By Leo Babauta

Now that you’re on your fourth Habit Sprint, you’re likely looking ahead to the next habit. That’s only natural — we want to carry our successes forward, expand, and get even better at habits!

Let’s talk about the skill of adding a second habit.

We’ll talk about how to choose a second habit, when to implement it and how to balance that with the first habit, and how to practice this second habit. We’ll also briefly talk about how to add more habits after that.

How to choose a 2nd habit

What would be an ideal second habit? I realize that many of you will want to tackle more ambitious habits, now that you’ve done so well with an easy one. However, I want to caution you, because that’s not a good idea.

At this point, you’ve only begun to practice your habit skills. Some of them you’ve practiced for a month, but others you’ve only been able to do once or twice (picking a trigger, setting reminders), and still others you might have failed to practice (setting up accountability, perhaps).

My recommendation is to pick another easy habit. Something you are very sure you can do for a month. Perhaps something related to the first habit, so that they go well together. One example is when I started running, I wanted to eat better, so I started eating more vegetables. Meditation is a practice that goes well with any habit and will support future habits.

When do you pick more advanced habits? You should do 4-5 easy habits with success before gradually taking on more advanced habits (more on those later this week). You should feel confident in your skills before graduating to the next level.

Implementing the 2nd habit

Once you’ve chosen a second habit, here’s the process of implementing it:

  1. Wait until the first habit is getting automatic and then put it into maintenance mode.
  2. Prepare for your second habit with the same process we discussed in the Getting Started skills: plan, accountability, reminders, etc. Don’t take it lightly!
  3. You’ll want to be mindful of how your first habit is doing as you add your second. Don’t let it collapse.

Use the momentum and success of your first habit to feel good about your second habit. You’re creating a snowball effect of habits!

There’s also the question of whether you can use your first habit as a trigger for the second. That’s a tricky question, because if the first habit is not consistent, then it won’t be a good trigger. If you only do the first habit on some days, then you won’t have a trigger for your second habit on the other days.

So my general rule of thumb is this: only use the first habit as a trigger for the second if you’ve done the first habit for 20 straight days or more. Otherwise, choose another trigger.

The 2nd habit as practice

The approach I recommend is not to see the second habit as a way to improve your life and change everything you want fixed right now. It’s to see the second habit as practice for the habit skills you’re learning.

Yes, I understand that we want to change all of our bad habits right now, and start creating the life we’ve always wanted. But that doesn’t happen overnight, and if you slip into the old ways of tackling habits that aren’t effective, you’ll feel guilty and undisciplined.

Instead, build a solid foundation for these habit skills. Get good at them, and you’ll be able to change your entire life, gradually but meaningfully.

Practice the second habit deliberately, consciously, as you would practice any important skill. Get the skills right by practicing them as carefully as you can.

On adding more habits

How do you add even more habits after your first and second habits? Do you just keep adding them continuously until your life is overflowing with habits?

The problem with adding habits is that they take up room in our lives, and most of us already have full lives.

So the key to adding new habits is subtracting old ones:

And so on. Something’s gotta give.

One of the many reasons I recommend starting your habit small (1-2 minutes) is that it’s easy to make room for a habit that small. As you grow the habit, you’ll often naturally find space for it, but if you’re adding multiple habits over the course of months, you’ll want to find the old habits they’re replacing.

It’s not always simple, but with time and some experimenting, you’ll find a good balance. You might need to drop some new habits you’ve formed, because they’re not fitting well into your life and you’re feeling overwhelmed. But you can also decide to drop old routines, like going to the bar or being on your phone during lunchtime, so you can make room for new ones you think are better for you.