top of page

What the HECK is Habit Stacking?

I had not heard of #habitstacking, but the idea of it made sense. Well… the idea of what habit stacking was in my mind made sense. I thought habit stacking was when you do one positive habit, it leads to another. For example… if you form the habit of working out in the morning, it leads you to the habit of eating a healthy breakfast. That makes sense, right?

But habit stacking is more than just that. James Clear, in the book, #Atomic Habits explains it more clearly. It is a special form of #implementation intention. Meaning, that rather than pairing your new habit with a particular time and location, (for example, I will work out after lunch ) it's more intentional. The exact formula is:

"After I (insert current habit HERE), I will (add new habit!)"

*Why doesn’t the previous statement work? Because “working out after lunch” is so open-ended! Everything after lunch is “after lunch.” It's not specific enough! *

One that I am using in my life right now is: Right after I run, I will stretch for 5 minutes.

The key is tying my desired behavior into something I am already doing. I have the workout portion DOWN. Not so much the stretching portion of it. From there, I can continue to stack habits on top of that! The next portion of my formula might look like this:

  • After I stretch, I will shower! (I know this is a basic one guys, but I often get too busy to take the time for myself to shower!)

  • Then we might move into “After I shower, I will write my gratitude list.”

And so on, and so on. You could do this for your entire day if you wanted to! What you are doing is taking advantage of the momentum that comes from ONE positive habit or behavior and rolling it into the next. Think of a tiny snowball that is rolling down a hill, gradually gathering more and more snow until it's the size of a boulder!

You can also implement habit stacks for different situations you may encounter throughout the day - for example, when I park at the grocery store, I always look for the spot farthest away so I can get more steps in during the day!

Or whenever I go out to eat, and I want to make a healthy choice, I look at the menu ahead of time, so that when I am in the restaurant, I don’t have to smell those delicious mashed potatoes and make an emotional decision. I come in prepared, and I already know what I want to eat!


The difference between a "habit" and "habit stacking."

To understand this, we need to understand the science of habit.

A habit has a #CUE - a #CRAVING - a #RESPONSE- and a #REWARD.

The cue could be as simple as your iwatch buzzing.

The craving is then your curiosity to check that message - was it from your spouse? Was it your boss? You gotta know! The unknowing is killing you!

The response - you grab the phone to check the incoming text!

The reward - you now know what it was! Your curiosity is satisfied.

  • OR -

The cue could be as simple as walking through the front door after a long day at work.

The craving is stress relief! Unwinding. You want to relax.

The response - is to grab a glass of wine.

The reward - that dopamine hit and serotonin release from the glass of wine makes you feel instantly relaxed.

One of the first steps in habit change is being aware of the cue. If you want to quit being attached to your phone, turn off your notifications. CUE STOPPED. Now you aren’t being pulled to your phone every time you get a message or a notification, because you turned it off!

  • OR -

But what about when you can’t stop the cue? You have to come home after work every day.

Instead, recognize the craving. In cases like these, you are looking for that stress relief. A great way to change this habit of reaching for a glass of wine is to follow these next golden rules.

  1. Remove the cue if possible - but if you can’t remove the cue - remove the response. (In this case - it's probably best to remove the wine from the fridge!)

  2. Make it unattractive. (Maybe the only wine in the house is some hot chardonnay.) Can you say ew?

  3. Make it difficult! (Even better- don’t keep any wine in the house!)

  4. Make it UNsatisfying. (Can you say hot chardonnay again?)

On the flip side - if you are wanting to create a GOOD habit you do the opposite!

  1. You add the cue! (Maybe you want to drink more water after work. It could be as simple as setting out your glass on the counter so that you see it.)

  2. Make it attractive! (You could prepare nice flavored water ahead of time before work, so it's chilled and ready when you get home.)

  3. Make it easy! (Again - it's right there and ready for you!)

  4. Make it satisfying (Sit down on your porch with the water, kick your feet up with a good book - take ten minutes for YOU!) ahhhhh bliss.

I have always been fascinated by good and bad habits - why people do what they do - and why they don’t do what they SHOULD. For example, why do we order the chicken and waffles, and skip out on the salad at a restaurant, when we have said time and time again that we want to make healthier choices? As human beings, we KNOW deep down what the choice we WANT to make is… yet - we choose the chicken and waffles. And it all comes down to habits.

In my last stepping stone, I talk about the importance of digging deep down and identifying WHO it is you want to be - what kind of person you want to be. This is one of the most critical steps to success. You have to be aware of those wants and desires, and you have to be drawn to the WHY.

Why do you want to be a healthier person? Is it because you want to be able to get up and down off the floor and play with your kids? Or do you want to be able to go on a 5-mile hike with your partner? Maybe you are tired or embarrassed by being out of breath after walking up a flight of stairs. Shoot- maybe you want to feel confident in your bathing suit at the beach next summer.

Whatever it is- your awareness of the #WHY and the attention to the CUE is what can ultimately be the force of change. Motivation wears off. The best of Intentions wears thin. Self-control is limited!

But when you connect to the WHY - and you bring awareness to the CUE - you can start to put into place small changes, that are super effective in habit changing!

One of my nasty habits is staying up way too late and swiping through social media after I put my kids to bed. I end up wasting at least a half hour of my night, and telling myself “‘I’ll put my phone down when I get tired.” HA.

So I have been putting some thought into it - and I’ve mapped it out.

The cue is climbing into bed (can’t change that!)

The craving is relaxation and quiet time to myself. (I NEED THAT!)

The response - you know it… social media.

The reward- dopamine hit after dopamine hit!


I am going to make it difficult by moving my phone charger to the bathroom.

I am going to make it unattractive because once I am in bed, I am damn sure not getting up to go plug in my phone!

I am instead, going to put a fiction book next to my bed.

Or maybe I’ll just go lights out!

But I will NOT have the phone right there easy to grab and scroll for hours.

I hope this stepping stone has got the gears grinding in your brain.

What is a bad habit that you have been thinking about changing but haven’t made the commitment to do so yet? How will you change the cue? The response? OR have you been trying to implement a GOOD one? How will you make it both easy and attractive?

Our brains are always searching for ways to make life easier - it is the path of least resistance. This is what makes habits so effective, but also can make them so destructive! Your awareness of these cues, and the planning to make the habits easy, accessible, and attractive. With a big enough #WHY you will overcome any #HOW. When your desire and motivation are great enough, you can tackle the HOWs. You can do difficult things.

Be curious about the little things - the cues and the responses that seem to trigger both the good and bad habits.

I invite you to take a pause, a moment, to explore what those cues and responses are, how you feel about them, and make a decision if they serve you, or if they need to be shown to the door.

This is your one marvelous and messy life. Do not be afraid to take marvelous and messy action!

Take those habits - stack them up! And lets get going!

From you NOW... to your NEXT.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page