Habits Absolutely Screw You or Save You (How to Leverage Daily Habits)

Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

Have you heard of habit stacking? If so, I want to introduce a concept I call Time Leveraging, when integrated with habit stacking, amplifies your dream-seeking efforts. But first, a little about habit stacking since it’s the foundation we’re building on.

I learned about habit stacking in James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits. Start a good habit and stack another one on the first and then another, etc. The idea isn’t complex — it’s a system of logically organizing and grouping positive actions to make them stick — but it’s highly effective in reshaping the person you want to be.

Clear said it best in Atomic Habits:

“Be the designer of your world and not merely the consumer of it.”

I visualize habit stacking as the mortar between the bricks of your different habits. You build a positive connection between the habits, which cements them all together. And as you stack good habit upon good habit, brick by brick, day by day, your confidence mounts, your life changes, and your motivation surges.

Photo by Zhivko Minkov on Unsplash

Habit stacking aims to improve your life — take positive actions to get positive results. Pull the weeds and plant good seeds. In Atomic Habits, Clear explains how to integrate habit stacking into your day, which is brilliant. The clock ticks 86,400 times a day, so make the most of every tick.

“You don’t have to be the victim of your environment. You can also be the architect of it.” James Clear, Atomic Habits

Unleash 365 Hours a Year of Untapped Time for Your Dreams

While habit stacking is a system of integrating a group of life-shaping habits into your day, your loftier ambitions, the big, hairy goals, require an advanced level of habit stacking. Your audacious dreams need a more focused effort, a substantial chunk of daily, uninterrupted, distraction-free time. Fortunately, you have a bank of untapped time you can draw on, time that is uninterrupted and distraction-free — the early morning hours.

The time before your daily machine clicks on is the fulcrum in which you place the weight of intensely concentrated, highly focused efforts towards your boldest dreams. Your early morning habit-stacking efforts are the leverage to lift your aspirations off the ground as quickly as possible. The one hour of sleep you sacrifice each morning to leverage for learning, training, working, exercising, and studying is 365 hours over the course of a year!

What can you learn or accomplish in 365 laser-focused hours?

Use Time Leveraging to Enhance Habit Stacking

I call this idea time leveraging — putting to work the early morning hours while the rest of your world is still sleeping. Habit stacking + leveraging time changed my life. I dipped my toes into the concept in 2020 when I enrolled in a six-week, 75-hour live-streaming real estate licensing course. An 800-page mammoth of a textbook came with the course, and other documents related to real estate rules and laws.

I soon discovered that North Carolina is one of the most challenging states if not hardest, to get a real estate license. Between July 2020 and June 2021, over 12,000 people took the pre-licensing course, and only 35% passed the exam. I did not know this when I dropped $400 on the course and materials.

Image from NCREC website

I must love torture.

But as poker players say, I was pot-committed. Failure wasn’t an option. I didn’t want to lose my money and loathed surrendering another six weeks of my life to retake the course. I had to get my mind right.

The next six weeks were savage. “Hey Adam,” a song by Watchhouse, woke me every morning at 5 am. I ate the mammoth textbook one bite at a time in the calm, still silence of those summer mornings.

My 6 Week Habit Stack

Venngage image of my habit stack time line for six weeks

I read slowly, like a sloth, so I had to take advantage of most lunch breaks and evenings. But on August 14, 2020, I was one of the 35% who passed the exam.

image from Adobe Stock

Passing the exam on my first try certainly felt like a miracle, but the miracle was really in the process: habit stacking + time leveraging. You can achieve most goals with consistent, daily effort over a period of time. Why did it take me over 50 years to learn this little secret?

Hooked on Stacking and Leveraging

Excited over the real estate experiment, I launched a new one in February 2021 — read through the entire Bible for the first time in my life. My goal was to read every morning for 30 minutes and finish within 150 days. I leveraged the early mornings and completed the project in 107 days. Leverage had me hooked, so I started in Genesis again and kept going. Now fourteen months in, I’ve read through the Bible twice, and I’m more than halfway through the third time.

With the wheels greased, I began stacking on more habits in January 2022. Now my daily morning habit stack is:

  • Read the Bible: 20–30 minutes
  • Write on Daily Page: 10–15 minutes
  • Scan the news on Morning Brew, Yahoo Sports, and Epoch Times: 10–15 minutes
  • Take online writing courses: 2 hours (Masterclass, Coursera, HubSpot, LinkedIn.)

