Learn how to use habit stacking to create momentum in your life and business. This article provides an overview of what habit stacking is, the benefits of using it, and how you can get started.

Habit Stacking: A Simple Way to Build More Good Habits and Create Momentum in Life and Business

Aug 7, 2022

Each and every one of us has habits and routines. Small things that we do every day, week or month on autopilot. Some of these things have a positive impact (your success habits) and others… not so much (your failure habits). 

If you’re like most people, when you think about your life, I’ll bet there are a few habits you’d like to change. Maybe you want to exercise more, eat healthier, get organized, or save money.

You’ve probably tried to do these things in the past but they never seem to stick. You work on that new routine for a few weeks or even months but then “life happens” and you fall off track. Back into your old patterns.

Well, that’s no surprise because your habits have formed over years (your whole life in many cases). The first time you performed an action in the past, let’s say – going straight to the refrigerator for a cold beer when you arrive home from a hard day in the office – a pathway was formed in your brain connecting those two things.

Every time you performed that action since then, that neural pathway got a little stronger. Eventually, it becomes so strong that you do it automatically – with no conscious thought – and it’s almost impossible to break.

But it’s not all doom and gloom – there’s good news, too. You have the power to change anything in your life. And that includes creating any new, healthy habits that you want to. What’s more, there’s even a powerful way to build new habits by taking advantage of old ones.

One of the most effective ways to do that is by using habit stacking. It’s an awesome way to trick your little dog-brain into doing the things that you want to do by leveraging the things that you’re already doing on autopilot.

So, now you may be asking yourself:

How does habit stacking work?

The basic idea behind habit stacking is simple: instead of trying to form a new habit from scratch, you stack your new habit on top of an existing habit that you already do on autopilot. 

According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, the basic habit stack formula is: 

After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT]

For example, let's say you want to start drinking more water. A habit stack for this could be: "After I brush my teeth in the morning, I will drink a liter of water." By connecting your new habit to an existing habit, you increase the chances that you'll actually stick with it. And as you start to form new habits, you create momentum that can help you make even more positive changes in your life. 

Because it doesn’t stop with two habits. After all, two isn’t much of a stack, is it? Let’s say you’re even more ambitious and as well as drinking more water, you also want to start meditating, become more efficient, and finally start writing that novel. Your new morning habit super-stack might look like this:

→"After I brush my teeth in the morning, I will drink a liter of water."

→ "After I drink a liter of water, I will meditate for 10 minutes."

→ "After I meditate for 10 minutes, I will plan out my daily schedule."

→ "After I plan out my daily schedule, I will work on my novel for an hour."

There are endless possibilities for how you can use habit stacking. You can use it to form health-related habits like exercising or eating more vegetables. You can use it to develop better work habits, like taking regular breaks, developing your skills, or working on your side-hustle for an hour each day. You can even use it to improve your relationships, by making time for regular check-ins with loved ones or sending a handwritten note each week. 

No matter your goals, habit stacking is a powerful tool that can help you achieve them.

How to create a habit stack for your personal or professional life

OK, so let’s dig a little deeper into how you would go about creating a habit stack. 

The key to successful habit stacking is to start with a small, manageable change that you can easily incorporate into your daily routine. Once you've made that change, you can add on additional changes, gradually building up to your desired goal. 

For example, let's say you want to start a morning routine that includes exercising first thing. When you’re getting ready for bed at night, you could begin by putting your workout clothes next to your bed so they're the first thing you see when you wake up. That would be your trigger.

Then, your habit would be to put on those clothes and go for a short walk or run. As you build up momentum, you could add additional habits to your stack, such as going to the gym or lifting weights. The important thing is to start small and focus on one change at a time. By doing so, you'll be more likely to stick with it and achieve your long-term goals.

So, as you saw in that last example, a trigger is really the first step in creating a habit stack. The trigger can be anything that cues you to start the stack, such as an alarm, a certain time of day, or a specific location. Once you've identified your trigger, the next step is to choose the habits that you want to include in your stack. When selecting habits, it's important to choose ones that are realistic and achievable.

For example, if your trigger is an alarm in the morning, your stack might include habits such as making your bed, taking a shower, and eating a healthy breakfast. 

