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Habit Stacking: Build New Healthy Habits that Stick

Habit Stacking Whole Health Institute Blog

Whole-person integrative medicine focused on healing you in mind, body and spirit. It's more than fixing what’s wrong. It’s about celebrating what’s right and making sure you’re on the path to a healthier, stronger you.

As the new year of 2024 begins, it is the perfect time to form some new healthy habits. 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.

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. 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 – below are some options.

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, drink a glass of water (the new habit), 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 device 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 method. Experiment with paring different habits, both current and new, and see what works best. 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 overall health and wellness!

About the Author

Lisa Markley, MS, RDN, LD

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.

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