Habit Stacking: The Secret Weapon for Simplifying Life

Do you struggle with sticking to new routines, even when you know they’ll make your life easier and happier? If you want to simplify your life in record time, you need to embrace the art of habit stacking.

Think back on your childhood. You probably had a specific routine for getting ready for school, returning home, and going to bed. All the little tasks that make up those routines–brushing your teeth, grabbing your lunchbox on the way to the bus–became second-nature, which freed up your brain (and your parents’ time) to focus on other things.

Freeing up time and headspace are both critical parts of simplifying life. But building new routines is hard, especially if they go against your current lifestyle. Waking up at 5 a.m. for a pre-work jog takes a ton of willpower if you typically sleep until 7 and rarely exercise.

So how did all the simple living gurus transform their daily routines from chaotic to controlled? The answer is habit stacking.

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What is habit stacking?

Habit stacking is the practice of pairing together a new behavior with an existing habit. Each new behavior is performed right before or after a habit you’ve already formed.

You can add more behaviors–one at a time–onto those new habits until you’ve created a stack (i.e. a routine).

For example, let’s say you want to start incorporating more gratitude into your life. Rather than forcing yourself to wake up 15 minutes earlier than usual and meditating on what’s going well, you’ll start small.

After brushing your teeth, you can say one thing you’re grateful for in your life. Once that habit is engrained, you could start listing four or five things. Eventually, you could journal those thoughts of gratitude after you brush your teeth for the night.

It also works with modifying existing routines. If you want to break your nightly habit of social media scrolling before bed, you could do the following:

  1. After making the bed, put a book on top of the dresser
  2. After you walk into your bedroom at night, put your phone on the dresser and grab the book
  3. After getting in bed, read the book for 10 minutes

These little actions add up to life-changing routines.

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How does habit stacking work?

As discussed in the best-selling book Atomic Habits, habit stacking works because of its simplicity. You create a basic set of rules for how you behave, and it’s all rooted in things you’ve come to do automatically.

By anchoring your new habits to existing ones, you’re training your brain to connect the actions. The existing habit becomes an obvious cue for the new one, so you don’t have to rely on intangible things like the time of day to remember to do it.

And the more times you successfully repeat a habit without breaking the pattern, the faster it becomes ingrained.

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How can habit stacking simplify my life?

Habit stacking helps you reap the benefits of simplifying your life in two ways.

First, it gives you a process for organizing a busy life. When you have second-nature systems in place, you’ll spend less time jumping from task to task and worrying if you’ve forgotten something important.

It’s also the secret weapon for incorporating simple living practices in your daily routine. Transforming your life from overworked and overbooked to slow and sustainable is no easy feat. But by forming habits that help you free up your time, get more restful sleep, and even declutter your life, you’ll find success much faster.

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What are some other uses for habit stacking?

You can use habit stacking in all areas of your life. Without this method, it would have taken me twice as long to solidify my low impact lifestyle habits and make progress towards sustainability.

Habit stacking is great for work as well. I’ve used it to create a routine for checking and responding to email, and it keeps me productive throughout the day.

Other opportunities include keeping your home tidy, increasing how much you exercise, and even saving money. The possibilities are endless!

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