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What is Habit Stacking?

Ever feel like the habits you’d love to start don’t actually stick? Committing to drinking more water, a gym routine, or eating less takeout is dependent on adding these changes to an existing routine—a method called habit stacking.
What is Habit Stacking?

The Benefits of Habit Stacking

Do you ever feel like the habits you’d love to start don’t actually stick? Committing to drinking more water, walking every morning, or eating less takeout is dependent on adding these changes to an existing routine. - a method called habit stacking. 

Habit stacking is a frequent topic of discussion in the wellness world (for a deep dive, give this Tim Ferris podcast episode a listen!) and makes adopting the kind of lifestyle you want for yourself more attainable. Sounds great, right? Let's get into how this method works.

What is Habit Stacking?

Habit Stacking by James Clear

This graphic is taken from James Clears' website & blog titled, "How to Build New Habits by Taking Advantage of Old Ones".

Habit stacking increases the likelihood that you’ll stick with a habit by stacking your new behavior on top of an old one. This process can be repeated to chain numerous habits together, each one acting as the cue for the next. (James Clear)

The easiest way to make your new habits last is to pair your new desired behavioral change with an everyday routine you already have, like having your cup of morning coffee. When you “stack” these two actions together, they become associated with each other and are more likely to slowly become automatic. Think of the current habit as an "anchor" or "anchor moment" that helps hold the new one in place, according to Behavior scientist BJ Fogg, PhD best-selling author of Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything, and creator of the Tiny Habits Method.

The Science-Backed Ways Habit Stacking Works

Atomic Habits book by James Clear

The neuronal connections in our brains are strongest for behaviors we already practice. Since the neurological wiring already exists for the first habit, your brain is basically already set to perform certain tasks. However, the neuronal connections are non-existent for behaviors we don’t practice. This is why “stacking" the new behavior/goal onto a current behavior utilizes the strong synaptic connections we already have.

In his book Atomic Habits author James Clear cites research suggesting the average adult has about 41 percent fewer neurons than the typical newborn—meaning that building additional “wiring” in the brain may become more challenging as we age. This is where habit stacking comes in, as it capitalizes on a structure and cycle that already exists in your brain, rather than strengthening an entirely new neural network.

How to Habit Stack and Improve your Daily Life

According to Melissa Ming Foynes, PhD, licensed psychologist and holistic wellness coach, starting small is key, like doing something for five-minutes a day.

Next, make a list of things you do on a daily basis, like listening to your morning podcast. Then make another list of events that occur every day, like when the sun sets or you make dinner. Choose the best building block on which to stack another one. And don’t forget to be specific—if your goal is too vague, it just won’t catch. For example, if you want to take up running before work, decide the exact time you’ll go. Giving yourself a timeline also helps reinforce the commitment you're making to work on this new habit. Anything too open-ended gives you less motivation.

Steps to Start Habit Stacking

Have you tried this method? We would love to hear from you! Let us know what habits you’re already stacking or which ones you’re going to try to stack next!

- The Kosterina Team

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