Habit synergy is an idea that I thought of while reading James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. James writes about habit stacking. He defines habit stacking as a “special form of an implementation intention. Rather than pairing your new habit with a particular time and location, you pair it with a current habit. This method, which was created by BJ Fogg as part of his Tiny Habits program, can be used to design an obvious cue for nearly any habit. The reason habit stacking works so well is that your current habits are already built into your brain. You have patterns and behaviors that have been strengthened over years. By linking your new habits to a cycle that is already built into your brain, you make it more likely that you'll stick to the new behavior.”
Habit synergy is executing a routine that will lead to another which will amplify the first. A good example is completing a morning workout and breaking a fast with a high-protein whole food meal. If you wake up early and work out you are much more likely to follow it with a healthy meal as you wouldn’t want to offset your workout. If you skip your morning workout you may be more inclined to choose an unhealthy food for breakfast. The habit of working out every morning is made exponentially more impactful by eating a healthy first meal of the day. We can take advantage of these daily routines to build a healthy life. Another great example would be a nightly tea that is enjoyed while reading. This ensures you won’t be drinking alcohol and you won’t be using screen time before bed. If we have this habit at the same time every night we set ourselves up for our sleep routine. We have used one habit to significantly boost the effects of another habit (tea-drinking amplifying sleep).
How do we form habits?
We form habits through synaptic pruning. The process of strengthening synapsis in the brain responsible for a task by completing that task routinely. Synapses are connections between the neurons in your brain. This means synapses that are frequently used have strong connections while the rarely used synapses are eliminated.
“Three models explaining synaptic pruning are axon degeneration, axon retraction, and axon shedding. In all cases, the synapses are formed by a transient axon terminal, and synapse elimination is caused by the axon pruning. Each model offers a different method in which the axon is removed to delete the synapse. Neural activity is thought to be an important regulator, but the molecular mechanism remains unclear. Hormones and trophic factors are thought to be the main extrinsic factors regulating large-scale stereotyped axon pruning.”
Someone who has played the guitar for years will have strengthened the connection between the neurons responsible for relaying the movements to their fingers. While someone who is picking up a guitar for the first time will feel lost as these connections haven’t been established. The same goes for any habit. Repetition over time strengthens synapsis between neurons for any task.
What can we do with this information?
Every day we have the opportunity to work on our routines. Wake up early, work out; eat a whole food plant-rich high protein diet, relieve stress, learn, and sleep 7 hours. These habits compound each other and work in synergy to expand health span and longevity. Start by using habit stacking to couple one routine to another you already do. Build upon these routines to create exponential benefits for each habit. Use the equation for habit stacking to get started.
After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT]
Going back to our original example, after working out in the morning I will break my fast with a high protein whole food meal.
These habits should be things that work in conjunction with your other habits toward whatever your goals are. Continue building upon these habits and live your best life!