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If You Want To Start A Great New Habit, Don’t Forget To Get Rid Of The Bad Old Habit

If You Want To Start A Great New Habit, Don’t Forget To Get Rid Of The Bad Old Habit

When there is so much craziness in the world, what is the point of reading (or writing) articles on effective habits and routines? Simple–we need our personal peace and effectiveness more than ever! Having better habits helps us be more resilient and effective in adversity–and it’s more fun, too! 

In my last “habits of greatness” blog post, I wrote about the power of using everyday activities like brushing your teeth or drinking coffee as triggers for consciously creating positive habits and routines. 

This concept is called called Habit Stacking. It might be linking guitar playing to a regular activity, like:

  • Wake Up ⇒⇒⇒ Practice Guitar
  • First Cup Of Coffee ⇒⇒⇒ Practice Guitar
  • Finish Final Zoom Meeting Of The Day ⇒⇒⇒ Practice Guitar

You could use these triggers for non-guitar routines, too:

  • Wake Up ⇒⇒⇒ Floss
  • First Cup Of Coffee ⇒⇒⇒ Write Blog
  • Finish Final Zoom Meeting Of The Day ⇒⇒⇒ Go For A Walk Or Run

This insight has recently been popularized by James Clear in his excellent book Atomic Habits. Repeat that habit for a month–or a year–and the next thing you know you’ve written dozens of blog posts, you’re in great physical shape and your dentist even grudgingly says “I’ve seen worse.” Good job!


Habit Stacking Versus Habit Slacking

But there’s a negative side to Habit Stacking. Let’s call it Habit Slacking.

You see, no matter how much we want to build better habits, we aren’t starting from zero.  We’re probably starting from “minus-five” or “minus-ten” or “minus-one-thousand.” 

Why? Because we already have habits and routines which are already anchored to these same routines. Unfortunately, they might be less than ideal–or even downright destructive. Like:

  • Wake Up ⇒⇒⇒ Check Social Media For One Hour
  • First Cup Of Coffee ⇒⇒⇒ Doom Scrolling
  • Finish Final Zoom Meeting Of The Day ⇒⇒⇒ Three Packages Of Little Debbie Snack Cakes, Each Chased With A Shot Of Grain Alcohol While Punching Ourselves In The Face

These habits would be fine if checking social media in the morning–or punching yourself in the face–was your priority. But in this case, it isn’t–you want to play guitar, my gosh! So, the first step to set yourself up for success is to recognize the old, unconscious habit stack.

So that you can do something about it!


Breaking The Pattern

Just recognizing your existing pattern can give you the mental space to make a conscious choice, like “Good morning, world! I will now play guitar instead of checking my phone.

The problem in this scenario is that you are depending on your willpower. A waaaaaay more effective strategy is to interrupt your undesired pattern by making it less convenient. 

Think about it. If you wake up with your phone next to your bed and your guitar in the kitchen closet, you just set yourself up to…check Instagram!

But if your guitar is next to your bed and your phone is in the kitchen closet, at least you’ll have to make a conscious decision to avoid guitar. 

I can personally attest to the effectiveness of this approach.

For example, I’m not immune to the allure of Social Media–or Doom Scrolling–but I never check my phone in bed–because I leave it on the kitchen counter at night.  I even deleted all my Social Media apps except for Instagram, and then used the Screen Time app to give myself a maximum of 5 minutes a day of Instagram. I can’t even cheat, because only my daughter has the password to my Screen Time. And she’s not giving it up!

Now, I don’t want to oversimplify this. Sometimes bad habits can be really hard to overcome. They might even be addictions where we will need support or professional help to change our patterns. But most of us have lots of areas where we can get more of what we want out of life by simply supporting the habit we want by making it easier and interrupting the habit we don’t want by making it less convenient.


Take Action Now To Do A Little Bit More Of What You Want To Do A Little Bit More Of

ONE: Identify everyday activities or environmental triggers that might be a good place to add your new habit.

For me, key trigger points include: waking up, brushing my teeth, walking into the kitchen, making coffee, sitting down at my desk with a cup of coffee, my 9am call with Katie (our Marketing Coordinator)…and so on. All of these events are potential habit anchors that I can use to create a positive routine for guitar playing–or any other positive behavior.

TWO: Identify your new habit and figure out how to support it.

For example, if the habit is playing guitar, make sure that your guitar and practice materials will be convenient, and know ahead of time what your practice routine will be so that you don’t waste time and willpower guessing.

THREE: Identify existing habits that might get in the way of your new habit, and make them less convenient.

Now, think about what you are currently doing in space and time following your “trigger” habit. And decide how to make that existing habit less convenient!

BONUS: Here are two things you can do RIGHT NOW!

In the excellent and wide ranging book “F–k Your Feelings: Master Your Mind, Accomplish Anything and Become a More Significant Human” author Ryan Munsie points out two things that many of us us can do to immediately reduce soul sucking habit loops: 

  1. Turn off all or virtually all notifications on your phone. They are all literally someone else’s priority, not yours–if it is someone calling at least it might be a friend, but usually it is the priority of a giant company that is trying to capture and sell your attention.
  2. Don’t sleep next to your phone. At least put it across the room, and even better in another room.


Yes–the world is crazy and full of things we can’t control! And yes–our lives are works in progress and we’re imperfect beings. But we can move our lives in the direction we want to go, and be more resilient and effective in our world. 

On to greatness!



Dan Emery is dedicated to Coaching Personal Greatness, One Lesson At A Time. He is the founder of NYC's friendliest and fastest growing guitar schools, New York City Guitar School, Brooklyn Guitar School, Queens Guitar School and NYC Guitar School, East, and the author of the Amazon best-selling Guitar For Absolute Beginners and six other books on learning guitar and deliberate practice. He coaches new entrepreneurs through the Entrepreneurs Organization Accelerator program and especially enjoys helping other Educational Entrepreneurs. He has a Masters in Education from Columbia University Teachers College, extensive performing experience as songwriter and guitarist for The Dan Emery Mystery Band, a wife, three kids, a cat and some juggling equipment.


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