How To Change Your Life With Habit Stacking

What if I told you creating healthy habits was as simple as doing one extra thing a day? That you don’t need to change your entire lifestyle? Would you believe me? Well, you should because habit stacking is the secret sauce you need to improve your life. 

If you spend even a minute on social media or the internet at all, you probably know everyone is obsessed with personal development and being better. The movement of being 1% better daily has taken TikTok by storm and I have to admit, I love it too. 

However, changing your life is not simple. No one wakes up one day and their entire life is different. What you see on social media isn’t real. That’s why I love habit stacking. Habit stacking is the way you’ll change your life. It’s the “easy” way to success. Interested? Let’s jump in. 

What is habit stacking?

In the most basic form, habit stacking is doing small things one after the other. You already habit stack every single day. Habit stacking could be brushing your teeth and then washing your face. It could be making your morning coffee and then watching TV. 

Habit stacking is when you literally stack your habits. Think about your daily routine right now… what habits do you do every day? Do you habit stack some of them?

I first heard of this idea when I read Atomic Habits. Wonderful book, you should read it. I then heard so much more about it when I started following Shelby Sacco on TikTok. Safe to say, habit stacking is a popular topic!

Let’s quickly chat about habit loops

To really understand how habit stacking works in your brain, you need to first understand how habits work at all. I like the explanation of habit loops because a) it’s easy to understand and b) you are living habit loops right now! 

So the basic idea about building habits can be explained by habit loops.

The habit loop looks like this: CUE – BEHAVIOUR – REWARD. 

The cue is something that triggers you to engage in a certain behaviour. This does not mean the behaviour is just automatic or without any thought, it just means that you are engaging in a behaviour AFTER the cue. Then you get a reward of some kind that encourages you to continue the habit. 

the habit loop graphic

A super basic example would be: you wake up in the morning and go into the kitchen (cue), you start to brew your coffee (behaviour), and then you drink your coffee (reward). 

Another example could be: you get home from work and see your gym bag on the table (cue), you grab your gym bag and go to the gym (behaviour), and then you work out and feel good about yourself (reward). In this case, you might even give yourself an actual reward as an incentive (you go to the gym and work out and then stop at booster juice for a smoothie that you only get after you workout). 

You can probably see how many things you do in your day-to-day life are based on this idea of habit loops. I know for myself I definitely have an unhealthy habit loop of getting home from work, going into the kitchen to eat a couple of Oreos (lol), and then feeling happy because of the yummy treat. 

So, how does habit stacking work?

The main idea of habit stacking is finding a habit you engage in daily and then adding a new habit after it. The first habit is the cue for the new habit. James Clear shares his formula which is “before/after [current habit], I will [new habit].

For example, if you want to start reading more but can never find the time, you’ll need to make it a habit. So, after you brew your morning coffee you sit down for 10 minutes and read. You do this every morning and eventually reading will become an automatic habit. In the formula, it looks like “after [I make coffee], I will [read for 10 minutes].”

The cool thing is that you can keep adding on as you become more comfortable with your routine (because that’s what it will become after time). So once you are really good with reading after your morning coffee you could add on 10 minutes of stretching. 

Habit stacking is great because it’s all about small changes. No one is asking you to completely change your morning routine or be a whole new person. All that you need to do is ONE extra thing. Be 1% better. 

Habit stacking also plays on the fact that it’s way easier to add something than take it away! Like how much easier is it to add more vegetables to your diet versus taking away all sugar? We are all about those small, reasonable changes!

How to start habit stacking 

Are you ready to change your life? I hope so! If you have a habit you’ve been wanting to start or you just want to be healthier overall, habit stacking is the way to do it. Here’s the how-to:

Step 1 – Determine what habit you’re adding 

You obviously need to know what it is you’ll be adding into your daily routine. If you want to get in shape this might be working out. If you want to write more you might add journaling. Whatever habit you want to start, figure it out first!

Step 2 – What time of day is best?

Whenever you start something new you usually determine what time would work best for you. For example, I wanted to start walking more. I knew that the morning was best for me energy wise but it wasn’t realistic as I start work so early. I decided that I would need to do my walks after work and then I planned from there. 

Sometimes you won’t be able to do things exactly when you want to so allow yourself some flexibility and also be realistic. Starting a new habit can be challenging enough without extra barriers like when you want to do them. 

Probably don’t plan your workout habit first thing in the morning if mornings are hard for you. Or don’t plan your reading habit during lunchtime if you know half the time you don’t even take a break (btw you should take a break!!).

