Video: Try Pairing, One of the Easiest Ways to Strengthen Habits.

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the various strategies that we can use for habit-formation.

Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative.

My forthcoming book, Better Than Before, describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits. To pre-order, click here. (Pre-orders give a real boost to a book, so if you’re inclined to buy the book, I’d really appreciate it if you pre-order it.)

Here, I talk about the Strategy of Pairing. Now that a few people have started to read early copies of Better Than Before, I’ve been surprised by how many  mention this strategy as one that has been very useful to them.


In the video, I talk about the positive use of pairing. Note, however, that it’s all too easy to allow a negative habit to form by creating a pair. Some familiar bad-habit pairs: “I always get drunk on Saturday nights.” “I always read an email as soon as I get it.” “I always go shopping when I’m traveling.” Once the pair is formed, breaking it up feels like deprivation.

So pay attention to the Strategy of Pairing, so you can use it as a force for good.

Sidenote: I don’t think I’ve ever received a gift, myself, that has given me as much pleasure as my gift of the treadmill desk to my sister. Writing about that episode was one of my favorite parts of writing Better Than Before.

Have you ever successfully paired a habit with another behavior?


  • Hi Gretchen. I just had to write a comment because I haven’t thought of pairing habits before, though I’d say that most of us do it. We just haven’t realized that we are pairing. Very interesting. I love to run in the mornings, but if I don’t wake up before 6am I don’t go. That’s a pair for me. Now that I know about pairing, I am more aware and I’m recognizing habit pairs throughout my day. This strategy can help us break bad habits. As you mention, the more good habits we can develop, the happier, healthier and more productive we’ll be. Thanks for sharing.

  • Sherri Williams

    Hi Gretchen,
    I think this strategy is a great idea, but what about examples that don’t involve exercise?( I run outside to a training podcast anyway, so tv or reading is out for me). Seems like it’s fairly easy to pair treadmill time with other activities but what about other habits like getting up early, clearing clutter or dealing with emails? I usually watch a tv show in the kitchen while washing dishes every evening – anyone have other pairs to share?

    • gretchenrubin

      I’ve heard of doing household chores during TV commercial breaks; praying while commuting, getting up earlier to find time to read for pleasure…love to hear other examples.

    • Megan

      When i still lived with my parents in high school, my desk was often cluttered. So before I allowed myself any treats after school or in the evening, i would make myself at least clean off my desk, and maybe my whole room if needed, before I could have my treat. This worked for years, but I somehow lost that discipline over time. I need to bring it back! Tidy before treat.

  • Msconduct

    I don’t know if you’re aware of this, Gretchen (I know you do lots of research), but this is the informal version of a psychological principle called Premack Theory. This simply says that more probable behaviours reinforce less probable behaviours. In your example, your more probable behaviour of reading magazines reinforces your less probable behaviour of exercising. So not only are you right about the power of this strategy, you’re SCIENTIFICALLY right!:).

  • Penelope Schmitt

    Yes, I have developed ‘habit strings’ that are now Morning and Evening rituals for me. To start something new, it works best to INSERT it in a string of habits rather than tack it on at the beginning or end. It will get dropped if it is at the end, the rest of the habits will be messed up if at the beginning.

    Another subject: bought and read Maria Kondo’s book about Tidying Up. Delightful! I can’t do it all right this minute because I am respecting Mom’s ‘stuff’, but I can go after ‘clothes’. Luckily that’s her first recommended target.

    I have already turned my socks from the hilarious ‘potato shaped objects’ she describes into neatly folded ranks in my sock drawer or giveaways. NICE! I once saw a photo of this done with undies, and have folded mine that way ever since. Never thought to carry it forward to jammies and t-shirts. Her ideas: marvelous, her respect for feelings, our sense of connection to home and things: perfectly lovely. Kondo sounds eccentric at first, but I sense she is wise. I look forward to her help when I can reclaim my home from my stuff as well as Mom’s! Perhaps my word for 2015 is TIDY. I am musing about how this advice will apply to my fabric stash. My initial answer is that almost every piece of fabric ‘gives me joy’ as I anticipate what I might be able to do with it. Only when I quit knitting did I give ALL my yarn away.

    • sewyuleknead

      Thank you for the prompt, Penelope! I’d looked into buying the book, decided against it and then kept thinking about it. You pushed me over the edge–in a GOOD way! Humor and habit, now that’s a pleasant pairing!

  • Felicity

    I pair my teeth brushing with my children’s bed time. I get them to bed and read my youngest a book, then I let them have some reading time while I brush/floss/rinse, then I give them a final kiss and turn the light out. Then it’s free time for me!
    Brushing my teeth at that time (8pm) also means that I don’t snack in the evenings… because then I would have to brush/floss/rinse again, and I can’t be bothered.

    • Felicity

      Also, I don’t watch dvds during the day unless I’m folding washing or ironing it. That’s a great incentive!

  • SarahSmith80

    After watching this video yesterday I downloaded an audiobook and decided I would only listen to it whilst walking. This morning I walked to work (the long way!) and can’t wait to walk home again. Thanks Gretchen!

    • gretchenrubin


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  • Hedgielurch

    Your book on habits came at an excellent time for me as I was just trying to instil quite a few new habits all at once (tackling sleep and exercise and kid’s new music practice schedule), and three of your techniques put together are really helping me.
    First, scheduling – it ensures that there actually is time to do what I need to get done.
    Second, pairing. So, I’ve paired with waking at 5:30am a string of activities including checking email, meditation, my arm strengthening exercises, and writing (the writing bit is not going so well), with a natural segue into the morning breakfast/get ready for school schedule as the kids start to wake. I’ve paired walking my kids to school, with walking (and talking) my husband halfway to his work, and walking back past my gym where I do a one hour swim before walking back to where I wait for my kid’s school bus. I’ve paired lunch (kid has got to be fed every day!) with helping my kid with her violin practice (she is starting Suzuki which requires parental support in daily practice and I was really concerned about remembering to do this – and not making it a last minute mad scramble – pairing it with lunch makes it easy to remember and also, kid does not have low sugar levels, so she’s more comfortable and focussed = better practice session).
    The last habit tip of yours I used was to incorporate pleasure with the habits, and this one has been a bit of a revelation to me. So, one thing that really helped with me getting physically out of bed was simply switching on the heater! I hate the cold and found it really hard to get out of my warm bed to do my arm exercises – this one single thing makes it painless. I also experimented with the ORDER of things. Initially, I thought, meditation and exercises first, before checking email. But, I realised that checking online what happened during the night while I slept (my friends and family are at different time zones) was a pleasure that I enjoyed waking up to, if I didn’t check it I was distracted by it the whole time, and it gave the heater time to warm up the bedroom. I’ve had no problem moving onto the next things once my morning internet fix was done. The pleasure of talking to my husband in the morning as we walk to his work is a nice bonus of getting to the pool by walking, and after a tough swim session, I sit in the hot pools for a blissful 15 minutes – the only time of the day I let my mind go completely blank (I am beginning to realise that heat is a great source of pleasure to me). I’m trying to figure out if this counts as a treat, or if it is a consequence of the swim (note: it is most enjoyable after the swim; nice but not so awesome without the workout). Oh, and I LOVE your Power Hour idea!! I’ve found that jotting down the dozens of things I do in that slice of morning increases the kick/pleasure I get out of it, and I love getting on top of those things and it makes life feel that much more manageable and organised.
    So anyway, I meant to come by to your website and drop a thank you somewhere. I’m not sure this blog post is the best place to put it, but I hope you see it somehow.

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