How to Create Healthy Habits That You Will Keep

Michael Loren

I hate flossing my teeth. I don’t know why. I just didn’t like to do it. However, in the past few years, I have discovered the ultimate secret to making myself do things I don’t like doing.

It’s called habit stacking and it’s fantabulous. I decided to attempt habit stacking after I read James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits. Basically, the idea is that you stack a new habit that you want to create on top of a habit that you already do.

I decided to start small. I make a French press full of coffee every morning. I love doing this — it’s often the main reason that I wake up. However, it does take a few minutes for the water to boil, so I decided to try stacking a few habits I DON’T want to do into that 8 minutes.

I thought of two things I dislike doing that I could complete in under 8 minutes. I decided to feed the cat (cat food smells like rancid death to me) and empty the dishwasher (duh — everyone hates that). So, I skeptically embarked upon my habit stacking journey. Boil water, open cat food, gag, open the dishwasher, throw things in cabinets, look over and see the glorious sight of bubbling water, and VOILA! I get a reward and two chores are done-sies!

Not only did I accomplish two things I didn’t want to do, but I also filled idle time when I normally would have been scrolling through Instagram or staring out the window wondering how our neighbors can afford a Maserati. Double whammy productivity win. And . . . one year later, I have continued to keep my two new habits in place.

Next, the ultimately elusive task: flossing my teeth. I tried to think of something else I couldn’t get out of doing. Showering? Nah. I could sneak out of that. Finally, I found it. Driving. I can’t skip driving my kid to school. I ordered a poopload of those green flossers, put them in the driver’s side compartment of my car, and I haven’t looked back since.

A good nine months into regular flossing, I’m pretty happy with my new habit. I had to remind myself to do it for the first few weeks, but now, it’s Pavlovian. I get in the car and I start to feel things in between my teeth (imaginary or not). Now, I want to floss.

The moral of the story: It’s difficult to create a habit on its own. One of the secrets to creating new habits is to create new task connections. Pair the things you don’t want to do with the things you do and you will eventually want to do them. Happy stacking.

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Professional writer and journalist with concentration in data analysis. I specialize in interpreting data to give you unbiased, understandable information related to the state of California.

Los Angeles, CA

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