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Habit Stacking: How to Build Healthy Habits That Stick

Creating and sticking to new habits can be overwhelming and challenging. And often, it can lead to feeling frustrated and hopeless – convinced that we’ll never be able to change our behavior. But, luckily there’s a habit hack that has gained traction over the years that can help by leveraging your brain’s existing neuronal connections to build new habits. It’s called habit stacking, and it could be just the solution you need to develop new and healthier habits that actually stick!

What Is Habit Stacking?

It sounds complicated, but the concept of habit stacking is pretty simple. It involves attaching a new habit to an existing one, thereby leveraging the automaticity and consistency of the existing habit to make it easier to develop and maintain the new habit. Essentially, it leverages our strong synaptic connections for existing habits. By “stacking” habits together, you create a mental link between the two actions, increasing the likelihood of the new habit becoming ingrained in your daily routine. Habit stacking can be an effective technique for developing and maintaining healthy habits, including those related to nutrition, exercise, and overall lifestyle changes.

Habit stacking is more than just a strategy and has been written about and researched extensively by behavioral scientists over the years. BJ Fogg, Ph.D., founder and director of Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University and the author of Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything, has extensively written about attaching behaviors to make lasting change and refers to the existing habit as an “anchor.” 

How Can I Use Habit Stacking to Build a Healthier Lifestyle?

While habit stacking can be an effective strategy for implementing behavior change across our lives, let’s focus on how it can help with nutrition, exercise, and an overall healthier way of living. You can identify a pre-existing daily action or habit and simply add a new or different behavior to before or after the existing habit. This way, rather than building an entirely new neural network, which takes time and discipline, you simply rely on an existing connection. And the habits you already have in place can act as reminders for you to engage in the new behavior.

Let’s see it in action!

  • Nutrition. You already know how important healthy eating is for your well-being, but it can be challenging to implement in the face of our hectic lifestyles. Start by focusing on one or two small changes you’d like to implement first. Perhaps you want to drink more water or eat more vegetables. Consider drinking a glass of water after pouring your morning coffee. Or, before you eat lunch, fill half of your plate with vegetables to ensure a balanced meal. 

  • Exercise. If your goal is to get more physical activity throughout the day, consider implementing a short stretching routine before you get in the shower in the morning. When you arrive home from work in the evening, change into workout gear and hit the gym or go for a jog. Another great habit stack could be to take a walk through the neighborhood after you’ve cleared the dinner dishes.

  • Mind-body connection. Caring for your emotional and mental health is critical to your overall health and well-being. But it can be hard to know how to start those habits. Consider meditating for five minutes after your alarm goes off and before you get out of bed. Or, once you’ve eaten dinner, designate a window of time for reading a book or engaging in a hobby instead of mindlessly watching television. Getting organized for the next day’s tasks before you head to bed can be a great way to clear your head. 

Start Simple

Remember, the key to successful habit stacking is to choose existing habits that you already do consistently and naturally. By pairing the new habit with an established one, you increase the chances of forming a strong association between the two, making it easier to maintain the desired behavior over time. Start with one habit stack at a time, and once it becomes automatic, you can add additional habit stacks to further reinforce healthy behaviors.

If you need additional support in creating and sticking to new habits with your diet and exercise, reach out to Forge. We have a team of certified coaches ready to help you!