15-minute walk around the block.

  • When I put my phone on charge for the night, I’ll check the Sweat app to see what tomorrow’s workout is.

  • After I set my alarm for the morning, I’m going to write down three things I’m grateful for.

  • As soon as I finish work, I’m going to change into my activewear.

Step 4: Reduce the friction even further if you can

If you can, try to find clever ways to make your new habit even easier to stack on top of the existing one. Really tighten up the gaps in your habit stack. To make it even more automatic to choose your workout clothes as you’re getting ready for bed, you might put your activewear right next to your sleepwear in your wardrobe. To become someone who has a drink of water first thing in the morning, you could put a drink bottle on your bedside table.

Step 3: Give yourself a goal or timeframe

Just because you’re using the habit stacking technique doesn’t mean your new habit will stick on the first go. Research has shown that habit formation always requires reinforcement, so it will still take some repetition, commitment and patience. It can be helpful to give yourself a set number of days or weeks you’re going to try it for - at least two weeks is a good place to start.

Step 5: Treat yo’self and reflect

When you make it to the end of the timeframe you set for yourself, plan a little reward to give yourself a pat on the back. At this point, you might also want to assess how well your new habits are working for you and if there are any adjustments you want to make or new things you want to try! Habit stacking also doesn’t have to be limited to two actions. Once two actions start to feel inseparable, you can always stack more on top to create an epic chain reaction of a routine.

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Stack ‘em up!

In a few weeks or months from now, you could have completely revamped your routine and feel like a much healthier, happier version of yourself, and making healthy changes doesn’t have to be as hard as you think.

Use habit stacking to your advantage and build on the actions that already feel like second nature to you and get ready to save yourself a whole lot of effort, mental energy and motivation.

Erin Fisher Author Image
Erin Fisher

Erin is a writer and editor at Sweat with years of experience in women's publishing, media and tech. She's passionate about the power of movement, and you can often find her on a yoga mat, a hike, a dance floor, in the ocean or the gym.

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* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.


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