If we want to increase our success in forming good habits and breaking bad ones, we need a specific plan about  the what and the where. As yesterday’s article explained, the key sentence to complete is:

I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION]. 

But if you want to move from the Bachelor’s to the Master’s level of habit change, you need to use what James Clear calls habit stacking. He explains,

“Rather than pairing your new habit with a particular time and location, you pair it with a current habit” (74).

The habit stacking formula is: After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].

In other words, it’s using the existence and practice of a current habit to cue a new habit. Using yesterday’s examples, it might look something like this:

  • After showering, I will read my Bible in my bedroom.
  • After supper on Saturday evening, I will pray for my pastor.
  • After getting home from church on Sunday, I will teach my children the Shorter Catechism for 30 minutes.
  • After getting into bed, I will read for 30 minutes.

The secret is to use something you do anyway to cue the desired behavior. Here are some examples from Clear’s book:

  • Exercise. When I see a set of stairs, I will take them instead of using the elevator.
  • Social skills. When I walk into a party, I will introduce myself to someone I don’t know yet.
  • Finances. When I want to buy something over $100, I will wait twenty-four hours before purchasing.
  • Healthy eating. When I serve myself a meal, I will always put veggies on my plate first.
  • Minimalism. When I buy a new item, I will give something away. (“One in, one out.”)
  • Mood. When the phone rings, I will take one deep breath and smile before answering.
  • Forgetfulness. When I leave a public place, I will check the table and chairs to make sure I don’t leave anything behind. (77)

Get the idea? The key is to identify your current habits and then choose the right habit upon which to stack another habit.

Once the new behavior is established, it can be used to cue another habit, and so the momentum and the stack grows. Think of how many blessed stacks and chains of spiritual habits could be formed with this method.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones