Habit Stacking

And now… back to our regular programming!

Before Christmas, I had been sharing in my Monday Morning Stretches ways to support one of my favorite quotes:  Change your story, change your life.

I’d like to give you another one today. It’s called habit stacking.

The phrase “habit stacking” was first used by S.J. Scott in his book, Habit Stacking:  Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less. Habit stacking, also known as “habit chaining,” is one of the most effective strategies for developing new habits. It involves selecting an existing routine that you currently do daily and then stacking your new behavior on top of it.

This idea is based on the premise that our brain’s neuronal connections are strongest when we perform actions we already know. The connection is weakest for behaviors with which we are least familiar. Habit stacking takes advantage of the already present strong synaptic connections in your brain to form a link between an existing habit and a new one.

Let’s say I want to create a habit of writing every day. It’s not something I’ve done before, at least not on a consistent, daily basis. I could just set a time (maybe 8:00 am every morning), a location (maybe at my kitchen table), and a goal (maybe one page per day). If this went anything like many of my other New Year’s Resolutions, it will last about a week or two and then other older habits will get in the way, and before I know it my “new habit” is forgotten.

Alternatively, I could try habit stacking. For years, when I am working from home, I take a lunch break by enjoying a salad that my loving, devoted husband has usually made for me and sit at my desk and check social media or read my newsfeed, etc. This is an effortless habit I’ve already formed and perform on a consistent basis. If I stack my goal of writing onto this current habit, it is likely to become much easier. Now I can try sitting down at the kitchen table to eat my salad and write at least one page while I eat. Habit stacking requires that, rather than associating your new habit with a particular location and time, you associate it with an existing routine.

Here are some additional habit-building tips:

  • Start small. Begin with a habit that is small and easy to complete.  Focus on small wins.
  • Track it. Create a leaderboard or other ways to measure your progress. I love seeing a visual of my progress.
  • Pleasure bundle. Create small and enjoyable rewards. My coach calls this pleasure bundling. I love that term and the idea of bundling my goals with small personal pleasures. They could be big (body or foot massage, favorite restaurant meal), but they can also be small and low/no cost (hot bath, favorite snack food, personal reading time, visit to a place you love like a museum or bookstore). Knowing a future treat of some chili con queso and chips, tiny fried donuts with coffee, or a glass of my favorite red wine are in my future is a definite pleasure bundle for me to work hard toward!
  • Expect setbacks and give yourself some grace. We’re not perfect. Just get back on the horse, knowing you’re better and closer than you were before.
  • Get an AB (Accountability Buddy). Help someone and let them help you with a daily accountability check-in. My AB and I have strict rules that these texts or calls are not designed to visit, coach, create, or catch up. They are quick and strictly geared to hold each other accountable for the goals we’ve set and the new habits we are creating.
  • Know your why. Write down how you will feel, what you get to celebrate, and what you will enjoy when you have created this new habit and realized the subsequent result.

Habit stacking allows you to gain momentum created by one action leading to the next and capitalizing on it. After you have perfected habit stacking, you can start building larger habit stacks by linking other small habits together.

This year, instead of setting New Year’s resolutions, which research shows are typically headed for failure by late January or early February, try taking a small habit you’d like to develop and stacking it onto a current one that is easy for you. Small wins lead to bigger ones.

Here’s to our best year yet in 2023!

“Sow a thought, reap an action; Sow an action, reap a habit; Sow a habit, reap a character; Sow a character, reap a destiny.”

~ Success.com


  1. Thank you for sharing this. I think this is also available with our dental patients when we introduce or encourage therapies for home care. Stacking habits can help remind us of important health practices we struggle with.
    Thank you for starting our year off with doable opportunities for growth.

    1. Funny I do this with patients asking them to brush and Waterpik in the
      Huge success rate and patients love it.
      Thanks for this as I can now label what I’m asking them to do.
      I would say, 99 percent shake their head in agreement that they love this idea.

  2. Oh, Kristin, I hadn’t thought of that but of course you’re right! Flossing teeth while at a stoplight or watching TV comes to mind. 🙂 Thanks for reminding us of that and for taking the time to write to us especially during the holidays.

Leave a Comment