B.J. Fogg [ Stanford University ] What we’re going to do, right now, we’re going to practice some behavior change. The organizers of this event have been very good at providing some supplies. I want all of you to look under your seat, right now, and see what surprise is waiting for you.

What I want you to do, and we debated whether we should really do this or not – but we’re going to do it, is I want you to tear off one piece of floss.

Like this.

What we’re going to do – don’t do it quite yet – we’re going to practice what I call a Tiny Habit.

In this case, we’re going to do something very, very small.

I’m going to have you floss one tooth – not yet, we’re going to it all together, I know some of you think that that’s kind of gross – but we can do this

There’s one more piece, and I’ll explain this a little bit later in my presentation.

After you do a tiny behavior, that you want to repeat in the future, or maybe expand, what you need to do is celebrate victory.

Immediately, right away.

I’m not talking about going out to the bar or going to make cookies or what have you – you need to tell yourself in some way that you’re awesome.

Okay?

So we’re going to practice.

There’s a few ways to do this. I’ve mapped out 10 different ways to celebrate but we’re going to start with one that’s pretty common that works and it goes like this, “I’m awesome!”

Okay you ready?

“1, 2, 3, I’m awesome!”

Okay. Let’s try another celebration and this one is “Bingo!”

Ready?

“1, 2, 3, Bingo!”

Awesome.

“I’m awesome!”

There are some people, when they’re working with Tiny Habits with me, they like doing a little dance and that makes them feel like, “yeah, I’m rocking it.”

Okay, so ready?

Little dance.

1, 2, 3.

Now , we’re going to get to this in a minute so just hang tight, I’ll give you a little bit of background and we’re going to practice it together.

You guys are great sports in practicing the celebrations with me.

I’m obsessed with how behavior works. Even on vacation I’m thinking about behavior. I’m watching behavior. I’m reading stuff on it. I’m trying to understand it systematically.

When I’m sleeping, and this is a little bit scary, I’m thinking about behavior models, behavior grid, domino actions, motivation waves, in my sleep.

This happens almost every night, so that’s a little freaky , but I learn things. So that’s nice.

I would have never expected, a year ago, that today I would be doing 50, 60, 70 push ups today.

But all this is part of being obsessed with behavior and one of the things that you need to do is practice changing your own behavior.

That gives you an understanding of how behavior works.

The way I arrived here was very much like the flossing but a little bit different.

This was the equation: “after I pee, I will do to push ups.”

I’d use the facility yes, technically you flush the toilet first, and then 2 push ups, and you’re done and you “awesome!”

After two, it gets really easy.

You move on, then you do five, then you do eight, and where I’m at now, I do eight, but I always do extra credit.

I tend to do 12 or so and it adds up over the day.

I end up doing 50, 60, 70 – depending on how much water I’ve had and other factors.

The good news is that behavior and behavior change is not as complicated as most people think.

It’s systematic and there are ways to understand behavior that are pretty straightforward and simple and I’m going to share some of those with you today.

There are 15 ways behavior can change.

They’re not hundreds of behavior types , there’s 15 ways.

When we talk about health behavior change, people are mostly talking about long-term change, and these are the five that represent different types of long-term change.

I’m not going to go into depth here but what I want to explain to you is, when it comes to long-term change, there’s only two ways you can get it done.

Number one: you can change your environment.

Before, here’s your environment. certain behavior. And then After: the changed environment changes your behavior.

That’s a reliable way.

It also includes your social environment.

Before, After.

Changing the environment is a reliable way to change your behavior.

However it can be tricky – especially the social environment, with families and co-workers and so one –so there’s one other way of changing your behavior long term.

I’ll give you a hint. It does not have to do with motivation.

Surprise!

Motivation actually applies to other kinds of temporary behavior change but not long term.

In other words, relying primarily on motivation to change your behavior long term is a losing strategy.

Similarly for willpower, you can take those off the table, if you make the behavior change tiny enough.

Now, in this grid, this is where habits live.

The blue path.

It’s something familiar, that you do from now on, and if you make that very tiny, like two push ups, floss one tooth, and so on –  it’s very easy to repeat and make that become a habit.

Think about it this way: you already know how to floss all your teeth. That’s not what you’re lacking.

What you’re lacking is the automaticity of flossing.

So you don’t need to train flossing all your teeth. you need to train making it automatic.

Now, in the Persuasion Boot Camps that I teach, we geek out about this kind of stuff.

This is one of the crews with me, up in the wine country, doing it.

We look at the sequences of behaviors that eventually land you here to habit.

We won’t go into that kind of depth today, but what I do want to say – and this is a little bit controversial – is this puzzle is solved and I’m going to share the pieces with you.

I’m going to share some ways that it got solved.

We’ll see what you think.

There’s a new way to create habits that is reliable and systematic.

When we look at health outcomes, bull’s eye, what do we want to do?

Things like lose weight, manage stress, and so on.

But if you design for the outcomes, you are designing at the wrong place. You need to design for the behaviors that lead to the outcome.

If you take an issue like weight loss, there are many, many behaviors that can contribute to that outcome. Stress reduction, eating better, and so on.

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 are long-term health habits.

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 “oh I give up now, I’m just going to go back to how I was”.

Let me share a personal example.

I hesitated about including this, but I will.

In 2010 I got one of these scales that’s super high tech and it can Tweet out your weight. I set it up so it’s Tweeting my weight. I started Tweeting it out in 2010 and this is about a year ago. You can see what’s going on. Not much change, up and down, up and down. What I learned was, number one, simply Tweeting your weight didn’t seem to have any effect on me – and I looked up others who had done it and it didn’t seem to have lots of an impact.

Number two: my Twitter followers hated it.

