The Power of Tiny Habits

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image“The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” — Samuel Johnson

If you’ve ever struggled with creating a new habit, like flossing your teeth, or changing a habit, here is some hope.

BJ Fogg, Director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University, is all about behavior and how you design to change people’s behavior.

Better yet, he has a compelling and powerful proposition:

“When you know how to create tiny habits, you can change your life forever.”

In his amazing Tedx Talk, Forget Big Change, Start with a Tiny Habit, BJ Fogg shares insight and action on how you can change your behavior for good.

Here are my notes.

Tiny Habits

According to BJ Fogg, a Tiny Habit is when you do something very, very small.

Here are some examples:

  • floss 1 tooth
  • do two push ups
  • drink one sip of water

But there’s one more tiny piece.

I’m Awesome

After you do the tiny behavior that you want to repeat, or expand in the future, you celebrate victory.

Immediately.

To celebrate your personal victory, you can say to yourself:

“I’m awesome.”

You can also celebrate by saying, “Bingo” or doing a tiny little victory dance.

Find the celebration that works for you.

Example of a Tiny Habit

Fogg shares an example of how he now does 50, 60, 70 push ups a day.

He decided that after he takes a pee, he will do 2 push ups, and then say, “I’m awesome.”

2 push ups turned into 5, and then 8, and for extra credit he sometimes does 12.  Over the course of a day, this adds up.

Behavior Change is Systematic, Not Complicated

Behavior change doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated.  In fact, if it is, you’re doing it wrong.

According to Fogg, the key is to simplify it and make it systematic.

You already know how to floss your teeth.

What you need to do is to make it automatic.

To make it automatic, you first need to make it easy:

Floss one tooth.

That will eventually get so easy, that you’ll try one more, and then maybe another.

But you’ll have built the habit already so you’ll be building on a strong foundation and familiar routines.

Two Ways to Create Long-Term Behavior Change

According to Fogg, there are two approaches to create long-term change:

  1. Change the environment
  2. Make it tiny

Changing the environment is a reliable way to create long-term behavior change.  If you create a certain environment, you create a certain behavior.

The change environment changes your behavior.  This also includes your social environment.

If you make something small enough, it’s easy to do.  And if it’s easy to do, we can stick with it.  It becomes a habit.

Design for Behaviors that Lead to the Outcome

According to Fogg, there’s a new way to create habits that is reliable and systematic.

If you’re designing at the outcomes, you’re designing at the wrong place.  You need to design for behaviors that lead to the outcomes.

Here’s what Fogg says about designing for behavior, not outcomes:

“If you take an issue like weight loss, there are many behaviors that lead to that outcome: stress reduction, eating better,…etc. 

And I would propose that most of the behaviors that we need to do are habits.

Of the 15 ways behavior can change, the one that matters most to long term health, are habits.   And as we create, what I call these tiny habits, and we can’t do it all at once, little by little, we will then approach this health outcome in a very reliable way.  In a way that doesn’t regress.  In a way that doesn’t make you say, ‘Oh, I give up and I’m just gonna go back to how I was.’

3 Elements of Behavior

According to Fogg, behavior is the result of 3 elements at the same moment:

  1. Motivation
  2. Ability
  3. Trigger

There needs to be some level of motivation.  For example, you need to want to keep your teeth clean, or you need to want to get stronger with push ups, etc.

You need to have the ability.  Motivation and ability are trade-offs.  The easier it is, the less motivation you need.  The harder it is, the more motivation you need.

A trigger is the call to action.  It’s the thing that says do push ups now, or floss your teeth now, etc.

Motivation is a Losing Strategy for Long-Term Change

According to Fogg, motivation doesn’t work for long-term behavior change.

In order to do something hard, it takes high-levels of motivation.

When our motivation lags, we don’t do it.

Here’s what Fogg says:

“If you set yourself up to do something hard, and you have to somehow sustain the motivation, the motivation is going to drop down, and there’s going to be a point where you don’t do it, and habits are about repeating it, and you won’t create the habit.”

If we’re not doing hard things in our life, we don’t need much motivation.

We need to take motivation and willpower off the table.  We do that, by focusing on creating a very tiny behavior change.  We make change smaller.  It doesn’t take motivation to floss one tooth.  It just takes a trigger.

Triggers

According to Fogg, the secret of triggers is:

After

You need to chain your new behavior to something you already do.

Fogg says:

“If you use an existing behavior in your life and you put the new tiny behavior after it you can use the existing behavior to be the trigger.  Your triggers are existing behaviors.  Just establish what it will come after.”

Format for a Tiny Habit

Here is the format that Fogg uses for a tiny habit:

After I [existing habit],
I will [new tiny behavior].

The existing habit is the anchor.  By adding the new tiny behavior to something he already does, he now has a simple way to remember the behavior, along with a time and a place to do it.

Fogg says:

“As you think about changing your life, think about framing it in terms of this format:  ‘After I’–Pick an existing habit that you do every day with the same frequency that you want the new behavior to happen.  ‘ I will’– and you gotta make it super tiny.”

Examples of Tiny Habits

Fogg shared some examples of the tiny habits that others have created.

Here are some morning examples:

  • After I step on the scale, I will thank God for the new day.
  • After I start my morning coffee, I will tidy one item in the living room.
  • After I wash my face in the morning, I will put sunscreen on it’.
  • After I start the dishwasher, I will take my vitamin.
  • After I walk out, the door for the day, I will say ‘Today will be a great day.’

Here are some nighttime examples:

  • After I enter the house at the end of the day, I will kiss my wife for 10 seconds.
  • After I get home, I will set out my workout clothes.
  • After I put my kids in bed, I will tell them ‘goodnight, I love you, sweet dreams’.
  • After I take off my clothes at night, I will put them away.
  • After my head hits the pillow, I will think of something I am grateful for.

Put New Behaviors in the Right Spot in Your Lives

According to Fogg, it all comes down to this:

“Plant a tiny seed in the right spot and it will grow without coaxing.”

Here’s what Fogg says about putting behaviors in the right spot:

“So I encourage you to look at your lives.  Look at what you want to change.  Break it down to tiny behaviors and put them in the right spot.
The right spot is after something you’re already doing and, allow it to grow.  You don’t have to amp up motivation.  You don’t have to draw that much on willpower.  All you have to do is plan it out and let this natural process emerge.”

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  • If you want to make a long-term change, make the behavior change tiny.  Very tiny.
  • Practice changing your behavior.  This will give you a good understanding of how behavior works.
  • Motivation doesn’t work for the long run.  High-levels of motivation allow us to do hard things.  But we don’t need to make things hard.
  • Train to make it automatic.  You’re not training to learn how to floss your tooth.  You’re training yourself to make the behavior simple and systematic.
  • Find the celebration that works for you.
  • Trigger your new behavior by adding it to an existing habit or routine.

If you’ve ever struggled with habit change, now you know what to do.

Are you ready to floss one tooth?

You’re awesome!

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