What Is Habit Stacking?

Habit stacking is a conditioning strategy in which a new habit is created by combining it with an established one. The idea behind habit stacking is that by combining the new habit with one that already feels like an automatic part of your day, you’re more likely to experience success in establishing the new habit as part of your routine.

Habit stacking can be more effective than other methods of starting new habits because it works off of a built-in “cue.” After you attach the new habit to an established part of your routine, the original habit becomes the “cue” to engage in the new one. It’s like an automatic reminder every day, which helps to seamlessly incorporate your new habit into your routine until it becomes second nature.

To make your habit stacking efforts effective, pair your new habit with one that’s an essential part of your routine. It should be something that’s already very ingrained in your daily habits. The more consistently you pair the new habit with the old one, the more it becomes a regular part of your day.

The following are some examples of what habit stacking can look like in action:

  • While you wait for your morning coffee to brew, do a few minutes of meditation.
  • On your drive to work each day, put on an educational podcast.
  • As you watch a TV show, do a few sets of push-ups or crunches.
  • After you brush your teeth at night, lay your clothes out for the next day.

The Benefits of Habit Stacking for ADHD

People with ADHD sometimes struggle to form new habits. Certain symptoms of ADHD, like distractibility, forgetfulness, and disorganization, can make it tough to be consistent. On top of that, individuals with ADHD often have a hard time getting motivated. This is especially true when working toward a long-term goal (like overall fitness, healthier eating, learning a language, etc.) because an ADHD brain prioritizes short-term payoffs due to a dopamine insufficiency.

With habit stacking, however, it’s possible to bypass some of these obstacles. Embedding a habit into a part of your routine that’s already very ingrained makes the new activity feel almost automatic. Some of the benefits of habit stacking with ADHD include:

  • Improved consistency: You’re more likely to stick with the new habit and incorporate it into your daily life.
  • Easier time management: When you habit stack, you already have a designated slot in your routine for the new activity, so you don’t have to worry about making time to do it.
  • Reduced stress: You don’t have to stress over remembering to do a certain activity, because your routine acts as an automatic reminder.
  • Better outcomes: Because the new habit becomes a consistent part of your daily activities, you’ll see results or notice positive changes faster.

How to Stack Habits in Your Routine

If you’re thinking about using habit stacking to start a new habit, take some time to determine the best strategy. A little planning before you start can help you get the results you want. Follow these steps to get started:

1. Choose a new habit.

Decide which new habit you want to incorporate into your routine. Be specific — and realistic — when determining how you’ll put that into practice. For example, don’t just say “I want to work on my flexibility.” Instead, set a more specific goal, such as “I want to do five minutes of stretching every morning.”

2. Pair your new habit with part of your routine.

Next, you’ll need to determine which activity in your day is the best choice for pairing with the new habit you hope to form. With the example of five minutes of stretching in the morning, you might pair it with your daily shower. For example, you could do your stretches right after getting out of the shower since the warm water will already help you feel a bit less stiff. If you keep doing this every day, it can become just as much a part of your routine as the shower itself.

3. Start small.

It’s a good idea to start with one new habit to incorporate into your routine. That way, you won’t get too overwhelmed early on. However, once you get used to habit stacking, you can try increasing the number of tasks you tack on to an automated task. Some people are able to add up to three new habits in a chain with an existing habit.

4. Track your progress.

If you keep track of your progress in forming a new habit, it can help you stay motivated. Use a calendar and mark off the days where you remember to stretch in the morning. There are also smartphone apps which can be used for habit tracking purposes.

5. Reward yourself for your consistency.

Activating your brain’s reward system is a great way to maintain motivation and consistency with a new habit. People with ADHD are particularly responsive to rewards because it can increase their dopamine levels. To encourage your new habit, treat yourself to something you love (some candy or a favorite movie, for example) if you’re able to stick with it for a certain number of days in a row.