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 By Robin Shepard

As the new year approaches, many of us will set intentions or make fresh plans to hone in on lingering, long-time goals. When it comes to making lifestyle changes, a good place to start is with our current habits. Sometimes we concentrate so much on our “bad” habits and fail to notice the many positive habits and routines which we already possess. By identifying positive habits you may find that you can “stack” a new habit on top of an established one. 

How to habit stack:

Identify a current habit that you want to keep, then plan your new habit right before, during, or right after the current habit. 

For example: After I set my alarm (habit I’m keeping), I will take ten full deep breaths (new habit).

I first read about “habit stacking” in Atomic Habits by James Clear. In the title, “atomic” refers to minuscule habits that can add up to big changes over time. Some of these tiny changes can happen through habit stacking.

My most significant habit stack this year was to consistently listen to audiobooks while driving. Upon getting into my car (my already-formed habit) I would play an audiobook (the new habit). I love to read. It truly enriches my life to hear new perspectives and learn new ideas through books. However, life seems so busy these days that I scarcely have time to nestle in with a book anymore. Through habit stacking, I enjoyed a great number of novels and non-fiction books that I would have otherwise not found time for.

Here’s another way that habit stacking might work in daily life: a person has a daily habit of making a cup of tea each morning. They want to establish a daily gratitude practice but often forget amongst the many tasks of a busy day. The solution: stack daily gratitude on top of making tea in the morning. While you make tea, contemplate what you’re currently grateful for. Continue to do this for the full duration of the tea making process, bringing the water to boil and then the tea to steep. 

Another example: a person takes a walk around their neighborhood twice a week for exercise. They want to be more consistent in reaching out to friends and family who live far away. Solution: Stack a phone conversation with a loved one on top of the walk around the neighborhood. It might turn what seems like an obligation into a delight, invigorating the walk and energizing the communication.

Tiny changes can add up to big effects over time. Look at your own routine and identify your positive daily habits. Look for small, specific ways that you can stack new routines and desired behaviors on top of what is already working in your life. You may be tempted to “go big” or feel that these small changes are not significant enough. However, the genius of any habit is in its consistent practice. A small shift can produce a significant change in direction over time.

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This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)