How to Use Habit Stacking and Mindfulness to Support Your ASWB Studying

How to Use Habit Stacking and Mindfulness to Support Your ASWB Studying

We’re excited to share a blog post from Charlotte Herring, our Agents of Change Wellness specialist and founder of CS Wellness, a holistic mental health platform that offers group and 1:1 integrative mind-body coaching. Take it away Charlotte!

Picture it: You’ve just listened to a great podcast about the power of meditation. You’re feeling incredibly motivated, and you decide meditation will be a new habit to bring into your life.

For a few days, you jump right in. You meditate daily for 20 minutes twice a day, vigilantly. Things are great! 

But then life gets in the way. 

There’s always something else you *could* be doing. It’s so hard to find the time, and honestly, you might ask yourself… is it really that important? 

Before you know it, discouragement kicks in. The to-do list takes over. 

And before ya know it, the new habit of meditation falls by the wayside.

Sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone.

Most of us would love to bring new habits into our life. Yet, we struggle to find time or motivation to change our behavior over the long term. We’re all overworked, over-stressed, and have to-do lists a mile long. Who has time to meditate twice a day, or exercise six days a week?!

Not to mention – forming long-term habits (and sticking with them) can be HARD. Our brains prefer what we already know. We tend to stick with our “regular” routines over new patterns, and our “regular” thoughts over new ones. (Did you know, for example, that it’s estimated that 95% of the thoughts we think today were the same thoughts as yesterday? We are, truly, creatures of habit.)

All of this to say…building NEW habits, patterns, and beliefs can sometimes feel like an uphill battle that we’re fighting against ourselves in.

One way to implement a new habit, however, is to add it to something you already do habitually.

Enter: habit stacking, and the power of the subconscious mind in habit formation.

What is Habit Stacking?

Habit stacking is defined as the process of “stacking” or adding things to your already-enforced routine. By adding these new behaviors to your existing daily habits, you capitalize on the connectedness of behavior. 

As James Clear explains in his bestselling book “Atomic Habits,” habit stacking uses a special form of “implementation intention” – AKA, deciding beforehand how you intend to implement a habit into your already-full life. 

Habit stacking also utilizes the power of the subconscious mind. Most of our habits are subconscious behaviors (that is, we’re able to perform them without conscious thought). Take brushing your teeth, for example. This is largely something you do without actively “thinking” about the process. 

By linking a new habit with this existing pattern – which we already do automatically – we capitalize on our brain’s existing neural pathways and add to them, rather than forcing the brain to create an entirely new neural pathway when forming a new habit.

This in turn increases the likelihood of the new habit “sticking” over time, as it becomes a part of our subconscious patterning.

In short, by adding a new behavior to our already-ingrained existing behavior, we increase the likelihood of it becoming a habit.

How Can You Apply Habit Stacking to Your Exam Prep?

If you’re studying for your board exams and looking to implement new behaviors into your routine, habit stacking might be something to check out.

The “formula” for habit stacking is: 

After/Before/While [insert current habit that you already have in place] I will [insert new habit you’d like to start].

When setting your habit “stacks,” it can be helpful to keep the new behaviors short, specific, and on a firm timeline. Our subconscious minds love to stay within the patterns we’ve already set, and we’ll often try and find “loopholes” in our own habit formation. The more clarity and specificity you give yourself, the better!

Then, it’s important to identify a realistic “cue” to trigger the new behavior. Think of something you do daily, and then reflect on how you could realistically add another behavior in before, during, or after. 

Getting Started

To get you started, here are some examples of habit stacking as they relate to studying and self-care:

  • Before I watch my favorite TV show in the evening, I will spend 10 minutes reviewing my study needs for the next day.
  • Before I sit down to start studying, I will stretch/move my body for 5 minutes
  • After brushing my teeth at night, I will do a short gratitude practice, and think of 3 things I am grateful for
  • After having my morning coffee, I will do a 5-to-10-minute meditation
  • After I sit down at the test prep center or for a practice test, I will take 10 big, deep breaths to calm my nervous system
  • After I get ready in the morning, I will have positive affirmations about an outcome I’d like to achieve (aka passing my test!) posted to my bathroom mirror, so I see them each day and can reflect on them
  • While I take the dog for a walk, I will walk without technology for 10 minutes

Keep in mind these should be individualized to you, and there’s no one-habit-fits-all. Try out the habit-stacking framework and see what you think!

And if you’re interested in more on behavior change, habit formation, mindset, and the power of the subconscious mind, I also offer individual mindset coaching to help you ace your next exam. 😊 

Until next time – 


► Learn more about the Agents of Change course here:

About the Instructor, Meagan Mitchell: Meagan is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and has been providing individualized and group test prep for the ASWB for over five years. From all of this experience helping others pass their exams, she created the Agents of Change course to help you prepare for and pass the ASWB exam!

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Disclaimer: This content has been made available for informational and educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or clinical advice, diagnosis, or treatment


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