Mental Health

The Art of Stacking Up Healthy Habits

Looking to get a headstart on healthy habits? It might be time to start stacking those habits up to boost your productivity and mood. Learn how to tap into existing habits to kick start new ones.

By URLife Team
27 Jun 2023

Habits are developed through consistency, so the crucial aspect of persuading your brain to go to the gym is to engage in deliberate and repeated actions. Some behaviours come naturally to us, while others require conscious effort. Our brains are adept at forming strong habits and associations that we often overlook in our daily lives. By linking your desired habits with an existing one, you take advantage of the strong neural pathways that have already been established in your brain. This increases the likelihood of successfully forming the new habit. For instance, remembering to take a shower each morning, brewing a cup of coffee, or opening the blinds when the sun rises are likely automatic manners driven by well-established habits. You can leverage these existing strong connections to help build new habits.


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What is Habit Stacking?

As per a 2020 study in Psychology Today, an effective strategy for building new habits is called habit stacking. It involves identifying a current habit that you already perform consistently each day and then adding your new desired actions on top of it. By leveraging the existing habit as a cue or trigger, you can create a stronger connection between the two habits. The reason habit stacking works is because it is effortless for our brains to follow certain behaviours that have been strengthened over the years.


Related story: These 8 Habits Will Help You Live Best Life


How To Build A New Habit?

The ideal method to construct a new habit is to connect it to an existing habit. By linking your new habits to existing habits. This makes it more likely that you'll stick to the new behaviour. This allows you to take advantage of the natural momentum that comes from one pattern leading into the next. For example, let's say you want to incorporate a daily stretching routine into your morning routine. If you already have a habit of brewing coffee every morning, you can stack the new habit by stretching while your  coffee is brewing. The act of brewing coffee becomes the cue for starting your stretching routine.


So, how long does it take to form a habit?


People who are successful in modifying their attitude, more effortlessly rely on good habits. However, the process of habit formation itself may vary in the amount of effort and dedication needed. A 2020 study issued in Frontiers in Psychology states that although some people manage to form certain habits as quickly as 18 days, others need as much as half a year.


Related story: 7 Habits That Are Leaving You More Exhausted Than Your Work


What Happens When You Start a New Habit?

When your body is trying new habits, it goes through a process of adaptation and adjustment. Developing new habits involves creating neural pathways in the brain that support the desired behaviour. When you first start a new habit, your body and mind may resist the change. You might experience discomfort, reluctance, or a sense of unfamiliarity. This resistance is natural and often stems from the brain's tendency to favour familiar routines. 

The process of adopting new habits is typically gradual. It's important to set realistic expectations and focus on small, achievable milestones.

  • The brain possesses a remarkable ability known as neuroplasticity, which allows it to reorganise and form new connections between neurons. As you repeat a new habit, the brain starts to create and strengthen neural pathways associated with that behaviour. Over time, these pathways become more efficient, making the habit easier to perform.
  • Adopting a new habit requires conscious effort and concentration. You need to actively remind yourself to engage in the new behaviour, which can be mentally and physically demanding at first. As you practise more, the habit becomes more automatic, and less conscious effort is required.
  • Trying new habits often requires discipline and willpower to stay committed to the new behaviour, especially during the initial stages when it may be challenging. With practice and consistency, your willpower can strengthen, making it easier to sustain the habit.
  • As you continue to practise the new habit, it starts to become integrated into your daily routine. With enough repetition and consistency, the behaviour becomes more automatic, requiring minimal conscious effort to perform. Eventually, the habit becomes a natural addition to your lifestyle.


Related story: Powerful Habits That Can help You Become More Assertive


Benefits of Forming New Habits

Whatever your goals may be, whether they are related to fitness, weight loss, regular everyday patterns, or some other area, forming a habit can put you on a path toward success. Irrespective of the duration it takes to build a habit, be it a few weeks or a few months, you will be rewarded with success for investing the time and effort. 

Overall, forming new habits can have a transformative impact on various aspects of your life, promoting personal growth, well-being, productivity, and goal achievement. By consciously choosing and nurturing positive habits, you can shape your life in a meaningful and intentional way.

Forming new habits can bring about numerous benefits in various aspects of life. Here are some of the key advantages of developing new habits.

