Habit stacking

Consider something you’d like to change or improve in the daily management of your chronic illness. For me, I wanted to increase my daily water intake. I received a ton of advice on how to achieve this goal, from carrying large water containers to using a water reminder app like WaterMinder to trying sparkling water for a bubbly twist on hydration. A simple Google search for “ways to increase water intake” yielded dozens of ideas.

While these tips work wonders for some individuals, I personally found that, apart from developing a liking for carbonated water, they didn’t significantly improve my hydration habits.

I decided to try habit stacking.

Why Habit Stacking Works

At its core, habit stacking is a powerful way to introduce positive behaviors into your daily life effortlessly. It’s a simple concept: You take a habit you already perform regularly and naturally, and you attach a new, positive behavior to it. This creates a routine that you will start to not think about.

Research in the field of habit formation supports the effectiveness of this approach. A study published in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that incorporating healthy habits into an existing routine significantly increases the likelihood of maintaining those habits over the long term.

And the best part: It reduces the mental energy spent trying to achieve a goal. Instead of relying on sheer willpower, you leverage the power of your existing habits to create a positive domino effect. As a result, the mental energy spent on trying to achieve a particular goal diminishes, making it more likely that you’ll successfully integrate the desired behavior into your daily life.

How Habit Stacking Worked for Me

Every night, as part of my bedtime routine, I fill up my Nalgene with water. I make it a ritual. Fill up the bottle; make sure my cats have fresh water; tell Alexa to turn off the kitchen lights; and proceed upstairs. I place the water on my nightstand and proceed to the bathroom to wash my face and brush my teeth. When I wake up, I get out of bed and drink the water before I brush my teeth.

This simple adjustment to my routine has significantly increased my water intake over the past two years, thanks to the association with teeth brushing.

Even on mornings when I’m traveling and don’t pack my Nalgene, I try to remember to grab a water bottle and put it on the nightstand. I’m consistent with the habit now over 90 percent of the time. And that’s how you win. Consistent small changes.

While the specific habit stack I’ve shared might not suit everyone, the underlying principle can be applied to any change you wish to make in your life. Think about something small and achievable that you’d like to incorporate into your routine. Then, identify an existing habit or action you already do regularly, and connect the new habit to it. This approach is inspired by James Clear’s insights in his book, Atomic Habits.

  • After the alarm goes off, I will stretch for five minutes.
  • After I pour my cup of coffee each morning, I will meditate for one minute.
  • After I take off my work shoes, I will immediately change into my workout clothes.
  • After I sit down to dinner, I will say one thing I’m grateful for that happened today.

Give habit stacking a try for a week and discover its potential benefits. What do you have to lose? This simple technique could be the key to making positive changes in your life.

Global Healthy Lifestyle Events

At GHLF, we understand that living with a chronic condition involves more than just doctor visits and medication. Our “Global Healthy Lifestyle Events” are specially crafted to promote healthier living and offer attendees a treasure trove of resources and practical tips for effectively managing everyday decisions that influence our well-being. Each of our events features an elite team of GHLF-affiliated health professionals, including physical therapists, mindfulness educators, registered dietitian nutritionists, and pharmacists. They will provide you with small, yet powerful, steps that you can seamlessly incorporate into your daily disease management routines. Learn more.

Arlinghaus, K, et al. “The Importance of Creating Habits and Routine.” American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine 13, no. 2 (March 2019): 142–44. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827618818044.
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