Once you've decided on your habits, the final step is to establish a routine. The most effective way to do this is to perform your stack at the same time each day until it becomes second nature. 

By following these simple steps, you can easily create a habit stack that will help you achieve your personal or professional goals.

How can habit stacking be used to achieve success in the 5 core areas of life?

I want to quote James Clear again here; "Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your life. But as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity." In other words, our daily habits shape our lives more than we realize. 

There are 5 core areas of life that contribute to your overall happiness; Mindset, Career & Finance, Relationships, Physical Health, and Emotional Health. To achieve balance in each of these areas, it's important to stack your habits in favor of success.

There are endless ways to use habit stacking to achieve goals in different areas of life. Some things will be the same for a lot of people, but others will be very specific to you. It’s important for you to identify the areas that are most important for you. In fact, here’s a quiz you can take to evaluate your own 5 cores.

That being said, here are a few examples of success habit stacks in the 5 cores of life:

Mindset

“After I get up in the morning, I will repeat my affirmations 10 times in the mirror”

“Before I turn on the TV, I will pick up a self-help book and read for 30 minutes”

“When I feel restless & unproductive, I will take a walk in the woods.”

Career & Finance 

“After I receive my salary, I will automatically save 10%.”

“Before I make a purchase, I will ask myself if I really need it.”

“After I arrive at work, I will lock my phone in my desk drawer.”

Relationships 

“Before I go to sleep at night, I will kiss my partner.”

“After I greet my friends, I will give them a compliment.”

“After I pick up my phone, I will send a message to someone I care about.”

Physical Health

“When I brush my teeth, I will floss directly afterwards.”

“When I walk the dog in the evening, I will add an extra 2 miles.”

“Before I eat lunch, I will do 50 pushups.”

Emotional Health

“When I wake up in the morning, I will write down 5 things I’m grateful for.”

“When I feel angry with my co-worker, I will breathe and count to 5 before I respond”

“Before I eat breakfast, I will meditate for 10 minutes.”

So hopefully you can see how habit stacking can be used to develop success habits in all areas of your life. Not only does stacking habits in this way make it more likely that you'll stick to your new habit, but it also means that you're slowly building up a repertoire of good habits that will set you up for success over the long term.

Of course, habit stacking can also be used to break bad habits. For example, if you want to quit smoking, you could stack a new habit, like increasing physical fitness, on top of giving up cigarettes. Every time you have the urge to smoke, do 20 pushups or situps instead. Over time, the good habit will replace the bad one – you'll be able to kick nicotine out of your life for good and have that six-pack to boot.

Whatever habits you want to bring into your life, the key is to find a trigger that you already have built into your day-to-day routine and build from there.

3 tips for sticking to your habit stack and creating lasting change

If you're trying to stick to a new habit, it's important to be realistic and patient with yourself. Change doesn't happen overnight, and there will inevitably be setbacks along the way. However, by following these tips, you can increase your chances of success.

1. Start small: 

Trying to overhaul your entire life at once is bound to be overwhelming and discouraging. Instead, focus on making one small change at a time. For example, if you're trying to eat healthier, start by adding one new fruit or vegetable to your diet each day.

2. Make it easy: 

The easier it is for you to stick to your habit, the more likely you are to succeed. If you're trying to exercise more, for instance, choose an activity that you enjoy and that fits easily into your schedule. Likewise, if you're trying to eat better, stocking your fridge with healthy snacks will make it more likely that you'll reach for those instead of unhealthy junk food.

3. Be consistent: 

The key to lasting change is consistency. Rather than going all-out for a few days and then giving up altogether, stick to your habit most days of the week. Over time, this will become second nature

So, to sum it all up, habit stacking is a powerful way to create momentum in your personal and professional life. When you establish a series of habits that work together to support your goals, you can achieve more with less effort. The best part is, that habit stacking is easy to do and it’s versatile enough to be used in any area of your life. 

If you want to start taking advantage of the benefits of habit stacking in your 5 cores; Mindset, Career & Finance, Relationships, Physical Health, and Emotional Health, check out my app. With my help, you can build healthy habits in your 5 cores and see lasting change for the better.

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Will Moore is a gamification, habits and happiness expert.

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