Benefits of Habit Stacking for ADHD

man with back to the camera is doing dishes


When it comes to ADHD, it’s important to develop habits that help manage symptoms. These habits may include healthy lifestyle practices like diet, physical activity, and good sleep hygiene.

Individuals with ADHD have a more difficult time forming healthy lifestyle habits. Since those with ADHD have trouble with memory and remaining focused, it can be even more challenging for them to “organize daily tasks and routines”.

“The term lifestyle change inherently means that changes are made such that they can be followed for the lifetime of an individual.” It is important for persons with ADHD to determine tactics to help develop healthy lifestyle habits. 

What Is Habit Stacking?

The concept of habit stacking is gradually incorporating new lifestyle habits into your routine by associating them with an already-established habit.

Often when trying to form a new habit, people tend to jump right in with the hope that the habit will stick. The truth is, committing to behavior is not as simple as it seems. Forming a habit takes time and, often, multiple attempts.

This is where habit stacking can help.

For example, if you are trying to incorporate a certain food into your daily diet, like blueberries, you may want to try eating a few blueberries with your first glass of water in the morning. Integrating a new behavior with an already established routine can help you remember and feel this habit is more attainable. After developing this habit, you can include more; after eating blueberries, you make sure to wash the dishes used for breakfast. All of these different behaviors will eventually become a morning routine

The goal of habit stacking isn't just about forming a habit or two but about creating a routine from these habits. Habits are conscious behaviors that can become a part of a routine, whereas routines are behaviors that are subconscious and done automatically.

Benefits of Habit Stacking for ADHD

Habit stacking can help you with the following ADHD challenges:

How to Habit Stack

Below are some steps that can help you during the process of habit stacking:

  1. Determine the habit. First, you must consciously decide to implement new lifestyle habits into your life. Determine the present habit you hope to form and reflect on how this habit adds to your life.
  2. Understanding habit forming isn't easy. It is essential to know that forming a habit takes time and commitment. It usually takes months for a behavior to become a habit.
  3. Accept failure. It is okay if you do not get it right the first time. You may fall off the behavior before it becomes a habit, and then you stop it together. This happens all the time to all of us, but there is always the ability to try again. So do your best not to give up and keep trying until you hit a home run.
  4. Get organized. Getting organized may sound hard if becoming organized is the new habit you are trying to pursue. Luckily, this pertains to habit forming particularly and only takes sitting down once and creating a realistic list of other habits you want to pursue along with the current one. 
  5. Start stacking (only if you are ready). After determining your overall goal of habits, you can then begin incorporating each behavior gradually. For example, if you are now eating fruit with your first glass of water in the morning and choose to wash the dishes after eating fruits, it will be your new addition to habit stacking. You may want to add one more thing to your morning routine, which can even mean doing a task before your first glass of water. Maybe you started to notice that you constantly forget to do your daily stretching after getting out of bed, so you decide to make stretching your first habit of the day. 
  6. Don’t overdo it. Be realistic with your habit stacking, do not choose to stack too many habits all at once. Be sure to focus on one new behavior at a time. Once that habit is formed, or you see yourself remembering to complete this habit often, then attempt to add on a new one. If you find it too much to keep up with, go back to just that first habit. It is best to keep your eye on the ball and continue prioritizing your original habit choice. It is not about how much you stack but about bettering your life. You don’t want to become distracted by stacking but wish to remain committed. 

A Word From Verywell

Implementing a new habit into one's life isn’t an easy thing. It usually takes multiple attempts for a habit to stick. The added roadblocks associated with ADHD, like disorganization, memory issues, and difficulty focusing, make habit forming even more difficult.

Luckily, habit stacking can help accomplish the goal of forming new lifestyle habits, despite ADHD symptoms interference. You might have tried your own tactics to make certain behaviors a consistent part of your routine but received no results; it’s possible that habit stacking is just what you’ve been looking for.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Arlinghaus KR, & Johnston, CA. The Importance of Creating Habits and Routine. American journal of lifestyle medicine. 2018;13(2):142–144. doi:10.1177/1559827618818044

  2. Björk A, Rönngren Y, Selander J, Vinberg S, Hellzen O, Olofsson. Health, lifestyle habits, and physical fitness among adults with ADHD compared with a random sample of a Swedish general population. Society Health & Vulnerability. 2018;9(1):1553916. doi:10.1080/20021518.2018.1553916

  3. Lally, P, van Jaarsveld CHM, Potts HWW, Wardle J. How are habits formed: Modeling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Justice. 2010;40(6):998-1009. doi:10.1002/ejsp.674

By Tiara Blain
Tiara Blain, MA, is a freelance writer for Verywell Mind. She is a health writer and researcher passionate about the mind-body connection.