How to “habit stack” your way to a more productive and healthy you

Habits shape who we are and what our daily lives look like. From how we get to work to what we eat, there are some behaviours we repeat over and over again often without much thought.

But, if you’ve ever tried to quit an unhealthy habit such as smoking, or to develop a more positive habit, such as exercising regularly, you’ll know that forming new behaviours isn’t always easy.

This may be especially true if the new habit isn’t something that excites you. According to recent research published in the Independent, people in Britain put off almost 100 pieces of “life admin”, such as paying utility bills and decluttering the house, each year.

If you’re struggling to make changes to your routine, “habit stacking” could help you develop new behaviours by linking them to one of your existing habits.

Read on to find out how habit stacking could help you build new habits for a healthier and more productive life.

Stack new habits onto existing ones

Habit stacking was popularised by James Clear in his bestselling book, Atomic Habits, and the idea is simple. It’s often easier to build new habits by “stacking” them on top of behaviours that you already perform routinely, rather than trying to make changes in isolation.

By linking a behaviour that you may feel like an effort with something that you do almost automatically or an activity you enjoy, there is a greater chance of the new behaviour developing into a long-term habit.

For example, if you want to spend less time using your mobile phone during the evening, you could start leaving it downstairs when you go up to bed. Going to bed is a daily habit that you probably perform with little thought. By combining this with putting your phone to one side, you could build this new behaviour into a habit.

The goal of habit stacking is to embed new behaviours so that they become almost automatic, potentially boosting your efficiency and productivity.

3 simple steps to successful habit stacking

1. Identify your goals

A good way of getting started is to make a list of the new habits you want to form and number them in order of priority.

Try to be realistic by choosing achievable goals and set yourself up for success by tackling one new habit at a time.

For example, if you haven’t done regular exercise for a while, setting a goal of hitting 10,000 steps a day would possibly be more achievable than aiming to run a marathon in a month.

2. Find the right trigger

Habit stacking is most effective when a new habit is linked to one that is an established part of your routine.

So, once you have a list of target habits, make a second list of “triggers”. These are activities or events that you experience every day. For example, brushing your teeth, walking your dog, your mobile ringing, the sun setting and so on.

3. Link your new habit to a trigger

Now compare your two lists and try to make logical connections.

For example, stacking the new habit of “reading five pages of my book” on top of “brushing my teeth before bed” might make sense. Whereas, stacking “go for a 30 minute run” on top of the same habit would probably be counterproductive!

You’re more likely to build a strong connection between a new behaviour and a trigger if they are both specific and actionable.

So, setting the goal, “When I leave my desk for lunch, I will go for a 30 minute run” is more helpful than, “At lunchtime I’ll do a run”. The first statement specifies the exact new habit you want to form and when you plan to do it, whereas the second statement is much more vague – does “at lunchtime” mean before or after you eat? How long will you run for?

If either the goal or the trigger is unclear, you’re much more likely to find a way to avoid taking action and forming the new habit could become very difficult.

Tips for successful habit stacking

Habit stacking is a useful tool for building new habits, but it isn’t a magic wand. Here are a few helpful tips to give you the best chance of success:

  • Build one new habit at a time – small steps are generally more realistic and achievable
  • Track your progress – you could try using mobile apps or journalling
  • Stack something you don’t like on top of something you love – to help boost your motivation
  • Give it time – be patient, habits take time to form
  • Celebrate your wins – to keep yourself motivated long term.

With a little practice and determination, you could successfully use habit stacking to build all kinds of new health and productivity boosting habits, from exercising regularly to getting your finances in order.

Get in touch

If you’re feeling motivated to build better financial planning habits to make the most of your money, we can help.

Please get in touch either by email at or by calling 0117 9303510.

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