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Have you ever tried habit stacking? It’s one of those life-hack type tips that once you learn you are like “whoa.” It just taps right into our natural human behavior and makes it so much easier to develop a new habit.

Here’s the short version: if you are trying to develop a new habit, try connecting it to a daily habit you already have. For example, “After I brush my teeth in the morning I will drink 10 ounces of water.” or “After I make the bed I will do five minutes of stretching.”

HOW IT WORKS

This is a method that is backed up by science, and certainly not something I came up with. James Clear has written a lot about productivity, and he discusses habit stacking in his New York Times Best-Selling Book, Atomic Habits (get it on Amazon for $12.95).

James explains that when we develop skills and habits our brains create a connection between neurons related to that particular task. As we grow and age our brains undergo a process called “synaptic pruning”, which prunes away the unused connections and allocates energy toward building connections for other skills. As adults we have about 40% less neurons than we have as babies — and this is thanks to this process of synaptic pruning.

Although we are losing neurons and connections the connections that remain and are being used frequently get very strong. Think of them as well-worn paths. And each of us have dozens of these well-worn “habits” that we perform each day. Walking the dog. Brushing our teeth. Checking the mail. Emptying the dishwasher. Packing a lunch. Making that first pot of coffee. The more you do, the stronger and faster these “paths” become.

GETTING STARTED

When you want to develop a new habit, try connecting it to one of these current habits you already have and “stack” them so that the new habit will land on that same well-worn neuron path as the habit you have already developed. For example:

  • When I walk the dog I will go up and down the stairs at the train station ten times.
  • When I brush my teeth I will apply sunscreen.
  • When I make the bed I will then do ten minutes of meditation.
  • After I turn on the coffee pot I will make my to-do list for the day.

So the forumla here is: The well-worn habit you have already developed + a habit you want to form.

EXPANDING YOUR STACKS

And you don’t have to stop there. The best part about Habit Stacking is that once you get good at it, you can stack multiple habits onto that same neuron path. For example:

  • When I walk the dog I will DO 50 LUNGES, then go up and down the stairs at the train station ten times.
  • When I brush my teeth I will TAKE MY MULTI-VITAMIN, THEN apply sunscreen.
  • When I make the bed I will DO A JOURNAL PROMPT, AND then do ten minutes of meditation.
  • After I turn on the coffee I will CLEAN OFF THE KITCHEN COUNTERS and then make my to-do list for the day.

So the forumla here is: The well-worn Habit you have already developed + the newest habit you’re working to develop + another habit that you have secured.

How I use Habit Stacking

I hope this is making sense so far. But I’ll give you a couple examples of Habit Stacking that I’ve utilized recently in my own life just to kinda bring it home: 

So, I really wanted to try out a lash growth serum, but I was never seeing results because I was always having the hardest time remembering to apply it. You want to apply it right before bed and consistency is really important, so what is something I always do right before bed? I brush my teeth. So I stacked the habits like this:

  • After I brush my teeth at night, I’ll apply my eyelash serum.

And to make it even easier I started storing my eyelash serum and toothbrush in the same cup, which gives me a visual cue as well.

Another example: 

  • After I eat lunch I’ll make a drink with my collagen supplement, and then clean the kitchen.

So, I’m already in the kitchen, usually the cutting board and a few other things are already sitting out,  and I have this connection in my brain to go to the kitchen and clean up my dishes, but before I do that I now have this trigger to whip up my collegen smoothie, then clean up the mess.

Obviously, a big part of successful Habit Stacking is finding the right triggers, so, here is a quick list of some common ones that we all probaly share, but use it to try to think of some of the unique  triggers that you have in your daily life:

Get out of bed.
Take a shower.
Brush your teeth.
Get dressed.
Make coffee.
Eat breakfast.
Drop the kids off.
Walk the dog.
Turn on your computer.
Eat lunch.
Pick the kids up.
Walk the dog again.
Turn off your computer.
Change into comfortable clothes at the end of the day.
Eat dinner.
Pick out a show before bed.
Get in bed.

RESOURCES

Hope you find this “life hack” as helpful as I have! Below are a few of the resources discussed in today’s episode:

Book Recommendation: Atomic Habits by James Clear.
Article recommendation: Is Habit Stacking the Key to Better Results? 

Plan Podcast Episode 026: How Habit Stacking Will Change Your Life

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