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Habit Stacking 101 : The Science Behind Building Good Habits

Updated: Mar 12, 2023


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Are you tired of New Year's resolutions that fizzle out by February?


It's time to stack up those good habits and watch your life transform! Introducing the game-changing technique of habit stacking.


Everyone is making a huge list of resolutions that they want to practice this year - sometimes, this can get overwhelming. Being pressured into doing a task will only turn it into a heavy burden to carry on your shoulders and it is definitely not sustainable when you are looking to convert it into a habit that you will follow all year long.


So how can you escape this vicious cycle?

The answer is habit stacking. With this simple yet effective method, you can easily add productive habits to your daily routine and make lasting positive changes.


 

What is Habit Staking?



This is a concept where you can pair something you HAVE to do with something you LIKE to do.


It includes making a conscious effort to 'stack' a new or weak behavior onto an existing behavior which will help develop the new habit with lesser perceived effort.

This works by making use of synaptic connections which are basically pre-existing neural networks in our brain in order to form meaningful associations between different actions or behaviors.


Sounds quite easy, right?


All habits are formed by proceeding through four phases - Cue, Craving, Response, and Reward.

This pattern acts as a defined structure that begins with a cue or a trigger that kickstarts the process by signaling to our brain that a specific sort of behavior needs to be initiated. This first step is the easy part when it comes to resolutions - we already know that there is an action that we desire to complete.


The hard part is the second phase which is meant to create a craving to proceed with the action or behavior. This basically refers to the motivational force that compels us and this is where we struggle.

Habit staking helps tackle this by adding an activity that forces us into being motivated and changes our internal state into creating a desire to complete both tasks. Once we are able to make it past this stage the response and reward phases are easier to follow.


This concept also helps us in creating natural reminders where our brain learns to associate one task with another which helps us create a chain of habits that can help build a better lifestyle.


Let us look at a few examples of habit stacking that you can include in your 2023 list of resolutions -


  • Walking on the treadmill while watching your favorite show

  • Listen to a motivational podcast while having breakfast

  • Writing a to-do list or reading the news while brewing coffee

  • Dusting or cleaning the house while listening to an audiobook

  • After finishing work, spend 10 minutes decluttering your workspace

  • Changing into workout clothes right after brushing

  • Tidying up with the kitchen while the food cooks

  • After having a shower, spend 10 minutes practicing mindfulness meditation


 

How to start habit stacking?


  • One - Begin slow


Habits cannot be formed or developed overnight. It follows its own natural process and requires nurturing. The best way to prevent a new behavior from turning overwhelming is, to begin with, a slow and steady approach. Introduce it in a gradual manner with lesser intensity or smaller time intervals. This will help you grow accustomed to it before diving right in.


For instance, if you wish to create a habit of reading the news or catching up on current affairs every morning and decide to stack it along with making your cup of coffee - you will make it a point to spend at least 10-15 minutes reading while your coffee brews. With time, you will automatically get used to reading the news and it might extend over longer periods of time as well.


  • Two - Create meaningful associations


Creating the right trigger is the real make or break of this activity. Your mind has to be able to naturally connect the two activities together in order to make this work. The best way to do this is to create a list of potential activities or triggers and pick the one that makes the most sense to you. You also must make sure the two paired behavior are easy and realistic to follow. It also helps to not be vague with your behavior descriptions as this allows a gap for error.


  • Three - Specify your goals


Humans are known to be motivated by incentives or rewards but another factor that plays a huge role in improving this is by providing goals with timelines. This helps create a fun challenge rather than leaving it open-ended. It also gives you a time frame to pause and analyze if your pairing is working - if not, you can tweak it and restart your habit stacks for the next cycle.


For instance, if you wish to begin taking a brisk walk every morning before getting your day started and decide to pair it with listening to an informational podcast - you can set a timeline of 1 month to try and complete performing this habit every single day of the month. After 30 days, you can check your progress and make any changes if needed.


 

Habit stacking as a practice helps make resolutions easier to follow and helps transform the way you perceive specific tasks. Rather than looking at it as a burden - you can now view it as something you genuinely look forward to.


This made all the difference and really helped me turn tasks into activities that I enjoy. They say it takes 21 days to form a habit so at this rate before you know it the tasks that you once struggled with will not seem so difficult anymore.


If concepts like habit stacking interest you - you must take a look at James Clear's best-selling novel Atomic Habits


Here's the key - simplify your tasks and make them enjoyable.


 

If you wish to use a free app to track your habits, you can try - Strides, HabitBul, Loop, or Habitica.


I hope the practice of habit stacking will help you change your perspective on resolutions this year.


Love,

Rae



Image Credits - Roberto Hund




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