Habit Stacking | The Key to Productivity



In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, it can often feel that we achieve less than we intend to, which can leave us feeling unmotivated and unproductive. Behavioral science shows that the key to productivity lies in building new habits by taking advantage of old ones. This practice is known as Habit stacking…


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On the cusp of every new year, people make a list of resolutions for themselves: Workout more, eat healthier, start meditating, read more and so on and so forth. In the end, we don’t end up achieving half these goals we have set for ourselves. It’s an overwhelming and difficult endeavor to adopt new habits into our daily life. 

 In his 2018 bestseller Atomic Habits, author and behavioral expert James Clear outlines the neuroscience behind adopting new habits and why so many people find it difficult. He proposes a strategy to cope with this problem and lead a more productive life. Clear introduces a concept known as Habit Stacking: the practice of ‘stacking’ a new behavior into a current behavior, so that you remember to do it and can perform with less mental effort. 




In order to first approach the science of habit stacking, its important to understand a few facts about the brain. Synapses, you may have heard, are connections between neurons of the brain. Each synapse corresponds with an activity that we do. Let’s say you practice playing piano for 10 years, then your brain will strengthen the connection between those neurons used for your musical hobby. The more you practice, the stronger the connections become. They also become faster and more efficient. However, the brain can also prune away connections that don’t get used. Suppose, you quit piano after one lesson, its unlikely that the synapses will be strengthened again. Rather, the brain prunes away those unused connections and allocated energy towards building connections for other life skills. 

In a similar way, the synaptic connections in the brain are strongest for behaviors or habits we already practice and weaker for those that we don’t. Habit stacking requires one to make use of those existing neural links in the brain. It requires you to first identify a habit that you already practice everyday, and add a new habit to engage in before or after the existing habit. In this way, you make less of a mental effort as the brain does not have to create entirely new synapses. 

On the other hand, the strategy works beyond a neurophysiological level. The existing habit will serve as a built-in reminder to engage in a new habit. For example, you can decide that while you drink your morning coffee, you will read a few pages of a book. In time you will come to associate your coffee with reading a book.



The fundamental step of habit-stacking, is to first identify the practices that you engage in daily. Author of Atomic Habits, James Clear, recommends people to start off by making a list of all the habits they practice daily. This can be simple things like, waking up, brushing your teeth, having your morning coffee and so on. 

In the next step, you can write down a list of goals you want to incorporate into your daily life, such as being more mindful, being more tidy and organized, and being more active. You can then break down these goals into habits that can be achieved in a day. For example, if your goal is to be more mindful, then you may want to adopt the habit of meditating daily. Or if you plan on being more active, you may want to go on a jog every morning. It's important to be specific about the goals you set for yourself. If the goals are too vague or unrealistic for your current lifestyle, you may end up struggling. Set yourself up for success, select your new habits wisely and take into account the realities of your life. 

In the third step, take both of your lists and try to plan ways that new habits can be stacked onto the existing habits. If we take our prior example of wanting to be more mindful, you could set your morning coffee to brew and meditate for 5 minutes till your coffee  is ready. Or if you plan on being more active, you can go out for a jog directly after you wash your face and get dressed. James Clear suggests a Habit stacking formula to keep track of your new habits: 

 After/Before [ Current habit], I will [New Habit] 

 For an example: After I take off my pajamas, I will change to my work out clothes

                              After I set my coffee to brew, I will meditate for five minutes. 

It's important to start off small and allow yourself time to practice. At first, you might find yourself putting in a conscious effort to try the new habits. The more regularly you engage in the practice, the more automatic it will become. 


Habit stacking offers a powerful and practical approach to personal development. It helps us create seamless transitions that foster consistency and growth. This method not only simplifies the process of adopting new habits but also enhances our ability to sustain them over the long term. As we utilize the principles of habit stacking, we can unlock a pathway to continuous improvement. Embracing this strategy can ultimately lead to a more structured, productive, and fulfilling life.


+ Highlight Image: © Cathryn Lavery via Unsplash

+ Words

Liza Silva
Luxiders Magazine