Some of our usual daily habits – the things we regularly do. Are the reason we invite even more villains vandalizing our lives. Disguised as fun and essential. The average citizen has created a lethal habit stack consisting of corrupting behaviors that slowly exhaust.
The core human needs – i.e., get closer to pleasure and get further away from pain. Served us well for centuries.
In the early days. The hunter-gathering period. These two tenets were a chief drive.
You get closer to pleasure by finding food for you and your tribe.
You get further away from pain by running – fast – from wild beasts trying to eat you.
Thankfully, these days are far behind. Your body is safely protected by layers of brick walls. Safety measures embedded in the transportation methods we use and democracy.
And yet, evil doesn’t sleep.
As it often happens. Our greatest advantage is our greatest weakness.
We are under attack by our own principles. Our own desire to feel good and move away from pleasure.
The modern world is created in such a way. That makes bad behavior extremely hard to avoid. On top of it all. You are not only doing one bad daily habit that contributes to your inappropriate weight, for example. You hold a sophisticated list of dangerous habit stacks that incentivizes you to further degenerate your lifestyle.
While the process of habit stacking was invented to encourage improving your life – add additional worthy-to-do actions to your existing list of good habits. What happens in real life is that we unconsciously stack additional bad daily routines to our already mounting-high list of bad habits. All of this makes introducing a positive change in your life even more of an uphill climb.
If you often find yourself doom scrolling through videos and self-help content produced to change your life but your life remains intolerably unchanged. I’m positive that understanding the concept of habit stacking. And how you are currently stacking habits, will assist in making a positive contribution to the way you operate.
What is Habit Stacking?
Habit stacking is the process of stacking, adding a new daily routine right after an already existing habit with the intention to perform the new behavior along with or after the first behavior.
For example, if you happen to brush your teeth in the morning. You can potentially stack this habit with something extra gratuitous – e.g., flossing your teeth.
Plainly, the cue to start your desired new behavior – the one you want to add. Is the end of your first behavior – the one you are already performing automatically.
It all sounds so easy. So achievable. So life-changing!
But see, while the above example seems like a good solution on paper. What you’ll potentially do in an alternative universe where you wake up every day with a sense of discipline and adherence to a routine that you have simply never displayed in your 30 years of life – or input your own years.
The concept of habit stacking – while often mentioned by modern productivity couches in relation to building new good habits. Is a lot more important to understand from the angle of how it corrupts our lives. Hence, the name of the title.
We read about the potentiality of habit stacking. We see vivid examples explained in articles, books, spreadsheets, and also short-form videos that all promise to make us 1 percent better daily – ahh, the dream place of every self-help junkie.
However, despite all of this reading about the opportunity of stacking habits. Our lives steer towards worse, not better.
But don’t worry. You are not at fault – entirely. It’s the way the world is designed to work these days.
So, now. Let me tell you why habit stacking can be called a curse…
Why is Habit Stacking Important?
I believe we are all familiar with the upselling phrase first introduced by McDonalds, “Would you like fries with that?”
(In a minute, you’ll see how this relates to habit stacking.)
At first glance, getting some fries with that burger seems exceptionally innocent. We might even feel extra grateful towards the cashier for asking.
“Well, of course, I do. Thank you for bringing this to mind. I almost forgot to order my fries!”
But what really happens here?
We already ordered a 300 calories burger. Then we stacked this meal with extra 320 calories by ordering the medium McDonald’s fries – after all, who orders the small pack, right?1
At the point of sale, you don’t think about this, of course. The cashier won’t approach you with:
“Excuse me sir/madam. Do you want to stuff your body with additional cholesterol by ordering a package of fries that have even more calories than the burger you just ordered?”
No, he is not interested in you. Your diet. Your health. Your existence as a whole. For the person behind the desk. You are just another fool who failed to follow his diet plan. He cares only about reaching his upsell target and going to Tahiti after a few months where he can party and be, himself, targeted by a sales-driven person.
To use habit stacking so we can make habits that last. We need to first understand how habit stacking is currently disproportionally damaging our life.
Here are just a few examples of habit stacking that tend to have less-than-ideal consequences for us…
- We damage our health and productivity by watching Netflix and by eating microwave food.
- We further damage our health by drinking and by also smoking.
- We degenerate our attention by scrolling through Instagram and by also scrolling through TikTok.
- We corrupt our finances by spending money on things we don’t need and by not investing because we don’t have any money left after the first action.
The above are all true for many people. And I don’t even have to reach out to Google to find statistics about these things. I can simply look around me. Everyone is talking about this social media person or that social media person. Everyone is talking about the latest TV show, etc., etc.
Which leads to…
The core reason for making our lives harder than it needs to be is the following concept:
- It’s extremely hard for a person who wants to escape social media to defend his focus when everyone around him is drowning in the ocean of online vagueness.
- It’s extremely hard for a person who wants to quit smoking to defend his desire for a smoke-free life when everyone around him is holding a puff.
Followed by this…
We believe that we can’t have a life without social media. That our friends will no longer be our friends if we don’t do what they do.
We think these things are true. And we behave in a way consistent with those thoughts.
What’s even worse is that it gets even harder to resist future damaging behaviors.
