Professor of the Practice of Law University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Habit Stacking

Habit Stacking is adding a new habit right before or after a fully integrated habit.  For example:

  • Add a gratitude reflection or squats while you brush your teeth,
  • Do jumping jacks or push ups right before you shower, or
  • Incorporate wall sits while you check your phone.

Habit Stacking works because networks of brain cells that “fire together, wire together.”  Networks of neurons that we use frequently get stronger and those that we neglect get weaker.  Adopting a new behavior right before or after an ingrained behavior will leverage an existing strong network of brain cells. 

The formula for Habit Stacking is: After/Before (current habit), I will (new habit).

Takeaway: Make a list of new habits you want to deploy and then stack them with existing habits to maximize your chances of integrating new practices into your day.

Sources

Dana Santas, 4 Ways to Stay Fit and Stress Less During the Holidays, CNN, Dec. 9, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/09/health/fitness-strategies-reduce-stress-holidays-wellness/index.html

James Clear, How to Build New Habits by Taking Advantage of Old Ones, https://jamesclear.com/habit-stacking.  Clear credits BJ Fogg and Tiny Habits Program for this practice, which he called anchoring.

Christian Keysers and Valeria Gazzola, Hebbian Learning and Predictive Mirror Neurons for Actions, Sensations, and Emotions, Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences, 369(1644), June 5, 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4006178/. Donald Hebb coined the phrase neurons that “fire together, wire together.”

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