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Learn How to Habit Stack

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Making a new habit and sticking to it can be hard, especially with work, life and family. Creating new and healthy habits is an ideal opportunity to focus on your diet, exercise and even mental health. While it may at first be difficult to maintain these new habits, it’s not impossible! Knowing a better way to start these new habits might be the key to continuing and acquiring healthy habits, starting with habit stacking.

What is habit stacking?

Habit stacking involves creating a habit that’s related to or connected to a habit you already do regularly. Blake Bolin, MD, FAAFP, Preventive Medicine Physician at Cooper Clinic, says, “rather than pairing a new habit with a particular time and location, you can be more successful when adding it to one of your current habits.” Since your established habit comes naturally to you, adding another habit during the same time helps you to continuously work on the new habit.

Habit stacking can also be successful because you’re intentionally planning—rather than waiting for a sign of motivation—which can be extremely helpful when wanting to acquire a new habit. If you plan out your day and include the new habit into your already consistent daily plan, you’re more likely to start and finish that habit.

Examples of habit stacking:

  • Want to start taking vitamins?
    • Pick a meal such as breakfast. Since you eat breakfast every day, taking your vitamin(s) at that same time can help you be more consistent.
  • Want to start reading? 
    • If you have a long commute to work or school, play an audio book you’ve always wanted to read. Having an audio book stacked on top of driving or riding to your destination can be a great way to get through your book list.
  • Need to improve your flexibility?
    • If you lift weights, perform stretching exercises in between your sets. You’re strengthening your muscles and increasing your flexibility at the same time.

How to start habit stacking

When trying to acquire new habits setting a reasonable or realistic plan to start your journey will help set you up for success. With habit stacking, anyone and everyone can gain new habits. Bolin shares the following steps to help you create a realistic plan.

  1. Choose one activity you want to do and add it to an activity you already consistently perform.
  2. Start your habit stacking activity by making a SMART goal—specific, measurable, attainable, relevant/realistic and time-bound. Learn more about SMART goals.
  3. Once you find a steady state in your routine, begin increasing the time or intensity of your new habit.
  4. Once comfortable with your new habit, move on to a new habit following the same approach.

Be realistic

Habit building not only takes the idea of wanting to do something or get better at something, but it’s also important to know what is reasonable and what you’re capable of doing. Wanting to start a hobby that takes time out of other activities or ones you can’t keep up with won’t help you in your journey. It’s important to know your time limits, when is the best time to begin and not procrastinate. Wanting to start exercising during your 30-minute lunch break but traveling to a gym that’s 15 minutes away takes away precious time you could be working out. Instead, use those 30 minutes to walk or jog around your work or home, so you cut out the travel time and can do this habit more consistently.

Overcoming setbacks

A study from Gallup found 70% of adults in the U.S. set goals for themselves every year, but only a third of them actually start the process of achieving their goals. Bolin advises, “with any new endeavor there are likely to be setbacks. The best approach is to focus on a process of improvement that is not necessarily linear.” If you set an attainable goal but struggle to achieve it, don’t be afraid to change your approach. Evaluate the barrier(s) keeping you from achieving the goal and develop a plan to overcome it.

Keep at it and recognize your successes, small and big. “Some people are motivated by incorporating a reward for attaining a new habit,” says Dr. Bolin. “For others, establishing a new routine and seeing its results is a reward in itself.”

Staying motivated and encouraged by a group or team can be a great way to continue your new habit. For example, if you’re trying to improve your physical health, by signing up for a fitness class or hiking club you may find others who are also aiming to start new habits. Or say you’re trying to find ways to incorporate more vitamins and minerals into your everyday meals, finding an online cooking class can help provide some creative ways they incorporate specific foods into their diets.

Needing to be detailed and consistent in creating a new healthy habit starts with you. Taking the first and crucial step in adding this new habit to your schedule can lead to an endless number of healthy habits you can accomplish.

Want to live healthier, but not sure where to start? The 8 Steps to Get Cooperized developed by Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH, Founder and Chairman of Cooper Aerobics, include physical, mental and overall health goals everyone should aim for. Think about your daily habits—from making your bed in the morning to brushing your teeth before going to bed—and see what healthy habits you can stack o top of them. For additional ideas, read more from American Heart Association.

Having a regular, comprehensive physical exam is one of the eight steps. To learn about Cooper Clinic’s preventive exam, visit or call 866.906.2667.