If you’re already tweaking over the loss of sleep this intense stack requires, let this thought sink deep into your psyche.

“Problem #1: Winners and losers have the same goals.” James Clear, Atomic Habits

The author, John Grisham, began his career as a lawyer and worked on his first book at 5am every day for three years. He leveraged the early mornings, applied daily consistent efforts, and never quit. Grisham has written more than 50 books over the last 35 years, sold over 300 million copies, and has an estimated net worth of $400 million.

Do you think he regrets getting up early every day for three years to write?

As your habit stacking train gains momentum and your confidence rises, the 5am alarm won’t bother you anymore. Instead, you’ll wake up before the alarm clock, eager to begin your day.

Photo by Adryan RA on Unsplash

Habit Stacking for Good Health

You’ll scan the horizons for more ways to stack habits when you see and feel the results of your efforts. I sit ten hours a day. That’s a lot of sitting, and my body bears evidence of it. However, lying on the office floor two feet away is a set of 30lb dumbbells. Seeing them every day, holding down the house, soothed my guilty conscious.

Then the new year brought another resolution to lose weight. I set a goal to drink 100 ounces of water a day, so why not stack a bottle of water with exercise? Before opening a bottle, I do ten reps of bicep curls. Another bottle, a set of pushups. Another one, deep-knee squats. I consume my liquid quota by the end of the day, and I’ve gotten my fat ass out of the chair for four sets of exercises.

I’m down nine pounds for the year — not a drastic weight loss, but steady, healthy, and easy to accomplish with a small life-changing daily habit stack.

I track this stack with the Strides app. Strides is only on iOS, but I found it among many in this Life Hack article. For full disclosure, I don’t do this stack on the weekends.

The practice of habit stacking is easier for me than for some people because I work from home. I have no excuse. But you can still habit stack, especially if you’re willing to set a new normal for getting up in the morning.

Ten Habit Stacking Ideas:

  1. Walk the dog/eat an apple/listen to an educational podcast, Audible book, or Bible. Fluffy will love you for it.
  2. Journal/take an online course
  3. Commute to work/listen to an educational podcast, Audible book, or Bible.
  4. Pray/read/journal
  5. Prepare lunch/read five pages from a good book/record your to-do list for the next day. This stack is before bed to prepare for the next day. If you prep your lunch, you’ll eat healthier, save money, avoid impulse eating, and save time the next morning.
  6. Check and return emails/regular mail/pay bills/check social media. Highly productive people check emails 1–5 times a day, while others check email up to 20 times a day. Go for the gusto and shoot for once! Stack that with reviewing your regular mail, checking social media, and paying bills. And then be done with all of these tasks for the day. You’ll feel liberated from your screens and will reclaim hours upon hours of lost, wasted time.
  7. Brush your teeth/focus on a goal/shower/pray — instead of looking at yourself in the mirror while brushing your teeth, focus on a written goal taped to your mirror. Then pray while taking a shower. The shower is a great place to pray. You’re awake, it’s quiet, and you’re alone (so I assume).
  8. Build relationships/seek advice/practice generosity — we all need wise counsel from folks who’ve been there, done that. Ask a sage older person out for a meal and tell her to put her wallet away when the bill comes. The price of a few meals is a bargain compared to the mistakes you can avoid.
  9. Grill/pull/blow — pull weeds in your landscaping while waiting on the ribeyes, and then blow off your patio.
  10. Pray/read/affirm/sing/tuck — raise a child who is happy, confident, and well-adjusted by making it a habit at bedtime to pray with her, read a story, tell her she is loved and fantastic, sing her a song, and tuck her in. And one day, much later, when you’re having your father/daughter dance at her wedding, she may blindside you by having the deejay play your bedtime song. Yes, my daughter did that to me :)

In Conclusion

I hope you try habit stacking + time leveraging. If you want more out of life, it’s there for the taking. But the taking isn’t a quick fix. Con artists sell quick fixes. Life-change is hard. Life-change requires a committed daily effort to get out of bed early and go after a worthy goal. John Grisham said the hell with sleeping late for three years while writing his first novel, A Time to Kill.

But you can make life-change easier with the right systems. James Clear said in Atomic Habits,

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

Habit stacking + time leveraging is the right system to lift your dreams off the ground and put them into flight. Get up early and go for it. Let me know how you do in the comments.

Photo by Maximilian Meyer on Unsplash

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