1. Improve productivity

Habits help create structure and routine, leading to increased efficiency and productivity. When you establish a habit, you perform tasks automatically, saving time and mental energy that can be directed towards other important activities.


2. Boost personal growth

Engaging in new habits often involves learning and acquiring new skills. Whether it's reading regularly, practising a musical instrument, or exercising, forming these habits can contribute to personal growth and development, broadening your knowledge and capabilities.


3. Maintain health and well-being

Many habits revolve around self-care and well-being, such as exercising, eating nutritious food, practising mindfulness, or getting enough sleep. By incorporating these habits into your daily life, you can enhance your physical and mental health, leading to increased energy, reduced stress levels, and improved overall well-being.


4. Achieve personal goals

Habits play a crucial role in helping you achieve your long-term goals. By breaking down large goals into smaller, manageable tasks and turning them into habits, you can make consistent progress over time. Whether it's saving money, learning a new language, or working towards a career objective, forming habits that align with your goals significantly increases your chances of success.


5. Build discipline and self-control

Habit formation requires discipline and self-control, and as you develop new habits, these traits are strengthened. By consistently practising self-discipline, you can improve your ability to resist immediate gratification and make choices that align with your long-term goals.


6. Reduce decision fatigue

Making countless decisions throughout the day can be mentally exhausting. However, habits remove the need to make repeated choices, as they become automatic and require less mental effort. This reduction in decision fatigue allows you to focus your cognitive resources on more important and complex decisions.

7. Improve impacts relationships

Certain habits, like active listening, expressing gratitude, or spending quality time with loved ones, can significantly enhance your relationships. Consistently engaging in these habits fosters stronger connections, better communication, and a deeper understanding of others, leading to healthier and more fulfilling relationships.


8. Enhance self-confidence

Accomplishing new habits and making positive changes in your life can boost your self-confidence and self-esteem. Each time you successfully practise a habit, you reinforce the belief in your ability to create positive change, leading to a more positive self-perception and an increased sense of self-worth.


Related story: 8 Daily Habits of Successful Entrepreneurs That Anyone Can Practise


How to Stack Up Healthy Habits

1. Start with small habits

The book 'Tiny Habits' by BJ Fogg the founder of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University states that starting with small habits is the best way to make a new habit.

  • For instance, incorporating a brief daily walk could be the starting point for establishing an exercise routine. 
  • Placing an apple in your bag every day can contribute to improving your eating habits.


2. Do it regularly

A 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, the study revealed that the time required for these tasks to become automatic and habitual varied significantly, ranging from 18 to 254 days. The median time observed was 66 days. This study teaches us that forming habits is a time-consuming process, but the frequency with which we engage in the behaviour affects the speed of habit formation. Therefore, it is advisable, to begin with a reasonable and easily achievable task.


By incorporating a small exercise routine into your daily life, such as performing jumping jacks, a yoga pose, or taking a brisk walk, you are more likely to develop a lasting exercise habit compared to attempting to visit the gym three days a week.


3. Anchor new habits to existing ones

Associate the new habits with existing ones you already perform consistently. For example, if you want to start a meditation practice, you can link it to your morning routine, right after brushing your teeth. This helps create a natural trigger and makes it easier to remember and execute the new habit.


4. Reward yourself

Rewards play a crucial role in establishing habits. However, certain rewards, such as weight loss or physical transformations resulting from exercise, require more time to become noticeable. To aid in habit formation, it is beneficial to incorporate immediate rewards. 

  • Take, for instance, the act of brushing our teeth. The immediate reward is a refreshing, minty freshness in the mouth. 
  • While running, you can enhance the experience by listening to engaging audiobooks or enjoying your favourite cooking show on the treadmill. 
  • Another approach is to schedule exercise sessions with a friend, turning it into an exercise date that offers the reward of spending quality time together. By integrating such immediate rewards, you can reinforce your exercise habits effectively.


5. Stay adaptable and adjust as needed

Be flexible and willing to adjust your habit stack based on changing circumstances or personal preferences. Adaptation is key to maintaining long-term success and preventing boredom or burnout.


Related story: 5 Easy Mindfulness Habits To Improve Your Mental Health


Need all your wellness solutions in one place? A whole new world awaits just a click away.


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