What is Habit Stacking?

We all have habits built up over our lifetime. How many do you have? 

Don’t immediately go to the bad ones because we all have habits in our daily lives, both good and bad.  You know what the bad ones are, and yours will be different to mine.  But what about the good ones? 

Those things that you do every day without even thinking about it.  Cleaning your teeth, making the bed, setting an alarm, showering.  You’ve done these things for so long that you no longer have to think about them, you just do them.

This week I was reading Arianna Huffington’s blog in Thrive Global on gratitude, a subject very dear to my heart (as is Arianna I have to tell you).  She and I share a habit that I would encourage anyone to introduce into their lives, and that is to journal the things that you are grateful for in your life. 

Gratitude shares the same Latin root – gratus – as the word ‘grace’.  So I would suggest that if you want to live a life of grace, then being aware on a daily basis of what you are grateful for, and journaling it so that the emotion is captured as you write it down, is a good place to start. 

Being grateful for what you have, what you see and what you experience are relatively easy though.  Being grateful for what you would like in your life before you have it, or for the little things rather than the grandiose, or for the lessons being learned in the stressful times, is a much more difficult exercise.  But it is a habit that can reap great benefits.

Gratitude researchers Dr Robert Emmons and Dr Michael McCullough, in their book The Psychology of Gratitude, share their findings of studying two groups of people over the course of several weeks. 

Group One wrote down things they were grateful for and Group Two recorded the things that annoyed them on a daily basis.  At the end of the study the findings were recorded through weeks of surveying both groups. 

Not only were Group One participants more optimistic about their lives, their interpersonal relationships improved and they recorded fewer visits to the doctor. 

To me this supports the saying that you become what you think about all day long.  If you are thinking graciously about your life, giving thanks for your circumstances and the people in it, then you will see and experience good. 

Even better, if you show gratitude to someone else, then you are doubling the blessing.  But if you are focussed on aggravations and grievances, then I believe you are going to keep drawing more of those to you.

But what does all this have to do with the title of today’s blog? 

It’s quite simple really.  Those habits that I reminded you about in the opening, the things that you have learned to do over the course of your lifetime that you now take for granted.  The more you do them, the better you become at them as a result of your brain building strong networks of neurones to support the behaviour.  Habit-stacking just takes advantage of those connections, building new habits into your life by attaching them to existing habits.

So, here is a way to start adding gratitude into your life. 

Each night or morning while you are cleaning your teeth (existing habit) name in your head three things that you are grateful for (desired habit).  Do it for three weeks.  Then reflect on how your general well-being, health, emotional reactions and optimism have improved through habit-stacking.

I challenge you after three weeks, if you do this every day, you will be feeling happier and grateful for the experience.  And remember, after 21 days this should have become a habit in itself. 

After that, start to write down those three things that you are grateful for and see the exponential improvements in your well-being.

Robert Emmons, Ph.D., and Michael McCullough, Ph.D., The Psychology of Gratitude

Steve Scott  Habit Stacking: 127 Small Changes to Improve your Health, Wealth, and Happiness.

James Clear, Atomic Habits

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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