Habit Stacking: Why We Love It

by: Lauren Kelly MS, RD, CDN  |  September 5, 2023

September is frequently referred to as the ‘other January.’ It’s a common time to refocus and create healthy habits - whether that be mental, physical or emotional. Habit stacking is one of the most effective ways to create those changes and sustain them.

What is Habit Stacking?

Habit stacking is adding a new habit to an already established one. This concept has become more widely put into practice with the popularity of James Clear’s Atomic Habits, a New York Times Bestseller with over 15 million copies sold. He gives credit to BJ Fogg for the idea of ‘anchoring’ these tiny new habits to old established ones. This new habit is one that you desire to add into your routine, like drinking water in the morning, incorporating deep breathing into your day or connecting more deeply with loved ones.

Each of us has many established habits, even if we don’t quite realize it! Some examples include turning on the coffee machine when you enter the kitchen in the morning, brushing your teeth before bed or packing your lunch the night before.

Why We Recommend It

It can feel overwhelming to make a strong commitment to your health goals. Habit stacking is a great way to incorporate small habits more seamlessly into your routine. These small changes made consistently lead to sustainable, long-term health benefits!

You may have overarching goals like to ‘eat better’ or ‘sleep better’ but it’s very important to be clear and concise to achieve your desired outcomes. That’s why habit stacking works so well.

What Are Some Examples of Habit Stacking?

  • While brewing my coffee, I will have a glass of water.
  • On my way home from work, I will call a loved one.
  • After I eat lunch, I will go for a 10 minute walk.
  • After I sit down for dinner, I will take one deep breath before eating.
  • After I brush my teeth, I will participate in a 5 minute guided meditation from the Headspace app.

One of the most exciting parts of habit stacking is that once you master that simple ‘after [established habit], I do [new habit]’, you can continue to ‘chain together’ more habits and develop desirable routines!

As a working mom of two, one of my favorites that I’ve created over time and practice is the below. It allows me to feel so much calmer going into the evening and less chaotic during the morning school prep:

  1. After dinner is done, I will clean the dishes.
  2. After I clean the dishes, I will wipe down the table and counters.
  3. After I wipe down the table and counters, I will pack lunches and snacks for the next day.
  4. After I pack lunches and snacks, I will lay out the book bags and after school activity bags.

A personal goal of mine was to feel present in the morning and set myself up well for energy going into the day, so over time, I developed this series of habit stacking!

  1. After waking up, I have some water (ready at my bedside).
  2. After having my water, I will open the blinds and open the windows.
  3. After I open the windows, I will take 5 deep breaths looking out into the backyard.
  4. After I take my deep breaths, I’ll make the bed.

How Can I Get Started?

If you’re not sure where to start, it can be helpful to write a list of the habits you recognize that you do already (like those mentioned above!). Alongside that, you can note a few you’d like to add in. Then, pair those new habits with the established ones that make the most sense.

For example, let’s say you own the goal of: ‘I want to work on eating more vegetables.’ You eat dinner with your family each day. You can create the habit of: “When I plate my dinner, I will make half of my plate vegetables.” After repeatedly practicing that new habit, it can truly become engrained in your day-to-day life. After some time, you will notice that when you’re out - let’s say at a work event buffet - you will be more cognizant to have more vegetables on your plate than you would have prior to creating that habit link.

Feel like you could use a little more guidance to make these changes? Check out one of our programs, led by the Being Functional Nutrition team of functional dietitian nutritionists!

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