Habit stacking has been around for a while, ever since it was first coined by S J Scott in his book; Habit Sacking: 27 Small Changes to Improve Your Health, Wealth, and Happiness however the concept of habit stacking wasn’t widely known until James Clear came along with his awesome book: Atomic Habits making it super popular. In this post, we’ll look at some habit-stacking examples that you could use in your own life to boost your chances of picking up new habits.

What is habit stacking?

The idea of habit stacking is pretty simple, take a new habit and combine it or do it before or after an existing habit. This way, you’re more likely to adopt your new habit into your routine. If you do this with multiple habits, you end up with a sort of ‘stack’ of habits. Stacking habits can make it much easier to remember them and of course, be consistent with them.

At its core, habit stacking is about building a blocked-out routine made up of small habits.

In my experience, any new habit whether big or small has to have a purpose, be realistic, enjoyable and have longevity. If you keep your new habits small and related to your existing habits, you might find you have more success when you’re trying to build a stack. I love the idea of habit stacking and it has helped me to embed new habits into my own life. For example, when I wanted to make drinking water a daily habit, I decided I’d drink a glass every time I went into the kitchen to clear up.

Go in the kitchen > clear up > drink a glass of water

The purpose was clear – I wanted to see if drinking more water gave me more energy because I wasn’t drinking enough. Drinking a glass of water is easy, enjoyable and realistic and so it’s something I knew I could keep up.

I go and clean up the kitchen every day anyway so making sure I drink a glass of water beforehand is easy enough to add to my routine. That’s the beauty of habit stacking – you can stack a bunch of simple and easy habits with little effort.

The key to habit stacking is keeping your habits small. Make them so straightforward that you’ll barely even have to remember to do them after a week or so.

Your stacks of habits become just like chains of actions all tied together.

The science of habit stacking

As we age, the brain naturally slashes connections between neurons, or brain cells that it feels it doesn’t need anymore. Essentially, if you stop doing something, your brain has no reason to keep hold of those connections. However, this is why habit stacking works if you do the opposite.

This is called synaptic pruning and helps us to build habits the more we consistently perform the same actions over and over again. Over time, your brain begins to link the things you keep doing, creating new neural connections. These connections get stronger over time which makes it easier to stack in new habits alongside your existing ones.

Identify how you spend your 24 hours

Your time is already broken up by the big and small habits you perform every day. A helpful way to see where you can start adding in smaller habits or ‘stacks’ is to identify how you spend each of your waking hours.

For example, you might already have a routine of waking up, turning off your alarm clock, drinking water, drinking coffee, watching TV, getting dressed for work, etc, etc. Think about a small habit you’d like to slide in amongst the things you already do. For example, if you already spend 20 minutes watching TV in the morning could you use 10 minutes of that time doing some kind of exercise?

Break your day down into hours and look at all the habits you already have. Once you’ve done this you’ll have a clear picture of where you can make some habit gains whilst at the same time being able to see some potentially bad habits that you can swap out for healthier ones.

Let’s look at some habit stacking examples that you could easily slide into your own daily routine. With a few small tweaks, you can start building a stack of habits that don’t consume much of your time but could add up nicely over the weeks and months if done consistently. These are just habit stacking ideas so use these as inspiration for your own routine.

Morning habit stacking examples

Wake up > drink a glass of water > take a vitamin.

When you wake up, you might already head straight to the kitchen to drink a glass of water. If you want to make sure you take a vitamin every day, do it first thing in the morning.

Get dressed in your bedroom > make your bed.

This is another habit stacking example that is easy enough to achieve. Most people get dressed for the day ahead in their bedroom so making their bed before they head out is easy to remember.

Drink a cup of coffee or tea > practise gratitude for one minute.

If you’re like me, one of the first things you do is make a cup of coffee in the morning. If you’re looking to practise gratitude, one minute to yourself can do you wonders. Sit with your drink and reflect in your mind on three things that you’re grateful for.

Go for a run > listen to a podcast > drink a protein shake when you get home.

When you’re out for a run, try swapping out music for a podcast where you can learn something new. When you get home, drink a protein shake to aid your recovery, depending on your goals.

