The Art of Stacking Habits

Do you ever find yourself discouraged after realizing your habit was too challenging? Habit stacking is a strategy you can use to connect your already existing habits to new ones that you would like to form. Use the formula: after (current habit), I will (new habit). Let’s say you want to start exercising regularly. Take an existing habit you already have, for example, making your bed. After you make your bed, you will go on a jog for ten minutes. By associating your pre-existing habit with a new one, engaging in the new habit will become second nature to you.  

Habit stacking is a strategy that implements new habits on top of old habits. But how is habit stacking effective for habit formation? It’s common for people to assume that in order to create habits, you either have to go hard or go home.  And so, people often find themselves unmotivated and discouraged when the new habit they’re trying to form appears daunting. This is where habit stacking comes in.  

The concept of habit stacking builds on the principle of associating an already existing habit, and using it as a cue to trigger the new habit you want to form. Connecting a new habit with a pre-existing one makes it easier to form new habits because you already have a developed habit to associate it with. The formula for habit stacking goes something like this: 

After (current habit), I will (new habit)

For example, let’s say you want to started meditating. First, take an existing habit you already have – eating cereal. After you eat your cereal, you will meditate for five minutes. Eating cereal will become a cue for you to meditate and over time, you’ll start meditating after you eat your cereal by default!  

You don’t have to stop there either! Once you’ve mastered forming a habit on top of an existing one, you can continue building upon that routine! For example, after you eat your cereal, you will meditate for five minutes, then you will read a book for fifteen minutes. By forming these habits on top of existing habits, you’ll be more likely to engage in the whole routine just by association! 

There is also a scientific reason as to why habit stacking is so effective! Our brains are constantly looking for more efficient ways to strengthen the connections in our brains – and that includes removing connections that aren’t frequently used. This process called “pruning” is what makes the neural connections that reflect your existing habits strong. In other words, connections in your brain become stronger and faster when you engage in repetitive behaviour, and these habits become almost second nature to you (Ovenden 2017).   

So, take advantage of these pre-existing connections and start your habit stacking journey today! 

To read more about habit stacking, check out these articles:

Ovenden, O. – What Is ‘Habit Stacking’? How To Train Your Brain With Routine
Clear, J. – Achieve Your Goals: The Simple Trick That Doubles Your Odds of Success

Author: Cathy Xie
Editor: Zac Lo
Researcher: Maureen Arsenal