Habit Stacking and the Path of Least Resistance

Habit Stacking and the Path of Least Resistance

This article is packed with some really kick-a** high level takeaways on how to make new habits stick (and how to dump bad habits). We’ll cover the following:

  • Stage 2 of the Habit Feedback Loop – Craving
    • Making good Habits Attractive
  • Habit Stacking
  • Stage 3 – The Response
    • The Path of Least Resistance – or Making Habits Easy
  • 2 Minute Rule

In the last article we talked about defining cues for good and bad habits. Now were going to talk about the next stage, the craving. This stage of the Habit Feedback Loop is where our mind and body decide we really want something and we’ll do just about anything to get it. The more attractive this craving is the more likely we are to follow through and respond to that craving. We tend to act fast on attractive habits and the more attractive a habit is the easier it is to act on. The idea is to make good habits attractive and bad habits ugly!


How do we make habits more or less attractive? Well, there are 3 main groups that influence our decisions and help decide whether a general behavior is attractive or unattractive in society.

  • The Close
    • Friends and family
  • The Many
    • Culture/ society
    • We imitate desirable habits to be accepted by the tribe
  • The Powerful
    • Those at the top

If you’ve ever heard that you’re the average of the 5 closest people in your life the first rule makes sense. We tend to imitate these groups of people because it means we’re a cohesive part of our tribe. Displaying unattractive behavior is a good way to be kicked out of the group. Similarly, “The Many” is a much larger group that could be a handful of people or even the world as a whole. We find behavior like selflessness and giving as attractive, and of course universally punish theft and malice. Finally, The Powerful – those at the top of the world. The rich, famous, and overall successful tend to grab our attention more than any other group, although it’s much more difficult to imitate this group because we don’t interact with the true character of these individuals on a daily basis. Until we become these individuals through first good, then great habits.

Make It Attractive

This can be difficult at times, but the idea of making good habits attractive and bad habits unattractive is a great place to start. Here are three general rules that I’ll provide some insight to below. To make a habit attractive you can:

  1. Use temptation bundling
  2. Join groups of people that carry out the habits you find desirable
  3. Change your mindset

Use Temptation Bundling

This is a great way to set your good habits up for success using a small hack – you simply pair your desired habit with a reward. Now, instead of pairing a bad reward with a good habit (like cookies with hitting the gym), you’re pairing a habit you must do with a habit you want to do. It looks like this:

  1. After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [HABIT I NEED].
  2. After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT].

Example: If you want to be more grateful, but want to be on social media

  1. After I get my morning coffee, I will write one thing I’m grateful for today (need).
  2. After I write one thing I’m grateful for, I will look at Instagram for 5 minutes (want).


Join Groups of People with Desirable Traits

This is a great way to stay accountable and grow fast. When we’re around the behavior we want to display or around those who demonstrate success we receive constant reminders and feedback on how to get better. This could be for the intention of doing better in business, fitness, family, faith, and so much more. Groups that are easy to join include churches, class-based gyms, online and in-person business groups, and even podcasts or YouTube channels. The idea is to replace silence with constant positive feedback. So go choose a goal or two and find a group that is already a step or two ahead of where you want to be!

Change Your Mindset

Mindset is a daily, possibly even hourly, habit in and of itself. If we condition ourselves to be in a positive mindset through good habits we make it easier to be in the mindset to succeed. If we constantly respond in unhealthy manners to negative feelings we’re more likely to have a negative mindset overall. Here’s an example, someone points out a mistake you’ve made in your work. You know it may be true, but instead of taking offense you fram your mindset to always be learning and growing. You take the advice with a smile, and now you’re 1% better. Things like, “I’m nervous,[on stage, before competition, in presentations]” become “I’m excited and am getting an adrenaline rush to help me focus.” Last note: always breath and smile.

Make It Easy

Now, think back to cues. By making the cue invisible we decrease our craving, and by making the cue obvious we increase the strength of that craving. Unfortunately, making the cue of a bad habit doesn’t mean we’ll get rid of the craving entirely. Take watching tv as an example, a habit millions of us have engrained deep into our being. We could make the cue of the remote invisible by putting it in the closet, but that may not be enough. We have to take larger action and make the habit difficult to act on by doing something drastic – try putting the tv in the closet or even storage.

Conversely, we have to make good habits easy to act on. Companies do things like making toothpaste tasty to keep us coming back for more, offering automatic bill pay, and even setting automatic alarms to go to sleep and wake up early. There are a few secrets to doing this in our own lives and they’re simple. Below we’ll cover habit Stacking, the path of least resistance, and the two minute rule!

Habit stacking

Habit stacking is simply taking our already existing habits and stacking the new desired habit right on top. We make the existing habit part of the cue and make the transition to the new habit easy to perform. The formula is as follows:

  • After I [CURRENT HABIT] I will [NEW HABIT]
    • After I brush my teeth, I will do 25 push-ups.
    • After I make coffee, I will write 1 page.
    • Brush teeth > do 25 push-ups > make coffee > write 1 page

Examples of Making It Easy

To make the examples above easy you’ll need some prior planning and preparation. The night before, when you’re wide awake and have more will power than you will in the morning you may do something like this:

Place your yoga mat in the bathroom and sticky note on the mirror that has a personal note to self “don’t slack on pushups” so that after you brush your teeth you just need to drop down and do your pushups. The next piece is to think about what you’ll write the next day for a moment, jot that topic down on another stick note, and then a place it next to the coffee machine in plain sight. Now you’ve spent the time thinking about where and what you’ll do, you just need to act!

Making these habits stick will take time, so keep at it until they’re second nature. As a general rule remember that practice is the best form of learning and it’ll take just as long, or longer, to break the bad habits as it will to make the new habits stick.

The 2 Minute Rule

Finally, we’ll talk about the two-minute rule. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with your sex life, but it does have to do with making a habit stick. When we have really boring or difficult habits we know we need to implement but just can’t get started with, we use the 2 minute rule. This simply means to start doing the habit for 2 minutes.

  • Folding laundry: Fold two pairs of socks.
  • Learning to code: try 2 minutes.
  • Going to the gym: drive there, walk in, and do something for two minutes.

The idea is that once we’ve set ourselves in motion it’s harder to stop than it is to keep going. Just 2 minutes, 2 reps, or even the process of starting in the direction of our goal will keep us going in the right direction.

These tips are from James Clear’s Atomic Habits. I highly recommend you grab a copy if you’re interested in leveling up and becoming a better human. If you don’t read and want to start just remember - Make it obvious, make it easy, and start with 2 minutes!


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