Eat your breakfast > take a mindful minute > stretch for 5 minutes.

After you’ve eaten your breakfast your breakfast, take a pause and have a mindful minute. This could involve meditating by simply closing your eyes and observing your thoughts for a moment. Once you’ve done this, have a stretch and loosen your body in prep for the day.

Afternoon habit stacking examples

Eat lunch > go for a walk > call a friend.

Once you’ve eaten your lunch, go for a quick walk to get your daily steps up. Add in another small habit of checking in with a friend by giving them a call.

Eat some fruit > read a book.

When you’re sat down for your lunch make it a ritual to eat some fruit whilst you read a book. Do this every day to begin associating eating something healthy whilst you exercise your brain.

Do some back stretches > drink a glass of water.

Before you head back to work, perform some stretches and then drink a glass of water before you sit back at your desk.

Complete a task > get up and stretch

Every time you tick something off your to-do list, get up and stretch your body or move around in some way so you don’t get stiff at your desk.

Make a healthy lunch > go to the gym

Before you head out to the gym, make a healthy lunch to have when you get back so you’re not tempted to buy anything whilst you’re out. This is a good way to start associating healthy eating with exercise.

Evening habit stacking examples

Put your work things down > lay out your clothes for the next day.

When you get in from work, instead of sitting down right away, gather the clothes you want to wear the next day and lay them out somewhere so they’re ready.

Cook dinner > drink a glass of water > prepare lunch for tomorrow.

Whilst you’re already in cooking mode during dinner prep, start putting together your lunch for the next day. Add another glass of water into your day to build three habits in one stack.

Let dinner cook > do some 3 x 15 reps of push-ups > write a to-do list for tomorrow.

Whilst you’re waiting for dinner to cook, use the time to get some push-ups in. Over the week, these daily habits add up. When you’ve done this, finish by creating a to-do list for the following day.

Take a bath > read a book > drink green tea.

When you have your bath in the evening, take a cup of green tea to add some antioxidants to your daily routine. Keep your hands dry and use that downtime to read more of your book!

Brush your teeth > floss > scrub your face.

Make your self-care routine simple by doing it all in the evening. You have to brush your teeth anyway so why not add flossing as a little extra step and then a cleansing face wash in right afterwards?

Get into bed > write a few sentences in your journal.

Once you get into bed, put your phone on charge and then before you do anything else, jot down a few sentences in your journal to empty your mind before you drift off to sleep.

More habit stacking examples

Sit on the bus > write in your journal > catch up on emails

If you have to take the bus to school or work think about if you could use that time to get things ticked off your list. Perhaps you could use that time to read a book or write in your journal and then catch up and clear your messages and emails.

Get to work > catch up on emails > read a book

Similarly, if you find yourself getting to work a few minutes early every day, perhaps you could park up and use that 10 minutes to read or catch up on emails and even add in a breathing exercise.

Get up on Saturday > workout > organise something

If you haven’t got to shoot out the door on a Saturday morning, block out that first hour or so by performing a workout. Whilst you’re feeling productive and on a high, go and tackle that thing you’ve been meaning to organise before you take a shower. Once you’ve had a wash and sat down you’ll feel like you’ve completed two important things and you still have the rest of the day free!

Build your habit stacking into your morning routine

One of the best ways to start building stacks of habits is my experience is in the morning before the day begins to distract you. It’s a great time of day to build a healthy routine before you even head out of the door. If you can get a solid habit routine going in your mornings, you’ll prove to yourself that you can do the same at any other time of day. In my experience, a healthy morning routine helps to set the tone for the rest of the day.

If you’ve always wanted to build a morning routine but you’re not sure where to start, try this habit stacking example that incorporates lots of little yet helpful habits into your mornings;

Wake up and get up as soon as your alarm sounds > drink a glass of water > take a vitamin > make a coffee > whilst your coffee cools down, perform a stretch routine > perform 30 push-ups> perform 30 sit-ups> drink your coffee > do a ten-minute breathing exercise > take a shower > get dressed.

Do you have any habit stacking examples of your own? Drop a comment down below and share how you create helpful routines with your smaller habits.

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