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As we’ve entered the new year, with this fresh start many of us have the best intentions of building new healthy habits. As you’ve probably figured out, however, it takes more than just good intentions to change our daily behaviors. Enter: habit stacking.
Habit stacking is a method of behavior change that involves creating a list of small, manageable tasks that you can complete each day to help you reach your goal. The best part of habit stacking is that it doesn’t require a huge time commitment – you can start small and gradually add on as you go.
When it comes to developing habits that improve health, many people find that stacking them one on top of the other makes the process a lot easier. This involves linking a new healthy habit to an already established habit so that you don’t have to focus as much energy on making the change.
There is a lot of evidence behind habit stacking, and research has shown that it can be an effective way to make changes in your life. One study found that people who stacked their new habits were more likely to stick with them over time. In addition, they found that when people tried to make too many changes at once, they were less likely to be successful. So, if you’re trying to adopt a new habit, it might be helpful to stack it on top of an existing one.
There are a few different ways to go about stacking habits - let's take a look.
Chain Method: Chaining involves linking a new habit to an established one. For example, you might want to start taking recommended supplements every day, so you chain it to an existing habit like brushing your teeth. Every time you brush your teeth, you take your supplements right after. Set yourself up for success by keeping the supplements right next to your toothbrush - you want to make it as easy as possible to add the new habit. The easier and more convenient the chained habit is, the more likely it is that you'll adopt it.
Sequence Method: Sequencing involves doing a series of existing, related habits in order and adding in a new one. For example, if you're looking to increase your intake of water, you might want to wake up, make coffee, [insert new habit] drink a glass of water, eat breakfast, and then brush your teeth.
Sequencing your habits can be helpful because it can make them feel more manageable. When you have a specific order that you do things in, it can make it feel less like you're just randomly doing things and more like you're following a plan. Plus, it can help you to remember to do all of your habits, since you'll know that you have to do them in a specific order.
Pairing Method: Pairing involves pairing two habits together so that they happen simultaneously. This can be particularly powerful if you "temptation bundle" - pick something you really love doing and add a new habit to the mix. For example, let's say you really love listening to podcasts or audiobooks - bundling this existing pleasure with a new habit like walking. Maybe you're enjoying a new TV series - download it on a mobile devise and view it while on the treadmill. This way you will naturally look forward to your daily exercise as it is associated with something you really enjoy.
You don't need to stick to just one type of habit stacking. Experiment with paring different habits, both current and new, and see what works best.
Choose a Trigger
The first step with any type of habit stacking is to choose a trigger. A trigger is something that you do on a regular basis that you can use to remind yourself to perform your desired behavior. For example, if you're trying to eat more fruits and vegetables, you might use the trigger of brushing your teeth in the morning as a reminder to eat a healthy breakfast. Or, if you're trying to cut back on sugary snacks, you might use the trigger of taking a break at work as a reminder to eat an apple instead of heading for the vending machine. Choose a trigger that is already part of your daily routine so that it's easy to remember.
Think about the different types of habit stacking and start with a new habit that fits well into your daily routine. Begin with stacking one habit to an established one. Perform the stack for at least one week or two until it seems easier. Once you're in the flow, you can add another habit to the stack.
The key is to create a chain of healthy behaviors that becomes automatic and second nature. Eventually, these behaviors will become part of your daily routine without any effort on your part. And when they do, you'll be well on your way to improving your nutrition and overall health!
Habit Stacking Examples
Healthy Habit: Drink more water
Chain: brush teeth + fill water bottle + drink water
Sequence: wake up > make coffee > drink water
Pair: drink water while answering emails 3x per day
Healthy Habit: Prep more vegetables
Chain: make a sandwich + slice cucumbers
Sequence: make dinner > prep extra vegetables > pack for next day's lunch
Pair: prep vegetables for week while watching Sunday night football
Healthy Habit: Eat Healthier Snacks
Chain: put groceries away + portion out nuts for snacking
Sequence: pick up kids from school > eat an orange with nuts > make dinner
Pair: eat apple while doing Wordle daily
Habit stacking is an easy and effective way to make lasting changes to your diet and eating habits. By breaking down your goals into smaller steps and linking them together with triggers, you can gradually build healthy new habits that will last a lifetime. So, give it a try - you may be surprised at how quickly and easily habit stacking can help you improve your nutrition and overall health!
For a nutritious approach to establishing healthy habits, schedule a 1:1 with Lisa Markley, MS, RDN, LD at AdventHealth Whole Health Institute, register for a cooking class, or try a new recipe. Check out Lisa’s upcoming cooking classes and recipes below:
About the Author
Lisa Markley, MS, RDN, LD
Lisa Markley, MS, RDN, LD, is an integrative dietitian culinary nutrition expert with nearly two decades of experience working towards improving the health of others. She is passionate about educating others how to harness the healing power of food and healthful lifestyle changes.