A basic example is the following: If you are in the habit of getting luxury items so you can compete with your friends who are regularly showcasing their expensive furniture and watch collections. You’ll be easily swayed to spend a small fortune traveling to Dubai just because some of your friends did.
But do you really wanted to go?
If we return to the above example – with the fries. Even if you’re aware that the extra fries are with a lot of calories. At the moment of the order, you’ll be more likely to say, “F*ck my diet today. I’ll have the fries!” After all, you’re already ordering a burger. How worse can it get?
All of the above, are reasons to understand the importance of habit stacking.
Basically, we are predisposed towards adding extra bad behaviors to our already existing collection of sinful daily activities – because it’s easier and also because others are doing it. And these two incentives, make it especially hard to change bad habits with good ones.
So, now, after we’re heard what are the bad use cases of habit stacking.
Let’s take a look at some good uses of this concept:
What Is An Example of Good Habit Stacking?
A simple formula to use habit stacking for good actions introduced by James Clear in his book Atomic Habit is the following:
After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].James Clear
Here are a couple of examples:
- After I brush my teeth in the morning, I will exercise for at least 10 minutes.
- After I have dinner with my family, I will read a book for 30 minutes.
- Before opening the menu in a restaurant, I will remind myself that I should order the healthiest meal on the menu.
- Before getting to work, I will list my priorities for the day and turn off social media notifications.
The way to get the most out of habit stacking. To basically lean toward mainly good daily behavior is to use what you are currently doing as a cue to start a new righteous behavior.
Your current behaviors are deeply penetrated into your life. When you identify things you are currently doing and attach to them the desired new behavior. You will significantly increase the likelihood of practicing this new behavior.
An example from my personal life is the following:
Relatively recently, I started to use a habit-tracking journal. The amazing thing is that I didn’t give up – I still do it. Which is a huge success. Before, I always sucked at journaling. I was always avoiding it for whatever reason.
The way I embedded it was by attaching the new habit right after my mourning writing session. The end of writing articles for my website was the beginning of my journaling process.
How To Habit Stack?
Potentially, you might feel a little daunted.
If you pause for a moment. You might reveal the curtain. See that a large part of your day is preoccupied with occupations that are not leading towards something better. Largely, you are involved in activities that only absorb your time (social media), deteriorate your health (junk food), or leave your brain stagnant (watching TV).
To add to this, the more you do things that are the opposite of decent. The more likely you’ll stack extra bad behavior.
So, how can you alter this self-reinforcing loop and a downward spiral of agony?
It’s a process. Not an easy one. Surely one that will take a lot of time. But there is a slim chance that you can make it.
It all starts with spotting the lies we tell ourselves and replacing them with the truth.
The truth being that: First, we need help. Secondly, that we need to label the bad habits as bad. Don’t protect them with additional lies.
Plainly, our tendency of interpreting information in a way that reinforces our existing beliefs – called confirmation bias. Should be acknowledged. Then, the lie should be corrected with the truth.
For instance, realizing that maybe, just maybe. The time spent online looking at random posts from other people is not the best way to gather information and stay insightful. Yes, you surely believe that staying present on Twitter is probably a worthy activity. That you should reply and like and follow and “build an audience”. But that’s exactly the thought you should confront. If you want to start a business or potentially find interesting ideas – things people consider Twitter good for. It’s much more valuable to actually work on your business and engage in reading ideas from some of the greatest business books – i.e., don’t use Twitter.
Once you accept the new reality. To slip the new behavior in your already fixed lifestyle. You can follow this formula to add more good habits and remove bad ones:
After [GOOD HABIT], I will [NEW GOOD HABIT]
Before [BAD HABIT], I will [NEW GOOD HABIT]
While the idea of the first one is quite straightforward – right after exercising (something you already do), you can prepare a salad (you do something new that is good for you), for example.
The second example requires further unpacking.
Say that you tend to check your phone too often.
You can habit stack the following:
“Before tapping on the Twitter icon, read one sentence from the Ebook I have on my phone.”
The grand goal is to get so immersed in the good behavior. So consumed. That you forget about the bad one altogether.
And to get started, do the following:
- Prepare a list of all of your current good habits.
- Prepare a list of all of your bad habits.
Think about what good behavior you can add after your current good behaviors and then what good behavior you can add before the bad ones.
Some Closing Thoughts
Habit stacking is not always fun. And sometimes it’s even painful – try to get up early in the morning and exercise, it’s no fun.
Nonetheless, it’s what turns mass into muscles. What transforms a desire to write a book into a full-fleshed hardcover.
When done correctly, habit stacking makes the difference between just doing something and doing something that makes a positive difference in your bank account balance.
The more you habit stack. The more you architect your life towards a future with solid foundations.
Be aware that the opposite is also true. The more you allow damaging behavior to fall through the cracks and enter your daily routine. The more you will undermine your progress.
In other words, habit stacking can be used for good but it is commonly something that hurts. Being aware of this allows you to see the current negative patterns in your life and correct them.
“Make sure you’re on the right road by getting nearer the place you want to be and further away from the place you don’t.”
Do yourself a favor:
Join Going Further: A 13-day email series on how to keep progressing in a world tirelessly pushing toward regression. Great for people who feel stuck in the endless loop of not doing.
- You can see the calories of the products Mcdonald’s offers on the following page, here.