Habit Stacking, the 5 Second Rule, and Kimmy Schmidt

Like most people, I take tips that I learn here and there and mash them up. It doesn’t always work, but occasionally you find a combination that fits together exceedingly well. That’s what I hit upon by synthesizing James Clear’s concept of habit stacking, the 5 second rule from Mel Robbin’s book of the same name, and some folk wisdom from Kimmy Schmidt.

Habit Stacking

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about habit stacking. Basically if you want to develop a new habit, piggyback it to an existing one. It doesn’t even have to be tied to a habit, just a regularly recurring event like waking up, eating a meal, or going to bed. For example, after dinner I get away from screens and read a book. Because I’m already in the habit of having an evening meal, I have a built-in cue to help me maintain the habit of reading.

What has really worked for me, though, is the way Clear writes things out, and builds habit upon habit. The format is this:

  • Before I do Task A, I will do Task B
  • After I do Task B, I will do Task C
  • After I do Task C, I will do Task D
  • and so on.

With my anxiety-inducted cognitive problems, this was an epiphany. This has become a standard bullet journaling practice, and not just for habits. I need my daily to-do lists, but sometimes they become overwhelming. They aren’t always written in the order they need to be performed. By taking a few minutes to write out “before I make coffee, I will do my morning stretches” and “after I finish my coffee I will answer Daniel’s email” makes stressful days less confusing.

the 5 Second Rule

The 5 Second Rule has nothing to do with how long food has been on the floor. Mel Robbins asserts, in her book of the same name, that when you feel the urge to work on a goal you need to move within 5 seconds. If you wait, your brain will shut the notion down. By acting on impulse, you will get more done. It’s meant to be a ward against procrastination. I can seen where it would be an interruptive distraction, especially for people with ADHD or cognitive dysfunction who struggle with linear though processes. If I need to be working on Project A because I have a deadline, I can’t go down the rabbit hole of Project B.

The way I’ve adapted the 5-second rule is to treat these impulses like email. Then I filter each through through David Allen’s Getting Things Done process. Where does this thought do? If it can be completed in under 2 minutes, just do it. When it can be delegated, do that.  Otherwise, schedule it. Sometimes I use the impulses as rewards; if I get through what I need to accomplish on Project A, then I can work on Project B.

The 5 second part comes into play for me when I’m low on spoons. I get the “I don’t wannas”. Sitting here is comfortable. Getting up to do the dishes means standing, and that’s not comfortable. Well, you’re thinking about it, get up and go get it over with. 5 seconds to get out of my chair and move toward the thing I really don’t feel like doing. Which brings us to the final tip…

and Kimmy Schmidt

On the Netflix show The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the eponymous character talks about how she’s endured some pretty horrific situations. What she figured out is that most people can put up with just about anything for 10 seconds. Do it and count to 10. Then start over and count to 10. Keep doing that, 10 seconds at a time.

When I use this tip, I don’t literally follow 10 second increments. When writing 6 pages feels daunting, I tell myself I just have to write 1 sentence. Then another sentence. If I’m doing dishes and my hip is screaming, I tell myself just rinse the plates. Then rinse the cups. Then scrub the pan. Break things down into smaller bites, and push through those steps that feel far more manageable.

Bringing it back around, it becomes habit stacking. I don’t have to think about the whole list. That’s overwhelming. Just do Task A. Then do Task B. In between, do a pulse check to see how I’m doing. If I can keep pushing through, I do.

Habit Stacking, the 5 Second Rule, and Kimmy Schmidt

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