January 3, 2021

Complementary Habits

Conventional wisdom on building habits warns against making too many changes at once. Generally, the advice is to pick one small thing first, and really focus on nailing that one habit before adding another.

This has generally been my approach in the past, but over the last few weeks I’ve experimented with adding a whole set of new habits that have never quite stuck for me before. These include:

  • Journaling everyday
  • Publishing something everyday
  • Going for a walk everyday
  • Doing a high-intensity workout each morning
  • Time-blocking
  • Not drinking alcohol

Although it’s too early to say whether they are going to stick for good, it’s already been more successful than when I have tried to adopt each of these individually. Why?

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear advocates for habit stacking’, where you tie a new habit you want to adopt to a habit you already reliably have, to help trigger you to actually do it.

I’m wondering whether there is something similar going on with my new habits, in that many of them complement each other in a way that makes them easier to do - a virtuous circle.

Journaling everyday gives me ideas for stuff I can publish (in fact, the idea behind this post came out of journaling). Time-blocking my calendar ensures I build in time for walking and writing. Blocking out the evening for writing means I’m less tempted to have a drink, and not drinking means I write more productively. It also means I sleep better so getting up for a high-intensity workout doesn’t feel as painful. Walking gives me time to reflect and listen to podcasts which in turn gives me ideas that I can then write about… And so on.

I’m super happy that this is working so far - but it also feels kind of fragile. If I give up one, will it have a domino effect on the others? I’ve been off work the last couple of weeks which has definitely helped me kick-start these habits, and I’m a little worried that it could all come crumbling down once my mind has to focus on work again… We’ll see!