• Jacob Reynolds PT, DPT

Habit Stacking

Today I want to discuss the concept of “training in the in-between,” living with intention and reframing our mindset about fitness, health, and longevity to unlock untapped potential. By making premeditated decisions related to warm-up, recovery, and using small opportunities to manage or prevent symptoms, we might be able to live into a richer life. Turning potential energy into kinetic energy, if you can recall your old physics classes. If not, check out this horrible polka song explaining potential-vs-kinetic energy, you’ll be sure to never forget it. Just kidding, seriously don’t click the hyperlink. The song is annoying.


This blog will reference concepts discussed in a former blog post , check it out here.


I want to continue on this same trend, by discussing healthy habit formation. In Sam Thomas Davies book Unhooked: How to Break Bad Habits and Form Good Ones That Stick, he discusses how habit formation can help us achieve our goals. [Side note: I would encourage everyone to read this book]. He used the concept of “habit stacking,” which he defines as a series of small changes that build a ritual you follow on a daily basis. This idea, however, is lost on us in our “bigger is better” culture, says Davies. We all want big breakthroughs, but the idea that small changes produce large wins is often hard to believe. But the reality is that small changes inspire small wins, and small wins inspire us to persevere.


How do we build a ritual we follow on a daily basis? The answer: use an existing habit as a trigger. For example: if your resolution is to be more active, and the first thing you do every morning when you wake up is to check your cell phone, give yourself a daily reminder on your phone to do 10 squats before showering. This will force you to make an active decision to either ignore or act on that reminder and will likely lead to greater success with actually following through with your goal.


Other ways to find success with habit formation include using the following four evidence-based constructs:

1) priming

2) defaults

3) commitments

4) social norms


“Priming” can be understood as habits influenced by unconscious cues; for example, if you want to stay hydrated, leave bottles of water around your house. These subtle cues will remind your subconscious to act.


“Defaults” are described as “passive commitments;” when it comes to decision making we usually contend to whatever is the present option. If you are sick of social media, but somehow always find yourself scrolling through your feeds, simply log out and you will typically find yourself deciding not to spend the time to log back in when you then mindlessly re-open your social media applications.


“Commitments” are easily understood through accountability; make yourself accountable to someone or something and you will find yourself honoring those commitments.


Lastly, using “Social Norms” when trying to form new habits is important. To make change stick, associating with individuals who support your goals and are pulling for you to succeed will make your goals more attainable. For example, are you training for the Peachtree Road Race? Join a local running group with folks all training for a common goal.


Below are some additional examples of how you can use these constructs:


-Priming: Pack your gym bag and leave it where you’ll see it every day.


-Defaults: Schedule days to exercise, so you don’t have to “fit it in.”


-Commitments: Find an accountability partner and introduce stakes in the event you miss a workout.


-Social Norms: Go with a friend who has the same goal as you and go on the default days you decided on.


Your goals to a happier and healthy life are important; using habit formation is a critical prerequisite to help you achieve these goals more easily. Like we discussed in my last blog, creating change is difficult, using these habit formation tips can make the process easier and more enjoyable. If you fail, try again. Almost everything worthwhile in life has a rite of passage. Enjoy the struggle and keep going forward! Happy habit forming!


You can download a PDF of Unhooked: How to Break Bad Habits and Form Good Ones That Stick here.


Thanks for reading!


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