Atomic Habits: Habit Stacking

Phil Hudson Personal Development Leave a Comment

In Chapter Five of Atomic Habits, James Clear discusses the principle of Habit Stacking. This simple practice of aligning your intention with at time and place allows your unconscious mind to have a game plan and help trigger a response to achieve your goals. The more specific with your goal the better it will be. Here’s the formula:

“I will [BEHAVIOUR] at [TIME] in [Location].

This is called an implementation intention and studies have shown it to be the best way to implement a new habit because it hits two cues (remember habits are driven by cue, craving, response, reward) in a single blow: time and location.

Habit Stacking, on the other hand, leverages our already formed habits to trigger another habit. As part of the last exercise where we built out a habit scorecard, we can quickly identify things we already do every day and then “slide-in” another habit into a slot directly connected to something we are already doing. If I shower every day but hate flossing, I can commit to flossing immediately after getting out of the shower. This would at least trigger a response within myself to have the desire to floss because it’s happening immediately after something I already do, and directly before something I else I already do, like drying off or brushing my hair (I mean, I brush my beard, but I don’t really have hair anymore).

I’ve been implementing this in my life over the last week as I’m wrapped on production of Tacoma FD and currently working as a Post Production PA. Because I have a normalized schedule I’ve gone back to my habit of 4:30 AM wake up and I’ve started to reimplement a lot of the things that I find provide value in my life: meditation, journaling, connecting with loved ones, reading, writing, mobility work, etc.

I’m doing this work within the frame that I discussed in an earlier blog post about Hal Elrod’s dictum that habits take at least 30 days to form and set and it should be approached in three 10 day batches: first ten sucks, second ten suck less, third ten are pretty easy. I’m just about to day 10 of implementation of those habits that I’ve had in the past which has made it easier, but one habit I know is beneficial for me is to consume protein first thing in the morning (ideally within 30 minutes of waking up to stimulate my metabolism).

Although I know consuming protein in the morning is beneficial, I do not enjoy doing that, so I’ve habit stacked in for two days in a row and sure enough, it triggered that response today. Here’s what my morning has looked like for the last week:

  • 4:30 AM – Wake up & turn off the alarm
  • 4:32 AM – Use the restroom and wake up
  • 4:55 AM – Walk to the kitchen and grab a glass of water for my greens (another habit I failed to do because I didn’t have water accessible in my office)
  • 4:56 AM – Walk to my office and grab a Monster Zero Energy Drink from my office fridge (my reward because I don’t drink coffee or soda anymore and I can’t chug this like water)
  • 4:57 AM – Sit down at my desk and open my pre-sorted supplements, crack the 8 Greens tablet into my water and let it mix.
  • 4:58 AM – Take the roughly ten supplements.
  • 5:00 AM – Meditate for 10 minutes
  • 5:10 AM – Drink my Greens and open my laptop to access Evernote (right here my old habit of checking email kicks in and I have to actively fight the urge to look at anything but Evernote.
  • 5:11 AM – I journal on whatever I did the previous day that is helping drive me toward my ultimate goals or lessons I learned that are impactful.
  • 5:20 AM – I close my laptop and I send a message to my wife in text, audio, or video connecting her for something I appreciate about her, an impact she’s made in my life, some aspect in which she is growing, etc.
  • 5:23 AM – I send a similar message to my father acknowledging the impact he’s had in my life (I love my family but I moved out when I was 15 years old so actively working to connect with my father is something I’m implementing because I truly do love him)
  • 5:25 AM – I open Atomic Habits and read a chapter.
  • 5:40-5:45 AM – Somewhere in here, I open my laptop again (fight the urge to check my emails) and log in to TheyCallMePhil.com and start to digest the learning I just received in the chapter I read.
  • 6:10-6:15 AM – After writing about 1000 words, doing a quick grammar and spelling check with Grammarly, I license a photo, resize it for the web and load it into the blog post.
  • 6:15 AM I post that blog post to my professional page on Facebook.
  • 6:17 AM I head to the living room where I load up a video training from Warrior, a marketing course, or an interview with a Screenwriter, and I do mobility work (including stretching, the Chirp Wheel, the PsoRite, or the TheraGun).
  • At 6:45 AM I walk back to our guest bathroom and shower.
  • at 6:55 AM I get out of the shower, dry off, put on deodorant, and brush my teeth (easily one of the habits I’ve struggled with most in my life out of a rebellion toward my mother that started when I was a child)
  • 7:00 AM I go into my bedroom and take my daughter from my wife after she’s fed her and go to the living room to continue watching training while my wife has free time to herself for the next two hours.

So, that’s a lot of stuff in there, but I wanted to be as detailed as possible to show you how I have started to leverage Habit Stacking for myself.

Let’s go back to the protein shake. I want a protein shake in my morning, but I struggled to implement it. Yesterday, it dawned on me that there was a perfect place to add a shake: 5:25 AM, right before I start reading, I walk into the kitchen and rinse out the glass I used for my greens, grab a shaker, and add two scoops of PEScience protein powder for 50g of protein. Then I shake it on my way back to my office, open up my book and drink it as I read.

Boom, without thinking, I got up today at the CUE of sending my message to my father.

Showering and brushing my teeth just before taking my daughter from my wife was another cue because it allows me to be more productive at 9 AM when my wife relieves me so I can work. Doing it in the guest bathroom so I didn’t disturb my wife has also seemed to make that easier because the new space allows me to stack habit of brushing my teeth after I get out of the shower which was more difficult in the old space of the bathroom in our master bedroom.

This is exciting stuff for me, and hopefully, it is for you as well. The ability to just slide a new habit just before or after another habit you already have makes things easier.

What habit do you want to add to your life?

What habits do you already have that will allow you to easily “slide-in” that habit?