What is Habit Stacking?

5 mins read

The last 24 hours made me buy a book on Amazon. Sometimes it just works out like that. A few weeks ago, a buddy of mine told me about Atomic Habits from James Clear. Among the lessons learned, he told me about ‘habit stacking’. Then, last night, I organically bumped into an article about that very term – from that very author.

You can read the article I bumped into here – Link.

So, I bought the book. You kind of have to after a string of events like that, right?

Square hole, round peg.

Over the past month, I’ve been working on introducing yoga into my lifestyle. While it’s been working – that is, I’ve been doing more yoga, it’s been going the way it always has. I find something I want to add to my system and smash it into place. Even if the square hole I’ve got doesn’t fit the round yogic peg I’m working with, my grappling mindset takes over and I just pressure it into the hole. So far, that seems to work pretty well for me.

Or so I thought.

See, the problem with that approach is I don’t really know if things fit that well. Sure, the skills and attributes I’ve added are present, but I don’t know for sure if it’s the best fit possible or just what I’ve smashed into existence. Enter: habit stacking.

Little choices.

James has a pretty easy way of describing what a habit is;

Habits are the small decisions you make and actions you perform every day.


You should be able to take that little nugget and tease apart your day into a variety of little decisions.

Are you going to have breakfast?

How about getting to bed at a decent time?

Are you drinking enough water?


James argues that the sum of your life so far is based on your habitual behaviour. I think that’s a fair statement. After all, each potential fork in the road you have decided upon so far has lead you to this point on the path.

Neural networks

Through a couple great examples (backed by data, just the way we like it around here), James builds the case for standing on a platform you already have; neural networks. Check out his full article (Link) to learn more about how we build out these little mental roadways that support our current behaviours.

These connections reinforce our habits. When we do something more often, that connection is strengthened over time. Do more of the thing = get better at doing the thing.

Mind math.

Speaking of algorithms, James has an awesome mental tool available that is used to support the theme of this article; habit stacking. We can apply this equation to existing habits to cue a new habit. Instead of assigning a time or place (like I always do) to a new habit, I’m seeing the power of linking the new thing I want to do to a thing I already do.

Here’s the equation – originally published by BJ Fogg.

After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].

This, for me anyhow, is a pretty major revelation.

James argues that stacking a new habit on top of an existing successful habit can allow you to ‘chain’ these strings together. Does anybody else see the direct correlation to Jiu Jitsu, or is that just me?

Please – allow this short introduction to this concept to be just that, an introduction.

Goto the article linked HERE to learn about this concept and start playing with the idea that we shouldn’t attach new habits to times and places but to our existing systems. I’ll be taking some time this evening to heed his advice and create a Habit Scorecard for myself. I believe this system would directly improve my daily life, the plans I have for the future and the wellness of many of my peers. Go check it out.

Bill Dungey is a volunteer firefighter in Ontario, Canada. He is focused on fitness, mindset development and finding training opportunities to help the fire service make things better.

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