Habit Stacking: The Simplest Tool for Building the Life You Want

Habit Stacking: The Simplest Tool for Building the Life You Want

Nick Heath, PhD Nick Heath, PhD
5 minute read

We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” 

- Will Durant

If you’re trying to build a healthier, more fulfilling life, you may have wondered: Are there any proven tools for making consistent positive changes that will get me closer to my goals? 

The answer is yes, and the biggest one is habit stacking. This method combines things you’re already doing with what you wish you were doing. The result is that you effortlessly build the life you want. Another one is habit multiplying, which is unintentional growth that leads you to your desired outcomes.

Did you know that your next resB® order could come with a free year of membership to the Breathwrk app? Since ResBiotic is inviting customers to get a jump start on habit-stacking their resB routine with a daily breathwork practice in 2023, I thought it might be helpful to share a bit more about the habit stacking concept and how it can help you achieve health goals. 

In this short post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about habit stacking and habit multiplying. so you can start using them in your life today.

What is Habit Stacking?

Habit stacking is a term James Clear coined in his bestselling book Atomic Habits. However, the concept was initially developed by BJ Fogg, a world-leading behavioral researcher at Stanford.

The idea is straightforward: stack habits you want to do on top of habits you already do.

The key ingredient of habit stacking is an action prompt. This is a habit you already perform, where you can naturally add in the one you want to be doing.

The concept is best illustrated with an example.

Habit Stacking in Real Life

Let’s say you want to start a breathing practice (hooray!). Saying, “I’ll do a breathing practice tomorrow morning,” is too vague. To habit stack, you would tie it to a specific practice you already do.

For example, if you usually start your morning coffee and then play on your phone until it’s ready, you have a perfect habit-stacking opportunity. The action prompt for your new breathing practice could be starting the coffee. After you push that button, you start your breathing practice (you can still look at your phone once you’re done).

To make it even easier, we can stack similar habits, which we’ll cover next.

Make it Easy by Stacking Similar Habits

An example is most telling here, too.  

Since you’re reading this, we’ll assume you’re interested in both breathing and lung health. Let’s say you take a daily supplement (or several) to support your lung health.

If you wanted to add in a breathing practice, a natural way would be to stack the habit of taking a lung supplement with the habit of doing breathwork. Your action prompt is taking your supplements:

After I take my morning supplements, I will do 5 minutes of breathwork.

Or, if you’re wanting to add a daily supplement to your routine and already have a breathwork practice, this can work both ways. Combining similar habits will make the prompt easier to follow, and you’ll be more likely to follow through with your desired practice.

You Can Also Try Habit Switching

For the same reasons you might want to build a habit, sometimes we want to break bad habits. Just as you can make a healthy habit a trigger that reminds you to do another positive activity, you can also identify things that trigger the behavior you’d like to stop, and make a list of the things you want to do instead.

To extend our example of lung health goals, you might have the goal to quit smoking. Try making a list of things that trigger the urge, to pair with your list of lung healthy habits. Plan ahead to make those triggers a reminder for you to do 5 minutes of breathwork, or grab a lung-healthy snack!

Unintended Growth through Habit Multiplying

Using the habit-stacking approach allows us to consciously design the lives we want.

But there is also an unintended growth hack hidden in this approach: habit multiplying.

Returning to behavior expert BJ Fogg, he tells us that behaviors scale in two ways: they grow or multiply. Behavior growth is straightforward. A 2-minute breathwork session might naturally grow into 10 minutes over time.

Habit multiplication, however, is where the magic lies. This is when one habit multiplies into other related ones, naturally.

For example, let’s say you begin taking a supplement for lung health and use habit stacking to start a breathing practice, too. This new habit might multiply into walking more because you have more energy. Which might multiply into going to bed earlier and sleeping better.

Thus, one behavior might be the starting point for a multiplying process that gets you to the best version of yourself.

The critical point here is that multiplication happens naturally. Habit stacking takes deliberate effort. 

Start Using These Tools TodayNow 

You can use habit stacking to skillfully build the life you want: 

  1. Start with something you want to be doing more often.

  2. Find something related that you’re already doing.

  3. Use that current habit to trigger the new habit you want.

  4. Repeat until you’re happy with your daily routine.

As a bonus, notice when habit multiplying occurs naturally. You don’t have to force these; just observe when starting a new habit (like a breathing practice) multiplies into a somewhat related health habit (like walking more).

Enjoy using the power of habits to build the life you want.

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