Step 3 – Determine your cue habit 

So now that you have the new habit and the time of day, look at what you already do then. What can you add the habit onto? 

You might need to be a bit creative here. Sometimes it’s not super obvious. It also doesn’t need to be that deep… you could arrive home from work and the act of putting all your things down when you enter the house could be the cue habit. 

A few examples of my own habit stacks for some inspiration:

  • After I have a bath at night, I read in bed. 
  • After I get home from work, I have a quick snack and walk/work out. 
  • After I turn the computer on at work, I write my daily to-do list.

Step 4 – Do it every day (or as often as you want)

The best way to form a habit is by doing it daily. However, not every single habit happens daily so just do it as often as you want to. 

They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. Everyone is different so this timeline could be shorter or longer. It’s also good to keep in mind that even after you have “mastered” your new habit you might still slip up and that’s okay because you are human!

Shelby Sacco had a great piece of advice when it comes to habit stacking. She said to start one new habit and do it for a month. If after a month you are doing the new habit without issues, add a new one. If after 30 days you are still struggling, do it for another 30 days and also evaluate WHY you are struggling. 

I love that advice because a) it’s realistic and b) it allows for review. Whenever you do something new expect there to be hiccups. Being flexible and self-compassionate is what will keep you going in the long run!

habit stacking steps - 4 steps to habit stacking

So, how will habit stacking truly change your life?

Habit stacking is one of the best ways to start changing your life. Still not sure about it? Here are just a few ways habit stacking will help you:

Creates healthy habits

Habit stacking is an easier way to start new healthy habits. It’s so hard to take things away (remove sugary foods, stop smoking, no more Netflix). It’s much easier to add healthy things into your current lifestyle. 

Adding reading time, exercise, protein shakes, self-care, or any other new healthy habit will naturally mean less time or need for the other habits. If you start having protein shakes every morning you might not feel the need to grab fast food on your way to work. If you start exercising after work, you’ll have a little less time for Netflix. 

Related read: The Best Books For Building Healthy Habits

Helps make smaller changes last

Everyone has tried to start a new habit or routine to only give up a week or two later. Why? Because it was either too many changes too fast or too big of changes. People don’t like change! I know I don’t. 

When you are able to make smaller changes (like one new habit) it’s easier to keep up. Once you “master” one new thing, you can add on. Slowly your whole routine might be different but it didn’t happen overnight which means the likelihood of actually sustaining the new changes is much higher!

Its easier to be consistent 

Consistency is key when it comes to new habits! The major bonus of adding a new habit to an old one is the fact that you are already consistent! 

The old habit that you are already consistently doing with little to no effort is the CUE to your new habit. Will that mean you’ll be perfect from the start and never mess up? No. But it does mean you will have an easier time being consistent versus revamping your whole routine and starting fresh. 

Related read: How To Stay Consistent With Your Goals (With Journal Prompts)

It will boost your self-confidence 

There aren’t many better feelings than when you say you’ll do something and you actually do it. I know that in the past when I’ve tried different fitness routines and said, “I’ll workout 4 days a week” or “I’ll wake up early before work to workout” and then I didn’t do it, I’d be super disappointed in myself. 

Since habit stacking is an easier way to create healthy habits, helps make small changes last, and makes consistency a bit easier, it’s not surprising that it would result in you feeling good about yourself. 

Creating new goals and actually achieving them makes you feel great. You feel proud of yourself for doing the hard work and you gain more trust in yourself. You start to truly believe that when you say you’ll do something, you will actually do it which is so important! 

how to start habit stacking
how habit stacking will change your life

In conclusion

If you are trying to create new healthy habits but always seem to give up after a week or two because it’s just too hard to make all these changes, stop! Focus on one small thing you can change. Think of something you can ADD on instead of take away. 

Making changes is not easy so when you can do something to make it a bit easier you need to do it! That’s where habit stacking comes in. 

If you follow the steps above (determine your new habit, pick your best time, find your cue habit, and then keep doing it) you will find success with your new habits. Will it always be smooth sailing? No. So, practice self-compassion and be okay with setbacks. 

However, don’t ever allow your setbacks to stop your progress altogether. 

You are capable of changing your life one habit at a time. I swear to you that everyone can do this! Consistency is key and while some days may be hard, just keep going. 

I know because I’ve done it and I know you can do it too. I believe in you friend ❤️

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