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Habit Stacking

Habit Stacking

Jul 09, 2024

Eric Evans

The image for this blog post is my workouts for the month of June. It doesn’t show all the days of the month (I didn’t train on Sunday June 23). That consistency doesn’t happen by chance or having a schedule that luckily falls in my favor with some free time to get some training in. It happens consistently by design. Every time I get ready to train, it happens like this:

The first thing I do is mix my pre-workout and start sipping. From that moment, I have 30 minutes to start the workout. The next thing I do is get dressed. Then I figure out what I'm going to need for my workout; if I need my lifting shoes, I'll grab that backpack. Otherwise, I'll grab my gym bag. Then I grab my inhaler. And then I head to the workout. I use 1 puff of my inhaler right before I get out of my car – which would be about 5-8 minutes before I’m in motion. 15-20 minutes after I took that first sip my workout starts. Every single workout goes through these steps. My workout is guaranteed to take place once I mix my pre-workout drink…without fail! Even if something like forgetting my inhaler in the other bag happens, the next step – which is starting the training session, takes place. I just think to myself ‘this cardio is about to suck’ – LoL. This sequence of events is called habit stacking.

What Is Habit Stacking?

Habit stacking is essentially a form of implementation intention (James Clear, Atomic Habits). Science defines it as a technique where you form new habits by pairing a new desired behavior – like training, with, on, or following an already existing behavior you routinely do, or something that routinely happens in your day (your alarm going off or walking in the door when you get home from work). This makes it easier to remember to perform the new activity. If you can attach a new habit to one that you already do, you’re going to have success. It works because humans tend to crave and act according to routines we get into. If you don’t have a habit to start with AND there’s nothing in your daily routine to anchor another habit to, you’d have to create a cue. For me, the cue is my pre-workout cocktail.

If you’ve ever set a goal to get in better shape, lose some body fat and/or build some muscle mass or get stronger and it didn’t stick – you’re in good company. About 7 in 10 adults who participated in a December 2022 Gallup Poll say they entered 2023 with a sky-high resolution for a worthy reason: a potentially “better” life. There is considerable research that shows behavior change is remarkably challenging.

Whether it’s a resolution or a new goal, this science-backed strategy of habit stacking will help you stick to your new habits this time.

If you go for a daily walk, do some resistance training with some bands and your body weight while you’re out on your walk. You’re stacking resistance training on the already existing habit of your daily walk. Over time, the mere repetition of an action leads to you initiating it without intention. One day, doing one habit will automatically lead you to do the other without needing to remind yourself to do it.

How to Start Habit Stacking

You start by choosing the other daily habits that you might add your new practice to.

  1. List your current habits. Within each hour, take note of your current routine habits that you do at about the same time each day, such as “read and answer my emails,” “end this weekly meeting,” or “take a lunch break.”
  2. Pin down your specific and realistic new goal. If your cues are not specific enough, you will struggle with habit stacking. If your goal is to take a 15-minute walk over your lunch break, be very clear and note when and where, for example: “I will go for a 15-minute walk around the block.”
  3. Stack on your list. Go back to the list you created during step two. Then consider which current habit your new goal will align best with (step 1). Would it be better for you to take that 15-minute walk at the beginning of your lunch break?
  4. Try it out. Set a goal of starting to integrate the stacked habit into your routine for 1 week; taking a moment to note at the end of each day: How do you feel about the new habit? Did you stick with the new habit?

    Remember to give yourself grace. Your schedule is already ridiculously busy - there will be slip-ups along the way, but with practice over time, the new routine will feel as natural as the original one you stacked it on top of. You got this!