Habit Stacking for YOUR Health


Little things can add up to big health benefits

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

While not a new concept, the term “habit stacking” was developed by motivation speaker James Clear to describe of using basic habits to reach larger goals.

Most people have at least one health improvement goal, like drinking more water, getting fitter, building more muscle, eating more produce.

It’s easy to chalk up their inability to achieve their goal to a lack of willpower. However, busyness and distraction are more likely the reasons.

How hard is it to chug a few more glasses of water? But in the hubbub of a frantic day, the water tumbler goes dry and so do the chances of forming that hydrating habit.

Habit stacking can make a new habit stick for good.

Most people would not skip brushing their teeth. However, most people still need to be reminded of how important it is to visit a general dentistry specialist at least twice a year. Dental cleaning and checkups are just some of the services that a family dentist offers which can help improve one’s overall dental health. You may also require adult orthodontics if you want to improve the alignment of your teeth.

If their goal is to drink more water, setting out a glass near the toothbrush would serve as an easy reminder and readily facilitate getting in extra servings of water.

“We all have routines we follow,” said Juliann M. Mellen, clinical dietitian specialist with Upstate Health Care Center. “Habit stacking is basically adding small things, behavior, action, to an already existing routine in an effort to change a behavior or simply linking actions together to create a new routine.”

By taking these small, easily remembered steps, new behaviors are easier to remember and thus adopt.

“Most of us get motivated or excited to make a change but then often we just don’t stick with it, Mellen said. “Many of us have made New Year’s resolutions only to forget about it shortly after the new year.”

By forcing the new habit to piggyback on one already established, people are less likely to forget. It typically takes about 28 days to form a new habit, but habit stacking can fast track that process.

Before bed, Mellen sets up her coffee maker for morning brew and then takes her vitamin D supplement.

“By linking the vitamin with my evening routine of setting up my coffeemaker, I don’t forget to take it,” she said.

The principle applies to many types of healthful habits. Instead of waiting idly by the coffeepot waiting for the first cup in the morning, getting in a few reps with free weights will build more fitness into the day, thanks to the sight of the dumbbells on the countertop. Eventually, picking up the weights becomes part of that routine.

“For my family, I keep our supplements out on the counter by the sink so in the morning when preparing breakfast,” said Laurel Sterling, registered dietitian, nutritionist and educator with Carlson Laboratories.

Taking their supplements at breakfast helps ensure they are not forgotten.

“You just need to look at yourself and figure out what you have already well established and build off of those healthy habits,” Sterling said. “Whatever the habit is that you’d like to change or add into your daily routine, once you get going you’ll find it’s easy to keep at it.”

The new habit should be measurable. “Getting in shape” is too vague.

“Moving up to one larger dumb bell” is measurable. The new habit should be congruent with the old habit. For example, “I’ll do 25 jumping jacks while waiting for the copier” may prove distracting in an office. But “I’ll pace in my office while on the phone” could work. The old habit should be something you do on a similar basis of the desired new habit. The habit should be achievable. If the new habit is “I’ll eat more fresh produce” and you don’t pick up any at the store or farmers’ market, it’s unlikely you will eat more produce.

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