Build new habits with this domino effect

May 16, 2023
2023-05-16 Intentional Productivity blog image - habits domino

In a letter to Robert Hooke in 1675, Isaac Newton made his most famous statement:

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” 

We build on the progress and discoveries of those who have gone before us, and the same principle can be applied when creating new habits.

If your new or desired habits are to go further—to last—you have to stand them atop the shoulders of your well-established habits. These are the activities you don’t think twice about doing, yet they are so embedded in your daily routine (and in your brain) that your day would feel incomplete without them.

These simple, underrated giants can provide a lot of leverage when it comes to building new (and lasting) habits so let’s walk through how to use them.



1 thing to apply


Anchoring or habit stacking* is the process of pairing a new activity (desired habit) with an established one.

*BJ Fogg, author of Tiny Habits, calls this “anchoring.” James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, calls it “habit stacking.”


3 main benefits

  • Habit stacking uses the connectedness of behaviour to leverage cycles already built into your brain.
  • By linking a new activity to an established habit, you’re much more likely to build and maintain new habits.
  • This creates a natural momentum (think domino effect) as one activity acts as a cue or catalyst for the next. 

Credit: James Clear, author of Atomic Habits


5 minutes or less


1. Build one new activity into your day.

I’ll bet you already have a mental list of activities you’d like to make a habit or skills you’d like to build. Here’s your opportunity to bring that list to life. Choose one new activity to focus on today (or this week).


2. Make a list of your established habits.

Again, there are certain activities in your day that seem to run like clockwork. They’re an inevitable part of your daily routine and generally at the same time each day. Some examples might be:

  • waking up in the morning
  • putting on a pot of coffee
  • feeding the dog twice a day
  • making dinner for your family
  • brushing your teeth before bed

Jot down at least 5 things that are embedded in your daily routine.


3. Anchor your new activity to an established one.

Commit to doing your new activity immediately before or after a habit you identified in step 2. Use the statement below or whatever phrasing works best for you.

“After / Before ___ [established habit], I will ___ [new activity].

Here are a few examples with phrasing variations:

  • “After I turn on the coffee machine, I’ll write in my journal at the kitchen table.”
  • “While the dog eats her breakfast, I’ll do 2 minutes of my physiotherapy exercises.”
  • “On my way to pick up the kids from school, I’ll listen to a 5-minute Spanish lesson.”
  • “As soon as I get into bed, I will read 1 page of my new book.”

Tip: Be specific and make things as easy and frictionless as possible for your future self. Put your journal on the kitchen table the night before. Download your physiotherapy exercises or Spanish lessons beforehand. Put your new book on your nightstand (or pillow) after you make your bed in the morning.


4. Continue stacking habits into established routines.

As you go, you’ll start to build your established activities into established routines of stacked habits. Putting on a pot of coffee, for example, could turn into a catalyst for a number of other activities.

Here’s what this might look like:

  • “Once I turn on the coffee machine, I’ll sit down at the kitchen table and write in my journal.”
  • “After I journal for 5 minutes, I’ll take out my favourite mug and pour myself a cup of coffee.”
  • “After I pour a cup of coffee and take my first sip, I will say one thing I’m grateful for today.”
  • “Once I’ve said one thing I’m grateful for, I’ll feed the dog her breakfast.”
  • “While the dog eats her breakfast, I’ll do 2 minutes of my physio exercises.”

And so on and so forth. In this way, you see how the process creates a kind of domino effect as one activity naturally cues up the next.



One quick reminder: While it's said to take around 66 days to build a habit, the amount of time varies based on the person and the activity. Check in with yourself after a week (or a month or two) to see how your new activity is going before stacking on something else.

Give this a try, and let me know how it goes. I hope it’s helpful to you!

Your time and energy are your most precious resources. As always, thank you for sharing some of yours with me today.

See you in two weeks!

— Melissa


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