Psychology Behind Habit Stacking
Self Help

Psychology Behind Habit Stacking


Trying to modify old behaviours or introduce new ones—and have them stick—is famously tough. Of course, some people appear to acquire behaviours quickly or with great discipline, but for the rest of us being just mere mortals, finding an efficient approach for creating, breaking, and maintaining habits might feel like an impossible task. But this is not our fault. Habit formation is difficult, and we are wired for what we are familiar with, already excellent at, or familiar with.

But this does not imply that we are bound to fail—by any means. Out of all the useful psychological ideas and tactics available, there is one amazingly simple and efficient strategy that you may not have heard of: habit stacking. It entails “stacking” the new behaviour on top of an existing habit to assist you in remembering to do it and/or accomplish it with less mental strain. Here’s why this strategy works so effectively, as well as how to break and build new habits using it.

The Psychology Behind Habit Stacking

Habit stacking takes use of the strong synaptic connections we already have, which have been thoroughly explored. Many scholars have written extensively about linking behaviours to create long-term change, referring to the current habit or trigger situation as an “anchor” or “anchor moment” that helps cue and hold the new one. Here’s why habit stacking is so successful.

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Depends on existing Brain Capacity

Our brain’s neural connections are strongest for acts we now perform and weak (or non-existent) for those we do not. Habit stacking is an effective strategy for building new habits because it builds off of the existing neural networks in our brains. When incorporating a new habit into your daily routine, consider integrating it either before or after an existing habit that’s already part of your schedule.

How to Begin Habit-Stacking to Become a Better Version of  Yourself

It’s easy to understand why habit stacking works, but how can you properly implement it in your life? Is it truly as simple as combining one habit with another? Here are some suggestions for making these modifications to your routine more successful.

Identify all possible Goals and Cues

Whether you aim to include more wellness habits into your weekly routine or simply get more organized in general, the first step in habit stacking is to choose the precise activities you want to take to improve your daily routine. Clarifying your objectives lays the groundwork for effective habit stacking and helps you focus on practical measures to achieve your intended outcomes.

Read More: 7 Science-Backed Strategies To Build a Habit

If you’re not sure what habits you’d like to develop, make a list of the many parts of your life. These categories may include physical health, emotional well-being, professional advancement, relationship improvement, and participation in volunteer activities.

To get a sense of all your cue options, Habits expert James Clear suggests making two lists: one of the things you do every day (drink coffee, eat dinner, listen to a news podcast) and another of events or things that happen to you every day (the sun rises, the phone rings, you become hungry). Now you may select the ideal building block on which to develop another habit.


Behaviour stacking uses the simple concept  that is When I do [current habit], I will do [new habit].” Here are a few examples: When I’ll have my coffee in the morning, I will read a book along with it.

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Be quite specific and set a realistic cue.

You will have difficulty if either your new aim or existing cue (or both) are too ambiguous. If you tell yourself you’re going to take a 10-minute stroll outside every day during your lunch break, it’s a good idea to set a certain time—right after you finish your client session. Don’t forget to establish contingency plans, such as what you’ll do if the weather is poor or you’re feeling pressurized to work through lunch.

To set yourself up for success, choose your present habit carefully, taking into account your life’s reality. For example, you wish to read ten pages every night after brushing your teeth. That sounds wonderful. However, if you end up falling asleep immediately after reading at night, or your children have inconsistent bedtimes that may affect your bedtime routine, then choosing nightly teeth brushing as the only cue may not be sufficient. You should go back over your list of existing habit possibilities to come up with a superior anchor.

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Start small—the smaller, the better.

Research shows that consistency throughout a habit is more efficient in helping us make changes in our lives. That means that doing a task for five minutes every day is more productive and likely to result in sustainable change than doing it once a week for 30 minutes.

With this in mind, it is simpler to maintain consistency when the objective or activity is reachable. The new behaviour should also be simple and lucid i.e. while preparing my tea, I will delete five emails. The more realistic you are, the more likely you are to complete it, feel accomplished, repeat it, and so on until you’re a pro—and perhaps even ready to add another habit or make the task somewhat more difficult.

For example, if your objective is to drink more water throughout the day, you may opt to start drinking a glass of water every morning. Don’t just assume you’ll start doing it; it’s unlikely to last long. (You might use an alarm or a reminder, but why add another task?).

Instead, couple that new behaviour with an existing little (or even tiny!) daily habit or routine that is definite, defined, and consistent. Choose: “After brushing my teeth in the morning, I’m going to drink a glass of water.” You stack them together, forming a small but increasing chain. Brush your teeth and drink some water every morning. The more frequently you do it, the more automatic it will be.

Read More: How to Boost Your Productivity with Pomodoro Technique

Give Yourself a Timeline

It’s not completely required, but it’s a good idea to give oneself a certain time frame to develop the new habit. It might be random (one week, one month, till your birthday) or a specific deadline for an event (a race you’re training for, a work assignment due).

When goals are too open-ended, and lacking in direction then you can feel less motivated to work on them. Setting a timeline promises your commitment to work on this new habit. Setting a time restriction can also make it less intimidating because it is a short-term commitment with a clear end goal. Setting a timeframe also provides an ideal opportunity to halt and reflect on your progress.

Did you meditate for three minutes after doing your daily workout ? Celebrate that! Ask yourself why, change your aim, or explore linking to a different old behavior.

Reward yourself every time for sticking to a new habit.

One of the most effective methods to continue with a new habit is to reward yourself after accomplishing it. Even more beneficial is to select incentives that reinforce the behaviour itself. For example, if you set a goal of going for a 15-minute walk every morning after brushing your teeth and succeeding for a week, why not reward yourself with new gym clothes?

Hence, these can be a few of the ways you can master habit stacking and build sustainable habits.

Habit stacking is a strong approach for helping people make long-term changes in their lives. Individuals can make important, long-lasting changes by anchoring new behaviors to old ones. Whether you want to improve your personal growth, increase your work efficiency, or just live a healthier lifestyle, habit stacking can be a useful tool. By taking the easy steps indicated above, you may begin adding habit stacking into your daily routine and reap the advantages for yourself.

References +
  • Wardle, J. (2023, November 16). Your Kind Mind guide to habit-stacking for better employee productivity. Kind Mind.
  • Blain, T., MA. (2022, October 20). Benefits of habit stacking for ADHD. Verywell Mind.

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