In his best-selling book Atomic Habits and his popular 3-2-1 Newsletter, author and speaker James Clear offers strategies to make small changes that lead to remarkable results. One of Clear’s tips that I have found extremely useful is habit stacking. “When it comes to building new habits, you can use the connectedness of behavior to your advantage,” writes Clear. “One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behavior on top. This is called habit stacking.”1
Clear provides the following examples of habit stacking:
- After I pour my cup of coffee each morning, I will meditate for one minute.
- After I take off my work shoes, I will immediately change into my workout clothes.
- After I sit down to dinner, I will say one thing I’m grateful for that happened today.2
As Muslims, we can apply Clear’s techniques to increase our mustahab, or recommended acts of worship.
In Morning Routines
Before sunrise each day, we are presumably already waking for fajr prayer. This, hopefully, is an already-existing habit. Now we may start stacking additional worship into our morning routine in order to earn extra blessings, inshaAllah, God willing. Consider adding one or more of these voluntary acts in the morning:
- As soon as you have finished your salat, recite “I am pleased with Allah as my Lord, Islam as my deen, and Mohammad, peace and blessing be upon him, as my Prophet.” The Prophet said that “Anyone who recites this duaa or supplication in the morning and evening, Allah will make him content on the Day of Resurrection.”
- After fajr prayer, recite three times, “How perfect Allah is and I praise Him by the number of His creation and His pleasure, and by the weight of His throne, and the ink of His words.” This is a powerful glorification of Allah.
- Whoever recites Ayat ul Kursi (Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:255, known as the Verse of the Throne) when he rises in the morning, Allah will protect him until the evening. And whoever recites it in the evening, Allah will protect him until the morning.
When Leaving the House
You might already have a habit of checking to make sure you have your wallet, phone, and keys before you head out the door. Try stacking some habits to your existing routine. Incorporate these as you walk out the door:
- It was the habit of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, to enter and exit his home with his right foot. Do this deliberately with the intention of emulating our beloved Messenger.
- Close the door softly. Our Prophet said, “Gentleness adorns every act. Its absence will tarnish it.”
- Recite Ayatul Kursi. When we recite this upon leaving the house, we will be in the protection of angels.
- Anas, may Allah be pleased with him, reported: the Messenger of Allah said: “Whoever says (upon leaving his house): ‘I begin with the Name of Allah; I trust in Allah; there is no altering of conditions but by the Power of Allah,’ it will be said to him: ‘You are guided, defended and protected.’ The devil will go far away from him.”(Abu Dawud, At-Tirmidhi and An- Nasa’i)
How many times each week do we go to the store? For many of us, shopping for food, clothes, or supplies is a regular habit. There is a very powerful recommended act we can implement each time we enter a marketplace.
- The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of be upon him, said: Whoever enters the market and says: "None has the right to be worshiped except Allah, alone, without partner, to Him belongs all sovereignty and praise. He gives life and causes death, and He is living and does not die. In His hand is all good and He Omnipotent over all things,” Allah will wipe a million bad deeds from his record and grant him a million good deeds, and will elevate him a million degrees (of virtue), (and will build him a house in paradise in another narration).
- Perhaps we can stack this habit of duaa onto another positive one, like grabbing our eco-friendly reusable grocery bags. Pro tip: print the duaa and attach it to your grocery bags to help you remember to say it!
When Working on Mundane Tasks
Almost all of us have some repetitive tasks that we complete mindlessly on a regular basis. Washing dishes, driving a familiar route, vacuuming, yard work, and exercising are just some opportunities to remember Allah and strive for His rewards. Start stacking the habit of praising your Creator while you do mindless tasks. This will elevate the ordinary to extraordinary!
- Train yourself to say SubhanAllah (All Glory to Allah), Alhamdullilah (All praise and thanks are to Allah) and Allahu akbar (Allah is the Greatest) every time you stop at a red light. Recite until the light turns green, or even for the whole length of your trip.
- Associate some chores – like washing dishes, folding laundry, or gardening – with istighfar, asking for Allah’s forgiveness. It is the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, to seek Istighfar 100 times a day. The benefits of this habit are many, as istighfar opens the doors to all kinds of sustenance.
- Enhance your meals and earn Allah’s blessings by reciting Bismillah (In the Name of Allah) every time you begin cooking, and each time you add a new ingredient. Train yourself to praise and thank Allah for every item of food you add to the meal. Imagine the blessings that will be in every mouthful if your ingredients have been added mindfully and God-consciously!
Stacking habits can be one of your best investments in this worldly life and the Hereafter. Allah promises us that every small effort we make to come closer to Him will be blessed and rewarded exponentially. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said,
“Allah says: ‘I am just as My slave thinks I am, (i.e., I am able to do for him what he thinks I can do for him) and I am with him if He remembers Me. If he remembers Me in himself, I too, remember him in Myself; and if he remembers Me in a group of people, I remember him in a group that is better than they; and if he comes one span nearer to Me, I go one cubit nearer to him; and if he comes one cubit nearer to Me, I go a distance of two outstretched arms nearer to him; and if he comes to Me walking, I go to him running.’”
Laura El Alam is a freelance writer and editor and the author of the book Made From the Same Dough, as well as over 100 published articles. A wife and mother of five, Laura lives with her family in Massachusetts. You can visit her online at www.seaglasswritingandediting.com.