If you want to increase godly habits in your life, increase godly cues in your life. If you want to decrease ungodly habits, decrease ungodly cues.
A cue is a trigger, a stimulus, that spurs your brain to initiate a behavior. For example, if you see your running shoes at the door, your brain will suggest going for a run. If you keep a water bottle beside you, you will want to keep more hydrated. Or, negatively, if you see a cookie, your brain will convince you that you are hungry and must eat. If you walk down the candy aisle at the store, you will crave sugar.
The “cue” is the first step in James Clear’s four-stage analysis of habit formation. He asks, How do we create a good habit? He answers, Make the good cue obvious. How do we break a bad habit? Make the bad cue invisible.
When it comes to sanctification, many of us fail because we focus our efforts on the second step (fighting the craving that results from the cue), or on the third step (stopping the response to the craving). Clear’s book calls us to begin the battle at the first step, the cue or the trigger.
So let me suggest some samples of good cues that will help trigger desires for godliness and then some samples of bad cues that we can remove to avoid cravings for sin.
Cues for Starting Good Habits
1. Place a Bible beside your bed to trigger craving for God’s Word.
2. Listen to sermons rather than talk radio to trigger craving for peace rather than hate.
3. Buy Thank You notes to trigger desires to thank people in your life.
4. Read missionary books to trigger prayer for missionaries.
5. Surround yourself with godly friends to trigger longings for holiness.
6. Listen to testimonies of conversions to stimulate passion for evangelism.
7. Converse about heaven to cultivate longing for things above not things below.
8. Go to church to fire up your longing for God’s presence.
9. Wear a Fitbit to boost your commitment to stewarding the temple of the Holy Spirit.
10. Talk to an unconverted friend or family member to stimulate evangelism and prayer.
Hiding Cues that Provoke Bad Habits
1. Cancel cable news if you are inclined to anxiety.
2. Avoid car magazines and showrooms if you don’t want to covet cars.
3. Don’t walk along the beach in summer if you want to stifle lust.
4. Install covenant eyes if you don’t want to see porn.
5. Avoid bad news if you have a tendency to depression.
6. Don’t sit with people drinking alcohol if you want to stop longings for it.
7. Remove email and social media from your phone if you are not “present” when you are at home.
8. Don’t take your phone into the bedroom if you want to seek God rather than the Internet when you wake up.
9. Stop following the NFL if you want to keep the Sabbath Day holy.
10. Don’t listen to bad language if you want to keep your own mouth clean.
Make the Unconscious Conscious
When it comes to sinful habits, there is always a cue. We may feel like the craving and desiring begins without a cue, but that is never the case. If we can’t identify it, we need to pray that God would reveal it to us, that he would make the unconscious conscious. As the psychologist Carl Jung said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
Of course, sometimes the cue comes from our own sinful heart and mind; we don’t need an external trigger to make us desire evil. That’s why the ultimate action to create good cues and remove bad cues is the prayer, “Create in me a clean heart, O Lord.”