What is Habit Stacking?
Habit stacking is a process of ‘stacking’ an existing positive habit that you already do on a daily basis, with a new habit you are trying to establish. For example, you already brush your teeth every morning, right? You don’t even have to think about it, you just instinctively walk to the bathroom sink and brush your teeth, every single day, regardless of what else is happening around you! It’s a habit and its been a habit your entire life. Essentially, it requires little effort and little thought and is a positive habit that you could try ‘stack’ something else with. Something you could try pair with brushing your teeth every morning, would be to floss your teeth. How often do you intend to floss but always forget? If you make it a point to leave your floss beside the toothpaste, you are increasing the chances of you actually flossing as you already reach for the toothpaste every morning when you brush your teeth. If the floss is in sight, it's in mind! If it’s convenient and easy to access, you are more likely to do it. Furthermore, making a conscious effort to floss before you brush your teeth is an even smarter approach. You intend to floss (but its not an established habit) so if you do that first, you already know you will brush your teeth after (because it's already an established habit).
Applying this to Nutrition
How can we take this example and apply it to our fitness or nutrition habits we want to develop? Well, how often do you boil the kettle every day for another cup or tea or coffee? The average person has 4-5 cups of tea or coffee every day. After all, the kettle is always on the counter-top in the kitchen isn’t it? All you need to do is press the button. Its quick, easy, convenient, always in sight and requires little time or thought! It’s a well-formed habit to reach for a cup of tea/coffee when feeling stressed, tired or a little run-down. Nothing wrong with this whatsoever but how about we try use this habit and stack another on top of it? Something as simple as placing the fruit bowl beside the kettle could help develop a habit of always having a piece of fruit with our cup of tea or coffee. Once the fruit is in sight, it's in mind. Once its easy to consume and visually appealing, we are much more likely to have it. Furthermore, we would have to pass the fruit bowl several times per day as we make our tea or coffee – again increasing the chances of us upping our fruit intake!
An alternative habit we could try to stack on top of our tea/coffee ritual is to leave the blender beside the kettle on the counter-top. After all, the kettle (and sometimes the toaster) seem to have permanent rights to the counter-top, so why too not the blender? Again, if its in sight, it's in mind. If we have to walk past the blender several times per day, aren’t we more likely to make a quick smoothie as opposed to tea and toast? If the fruit bowl is also accessible, then the smoothie becomes even easier to make. It may seem trivial but something as small as having to search the presses for the blender, then search for ingredients before making a smoothie, may be the things that prevent us from making them regularly. After all, we will naturally reach for what is most convenient, especially in busy or stressful times.
Use your existing habits!
So, think about the habits you have already developed and already perform seemingly unconsciously on a daily basis. How could you ‘use’ or ‘stack’ those habits to develop new habits. You already drive to work – why not leave a full bottle of water in your car, so it becomes easier to hydrate on your way to and from work? You already have your early-morning caffeine hit first thing every morning, but you constantly forget to take your supplements – why not place your coffee in the same press as your supplements, therefore you have to see them every time you go to make a cup of coffee – if they are in sight, they are in mind! You already have porridge every morning without fail (it's your favourite breakfast and you never miss) – why not place the oats beside the fruit bowl, therefore encouraging you to start your day with some added fruit to the breakfast that you are already in the habit of having! You watch Netflix for an hour every night, why not put the tv remote beside your journal – therefore you are more likely to journal for ten minutes every night before you watch tv! Alternatively, you could put your resistance band beside the remote, making it easy and convenient to do your ten minutes of mobility work (that you constantly forget about) as you turn the tv on.
Take Home Message
Stacking a new habit on top of an existing habit is much easier than trying to develop a new habit from scratch, so take some time to think about the positive habits you have already spent years building, and simply add to them!