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Use What You're Already Doing to Lose Weight, Get Lean or Whatever You Want To Accomplish

 

The Power of Habit Stacking

 

(This article piggybacks off of a previous article on Implementation Intention. Although this article can stand alone, you’ll find it to be a much more useful tool when you understand it in the context of that previous article. You can find that article HERE.)

 

Often, people know what they should be doing. 

 

Yet they still don’t. 

 

Lack of clarity could be the culprit. 

 

Habit stacking is another one of those powerful fill-in-blank sentences, like the implementation intention, that can help evaporate ambiguity and immediately conjure together a simple, and hence executable plan. 

 

As we shared in the article on implementation intention, clearly defining the where, and when to define a new desired behavior will dramatically increase the success rate. The basic structure for implementation intention is: 

 

I will (behavior) at (time) in (location).

 

Habit stacking complements that technique and utilizes a similar structure.

 

While implementation intention relies on defining the time and location to signal a new desired behavior, habit stacking uses a current existing habit as the cue. 

 

The basic framework looks like: 

 

After (current habit), 

I will (new habit). 

 

Everyone, including you, is already habit stacking. Just think of your morning routine. 

 

After waking up, I brush my teeth. 

After brushing my teeth, I take a shower.  

After taking a shower, I get dressed. 

 

And the list goes on and on. Yours will be a little divergent from this one, but you get the point. 

 

Much of your daily routine is one habit cueing the next, habits stacking on habits. 

 

It’s so automatic it's almost unnoticeable. 

 

And that’s why trying to insert new healthier behaviors into a routine is so laborsome sometimes. 

 

When life is smooth and relatively stress-free, you may have the bandwidth to intentionally put a new behavior into practice. 

 

But when life gets challenging or situations get stressful, you will often revert to the previous autopilot settings because it’s efficient and reserves resources to deal with whatever challenges or stressors you’re confronting. 

 

And that’s part of the beauty of this technique. 

 

Everyone is already habit stacking. 

 

Now it’s time to intentionally use current behaviors as the springboard to healthier habits. 

 

The first step is simply defining the new healthier behavior to put into practice. 

 

The new behavior should fulfill three requisites:

 

  1. Specific 
  2. Actionable
  3. Match the desired frequency

 

Specific

 

Clearly defining the action or behavior to take place is crucial. If you want to get in an adequate amount of fish oil, the goal is not to “take more fish oil.” 

 

If you’re currently taking zero then taking one per moth would be “more.” It fulfills the vague goal of more fish oil, but doesn’t significantly move the needle toward leaner, healthier, and happier. 

 

Instead, clarity is key. The goals needs to be more specific, such as “take 2 fish oil capsules per day.” 

 

So the habit stack could look like:

 

When I eat dinner, I will take 2 fish oil capsules

 

That’s highly specific and specificity is a key component to using habit stacking as an impactful technique

 

Actionable

 

If the goal is to use an existing behavior as a cue for a new behavior, then the new behavior should be immediately actionable. 

 

A possibly poorly structured habit stack could be:

 

After I get home from work, I will go to the gym to do the sauna.  

 

Yes, it’s specific, and yes, it’s even doable, but many things could get in the way. It would be better to set the game up for success.

 

This new behavior of using the sauna would be better stacked on this individual’s existing morning training routine. 

 

In the earlier example: 

 

When I eat dinner, I will take 2 fish oil capsules.

 

Taking 2 fish oil capsules is an immediately actionable behavior to accompany dinner (assuming the individual has fish oil capsules in the fridge). 

 

To recap, the desired new behavior should be immediately actionable upon the occurrence of the existing behavior. 

 

Match the desired frequency

 

The frequency of the existing behavior needs to match the desired frequency of the new behavior. 

 

Reverting to our earlier example of the goal being to consistently get more omega 3’s, the habit stack we introduced is:

 

When I eat dinner, I will take 2 fish oil capsules

 

Works well for that goal because you eat dinner daily

 

It would be far less appropriate to structure the habit stack as: 

 

When I pay the utility bill, I will take 2 fish oil capsules.

 

Most people only pay the utility bill monthly, so that habit stack isn’t nearly as beneficial as the one paired with dinner. 

 

So, make sure the existing behavior that the new behavior is being paired with occurs at the desired frequency. 

 

Although many the examples within this article have centered around supplementation, habit stacking can apply to any facet of health and wellness. For example:

 

(Mindset)

 

Right before I get into bedI will write down three things I’m grateful for

 

(Relationships)

 

When I get homeI will take out my airpods so I’m more present with my family

 

(Exercise)

 

When I get home from workI will immediately put on my athletic shoes and take a walk around the block

 

(Stress Management)

 

When I sit down to dinnerI will take 5 deep breaths before eating.

 

Habit stacking is a powerful technique. This fill-in-the-blank sentence can dramatically increase consistent execution of healthier behaviors by removing some ambiguity and providing a simple, concrete plan. 

 

Try it with yourself and with your clients. For sure, no one will be at 100%, but it can dramatically increase consistency and mindfulness. 

 

To sum it up…The Summary:

 

  • The basic framework of Habit Stacking is: 

 

After (current habit), 

I will (new habit).

 

  • The new desired habit should be specific, actionable, and match the desired frequency

 

  • Habit stacking can be applied to any area of health and fitness

 

One sentence takeaway:

Using an existing habit as a cue for a new desired habit can greatly increase consistency. 

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