Can sorting habits help your health goals?

Think about something you would like to change or improve in the day-to-day management of your chronic illness. For me, I wanted to increase my daily water intake. I got lots of tips on how to achieve this goal, from carrying large containers of water to using a water reminder app like WaterMinder to trying sparkling water for bubbly hydration. A simple Google search for “ways to increase water intake” yielded dozens of ideas.

While these tips work wonders for some people, I personally found that aside from developing a liking for soda, they didn’t significantly improve my hydration habits.

I decided to try habit stacking.

Why Habit Stacking Works

At its core, habit stacking is a powerful way to introduce positive behaviors into your everyday life effortlessly. It’s a simple concept: you take a habit you already perform regularly and naturally and attach a new, positive behavior to it. This creates a routine that you will start not thinking about.

Research in the field of habit formation supports the effectiveness of this approach. A study published in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that incorporating healthy habits into an existing routine significantly increases the likelihood of maintaining those habits over the long term.

And the best part: It reduces the mental energy spent on achieving a goal. Instead of relying on sheer willpower, you use the power of your existing habits to create a positive domino effect. As a result, the mental energy spent trying to achieve a particular goal is reduced, making it more likely that you will successfully integrate the desired behavior into your daily life.

How Habit Stacking worked for me

Every night, as part of my bedtime routine, I fill my Nalgene with water. I make it a ritual. Fill the bottle; make sure my cats have fresh water; tell Alexa to turn off the kitchen lights; and continue up. I put the water on my nightstand and go to the bathroom to wash my face and brush my teeth. When I wake up, I get out of bed and drink the water before I brush my teeth.

This simple adjustment to my routine has greatly increased my water intake over the past two years, thanks to the connection with brushing my teeth.

Even on mornings when I’m traveling and don’t pack a Nalgene, I try to remember to grab a water bottle and put it on the nightstand. I am now consistent with my habit more than 90 percent of the time. And that’s how you win. Consecutive small changes.

While the specific set of habits I shared may not be right for everyone, the basic principle can be applied to any change you want to make in your life. Think of something small and achievable that you would like to incorporate into your routine. Next, identify an existing habit or action that you already do regularly and associate the new habit with it. This approach is inspired by the insights of James Clear in his book, Atomic habits.

  • After the alarm goes off, I’ll stretch for five minutes.
  • After pouring my cup of coffee each morning, I will meditate for a minute.
  • After I take off my work shoes, I’ll immediately change into my workout clothes.
  • After I sit down to dinner, I’ll say one thing I’m thankful for that happened today.

Try Habit Sorting for a week and discover its potential benefits. What do you have to lose? This simple technique can be the key to positive changes in your life.

Global events for a healthy lifestyle

At GHLF, we understand that living with a chronic illness involves more than just doctor visits and medications. Our Global Healthy Living Events are specifically designed to promote healthier lifestyles and offer attendees a treasure trove of resources and practical advice to effectively manage the everyday decisions that affect our well-being. Each of our events features an elite team of GHLF-affiliated healthcare professionals, including physical therapists, mindfulness educators, registered dietitians, nutritionists and pharmacists. They will provide you with small but powerful steps that you can seamlessly incorporate into your daily disease management routines. Find out more.

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