How to Use Habit Stacking for a Healthy Advantage

Nutrition, How to Use Habit Stacking for a Healthy Advantage,

Habit stacking isn’t simply a catchphrase: it’s an evidence-based behavioral change strategy to help you use existing habits as the building blocks to create more desirable ones—and stick to them. This might be an exciting new approach for you as you continue to build a purposeful life in recovery. Let’s take a closer look. 

How to Stack Habits

Generally, habit stacking involves forming a new habit by associating it with an already existing behavior you routinely do or something that happens every day. Advent Health indicates three methods you can use to do this:

  • Chain. This is when you link a new behavior to an existing habit. For example, if you want to start drinking more water, always have a full glass before each meal or snack. Of course you’re going to eat, so this approach automatically provides an opportunity for 3–5 extra glasses a day. 
  • Pairing. Use the foundation of an existing habit to add another. For instance, if you love listening to podcasts and want to walk more, then create a “temptation bundle” to add to your motivation: listen to a 20-minute podcast while walking at the same time.  
  • Sequence. If you’re adding something new to an existing routine, fold it into a sequence method. Let’s say you want to take some supplements, and you already have a routine of waking up, enjoying a cup of tea, brushing your teeth, and getting dressed for the day. After your cup of tea, you’d add the habit of taking supplements into your sequence of events. 

Here’s how you might put habit stacking into practice. Imagine you want to build a habit of reading more:

  1. Identify a current habit. Every morning, you drink a cup of coffee. Recognizing your current habits provides a foundation for introducing new behaviors. These existing habits serve as “anchors” for the new habits you want to establish, ensuring a smooth transition into your daily routine.
  2. Choose a new habit. You want to read for 10 minutes. Starting with a small habit reduces the initial effort and resistance, making it easier to stick with the new behavior. Over time, these small habits can build up to create significant positive changes in your life.
  3. Link these habits. After making your morning coffee, you’ll read for 10 minutes. By attaching the new habit to an established one, you use the trigger of the existing habit to remind you to perform the new behavior. This connection helps the new habit become a natural part of your routine more quickly.
  4. Clear cue and timing. “After I make my coffee in the morning, I will sit at the kitchen table and read for 10 minutes.” Clear cues and precise timing reduce ambiguity and make it easier to remember and execute the new habit. Consistency in timing reinforces the habit, solidifying it as part of your daily routine.
  5. Track and adjust. Keep a log of how many days you successfully read after making coffee and adjust if necessary (e.g., changing the reading time or location). Tracking progress helps you stay accountable and recognize patterns in your behavior. Adjusting the habit stack ensures it remains effective and sustainable, allowing you to refine the process and achieve better results over time.

By systematically linking new habits to current routines, you create a more seamless and effective way to incorporate positive changes into your daily life.

Why Does Habit Stacking Work?

For most people, it’s simply easier than starting from scratch, as the neurological processing already exists for the first habit. The American Center for Cancer Research (AICR) states that “neurons in the brain are information messengers that support behavior patterns. Some researchers posit that the more you do something, the stronger and more efficient the neuron connections become.” 

Additionally, as we get older, some studies suggest that making behavioral changes becomes more difficult, so habit stacking helps reduce frustration over change and increases the chances of success.

By following the process outlined above, you have the ability to evolve, making certain habits more ritualistic. “Studies show it takes about 60 days for the new habit to become routine. Stick with it! If you miss a day, don’t abandon your emerging habit. Just try again tomorrow,” suggests the AICR. 

Helpful Books to Learn More About Habit Stacking

Ready to give this practice a try? Here are some books you might find interesting. 

  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. First published more than 30 years ago but still just as relevant today, it’s considered the gold standard of the concept. 
  • Habit Stacking: 127 Ways to Improve Your Health, Wealth, and Happiness by S.J. Scott. This compilation of different ideas helps eliminate the stress of trying to change too much at once.
  • Atomic Habits by James Clear. You’ll find practical strategies for breaking the pattern of bad habits to make room for more effective ones. He also has a podcast.  
  • Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything by B.J. Fogg. This Stanford University researcher presents 20 years of study that indicate positive emotions and celebrating little victories.
  • The Ritual Effect: From Habit to Ritual, Harness the Surprising Power of Everyday Actions by Dr. Michael Norton. There’s proven science to support the power of routine and ritual for better recovery. Norton, a Harvard University professor, also has a TEDxTalk, “How to Buy Happiness”

You, Only Better, at Willingway

At our Georgia and Florida addiction rehabilitation locations, we make it a habit to keep our treatment options fresh and relevant. Our comprehensive programs are designed to help you pursue a path of wellness through self-discovery, curiosity, and the belief that positive change is always a possibility. If you’re ready to have this kind of support through evidence-based solutions, reach out to our admissions team to learn more.