Habit Stacking: Make new health habits stick!

Written by: Jamie Schoepke, CFW Health Fitness Professional

Concept word 'habits' on wooden cubes between pages of a book on a beautiful wooden table. White background. Business concept.

It’s Monday, the start of a new work week. This week feels different as the energy and excitement run through your body. You made the decision to start a gratitude practice and attend a virtual fitness class during the workday. You learned that movement and mindset help you recharge and manage stress.

You have a plan in place to practice gratitude before starting the workday and attend class over the lunch hour. The first week starts off strong. You only miss one day of working out and have kept consistent with your gratitude. You start to notice changes in your mood and less muscle aches from sitting at your desk all day.

As the following week approaches you start to lose steam. Meetings have been scheduled over your workout time and you are finding it near impossible to channel any source of energy by the end of the day. Oh, and that gratitude practice you were so excited to start your day with, urgent emails and tasks took precedent and now it is Friday and you’ve lost all momentum.

Sound familiar? Why is building a new habit so hard?

We tend to think we need to make a big change to get the best results, or we make the mistake of trying to implement too many changes at one time. How can we get new habits to stick?

Enter in habit stacking! According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, one of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behavior on top. Rather than pairing your new habit with a time and location, you pair it with a current habit.

It is also important to recognize we have what is known as a discipline reserve, meaning we only have so much fuel in tank to give our energy and focus to certain tasks. Typically, at the end of the day you will have less discipline reserve to utilize, especially with new habits you are trying to create. The more you do something, the stronger and more efficient the habit becomes, and the less discipline reserve you will use.

The habit stacking formula looks like this:

After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].

For example:

  • After I pour my cup of coffee each morning, I will write down 3-5 things I am grateful for.
  • Before I attend a work meeting, I will do a minute of movement to recharge.
  • After I finish a work meeting, I will write down what went well to train my brain to look for the positive.
  • After I take off my work shoes, I will immediately change into my workout clothes.
  • After I sit down to dinner, I will say one thing I’m grateful for that happened today.

What new behavior can you link to a current habit?

James Clear states, “the reason habit stacking works so well is that your current habits are already built into your brain. You have patterns and behaviors that have been strengthened over years. By linking your new habits to a cycle that is already built into your brain, you make it more likely that you'll stick to the new behavior.”

Let me ask you, what habit will you start stacking today?