One of the key ingredients to healthy longevity is being able to develop positive habits. Whether that means adopting some new ones or dropping some old ones, knowingwe would benefit from certain behaviors and implementingthose behaviors are very different things. Easy to say, hard to do. That’s why we are fans of B J Fogg and his approach to behavior change: thinking big, but starting small.
Fogg is a behavioral scientist that leads the Stanford Behavior Design Lab (who knew there even was such a thing?). He is also the author of the popular book Tiny Habits (rated 4.7/5 by on Amazon and 4.2/5 on Goodreads by thousands of reviewers).
Based on his decades of academic research understanding the brain’s reward systems, and his extensive practical experience helping companies coach their teams to build better habits, Fogg has perfected a framework for changing behavior.
His system consist of three simple ingredients:
1. Make it easy
Start with a goal that is very easy to achieve. Simplicity changes behavior. When something is easy to do, you do not need a lot of motivation to do it.
We often set ourselves up to fail when we set a goal that is too ambitious. Take exercising, for example: the moment our motivation level wanes, our adherence drops. Over time, we often give up in frustration with our inconsistency. Who hasn’t been there?
The less motivation you need to accomplish your goal, the easier it will be to develop it into a habit. Instead of saying, “I’m going to exercise for an hour a day,” start with, “I’ll do 5 jumping jacks each day.” Trust it. Slow and steady wins the race.
Similarly, beware of your inclination to keep raising the bar. On day 2, don’t go to 10 jumping jacks. You canperform more, but don’t fall into the trap of continuously raising the stakes too soon. You are likely to run into a low-motivation day, and fall off the track.
If you are inclined to do more, see it as “extra credit” rather than the new goal. The idea is to start small and stay small while you let the habit build.
2. Anchor it to your daily routine
The second step is to anchor your new habit to an action you already do every day. This existing behavior will act as your prompt to practice the habit you want to build. It goes something like this: “after my morning cup or coffee (daily behavior), I will meditate for 1 minute (tiny habit).”
Without the prompt, it is often easy to forget your goal, or to fit it consistently into your schedule. That’s why your prompt needs to be something that is already a habit for you.
3. Celebrate the small wins
When we perform a tiny habit, we should allow ourselves to feel successful by celebrating our achievement. Even when the action performed is small—5 jumping jacks—the feeling of success you get from applauding yourself is disproportionally large.
Think of it as a mini-hack of your reward system. It is part of what makes Tiny Habits so powerful. Your celebration can be as simple as giving yourself a thumbs up, a pat on the back, or just telling yourself “good job!”
Is this too easy?
The Tiny Habits framework is based on the exact opposite of the “go big or go home” mentality so prevalent among high performers. So, the approach might strike you as a bit silly when you dramatically lower the stakes. But Fogg’s decades of experience shows that it works. This graphic makes it clear why.
Anything that is hard todo and/or requires high a mounts of motivation will often land you below the green curve. In this area, prompts tend to be ineffective. That “go big or go home” mentality simply doesn’t work for most of us.
Instead look to put your self at the right convergence of ability to perform a task, your level of motivation to do it, and the proper prompt. When these three elements come together, habits form.
See for yourself.
The best thing is that you can try this technique for free with this5-day “boot camp” with a Tiny Habits coach. It’s completely free. Best part: we tried it and can attest that it really does work! Let us know what you think.
You can also listen to BJ explain his methodology in thispodcast.
Disclosure: This article contains an Amazon Affiliates link.