So I stopped.

But I made a habit of stepping on the scale , it was right there. A few months later, going up. So at one point I thought, “okay, I’ve been doing this thing called Tiny Habits.” Something I’ve applied elsewhere – now I’m going to apply it to weight loss. Because I want to lose some pounds.

After creating many, many, many, many Tiny Habits, this is where I am this week.

That’s probably the course of a year or so.

You can see, no real change and then, putting together, little by little, these Tiny Habits that took root and would grow. I believe I’ve made a long-term change. We’ll see, 5, 10 years from now, but it seems like these habits will be very hard to undo.

I put this out there: when you know how to create Tiny Habits, you can change your behavior, and your life, forever.

Now let me back up and explain how I honed in on the formula of Tiny Habits and you can see whether it syncs with how you think about it.

There are three things that have to happen, at the same moment, to cause the behavior. Number one, there has to be some level of motivation. You want to keep your teeth clean, you have got to want it, to get stronger with push-ups or something like that. Next, you have to have the ability to do it.

And then there has to be a trigger.

Now when I say trigger I mean Call to Action  – the thing that says “do push-ups now”, “floss your teeth now” and so on.

And it’s these three things together, when they combine at once and form the behavior, whether it’s flossing your teeth, two push ups, what have you, send a thank you note. . .

Motivation ability has trade-offs. This line, this curved line, represents that trade-off.. If you’re anywhere above the line, and the trigger occurs, you will do the behavior.

Let me give some examples of this.

Here, below the line, let’s say I want you to run a marathon and you have no motivation to run a marathon. Both low motivation and it’s hard. When I say “run a marathon, run a marathon” – you’re not going to do it. No matter how many times I make that Call to Action.

In contrast, if I say “walk outside and walk back in” – maybe 30 seconds – simple to do. You’re above the line. You may not be very motivated but because it’s so easy to do . . .

Now let’s move up here. It’s hard to do. I’m asking you something very hard. In order to do something that’s difficult, you need high levels of motivation.

In fact, I think that the purpose, the only use of motivation in our life is to allow us to do hard things.

If we’re not doing hard things, we don’t need that much motivation.

When our motivation lags – boom! can’t do it.

Motivation is very slippery.

So 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. Habits are about repeating it and you won’t create the habit.

As I looked at this, as I looked at my behavior model, I thought, “let’s go right here.”

Easy to do stuff.

It’s so easy to do, it doesn’t require much motivation at all, so whether your motivation is high, you’ll still do it – whether it’s low you’ll do it.

This is where the insight around “let’s make it really tiny, really tiny” like one to two push-ups, one sip of water, and so on. When you look at it in this way, the smiley face for accounting for motivation, we’re counting for ability so the equation B = mat, those things are done.

What wasn’t done, and what I hadn’t solved, was the trigger.

How do we trigger that behavior easily?

One day I came home from the gym, I went into the bathroom, I got in the shower, I turned on the shower, I got out, I dried off, I went into my bedroom, I opened the sock drawer, and at that moment it hit me.

After! The secret was an after.

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.

I was looking for “what is the T?” What is the trigger?

The triggers are your existing behavior. I was pretty happy about this. I thought this was a breakthrough. It means you don’t have to put up post-it notes. You don’t have to set alarms and so on. You just establish what it will come after.

I went off, mapped this out, and started practicing Tiny Habits more and more on my own – applied them to many things.

Then, about a year ago – after I had done this, I thought “you know, I’m going to invite some friends to do it” and it kind of grew from there. Today, I’ve actually coached over 20,000 Tiny Habits. This is a snapshot from the spreadsheet.

Here’s the format for Tiny Habits. It looks like this:

After I [whatever your existing behavior (I call that an anchor)], I will floss one tooth, do 2 push ups and so on

What kinds of tiny habits do people create? This is from this upcoming week  – I grabbed this out of the database. A lot of habits are geared toward the morning. After I start my morning coffee I will tidy one item in the living room.

Other habits are toward the evening, where you have routines already set up, after entering your house every day “I will kiss my wife for 10 seconds”. These kind of Tiny Habits work out really well.

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’ve got to make it super tiny.

After I pee, I will do two push-ups.

After I walk in the door, I will hang my keys on the hook.

After I brush my teeth I will floss one tooth.

That makes sense right?

That brushing becomes the trigger, or the anchor, for flossing one tooth and then you celebrate it.

Now we’re on to the practice time. Are you ready for this? Everyone get out your floss Okay. In your mind visualize you’re brushing your teeth.

. . .

I think we need to practice celebration. We’re going to go “awesome!”, right?

“1, 2, 3 awesome!”

Okay all right.

We brush our teeth, floss one tooth, “1, 2, 3 awesome!”

If you keep at that, over time, it will get easier and easier to floss your teeth and you can floss more and more. There’s different ways to celebrate. Find the celebration that works for you

Here’s the phrase, and it comes down to this, I live up in the wine country. I do a lot with the earth – as much as I can – and this seems to map exactly to what I’m talking about.

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

This pumpkin came from a tiny seed that we didn’t even plant. It came from the chicken manure that we put in the garden and it grew. We didn’t have to do anything to it. It just grew, with a tiny seed in the right spot.

I encourage you to look at your lives, look at what you want to change, break it down to tiny behavior, 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.


Chosen by Fortune Magazine as one of “10 New Gurus You Should Know”, Fogg directs the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University.

FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Giorgio Montersino

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3 thoughts on “Tiny Habits

  • 08/03/2016 at 20:53
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    Like it!  Plant a seed in the right place and it will grow!
    Like the habit vector.  Very strong!

    Reply
  • 27/02/2017 at 16:55
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    That “I’m awesome” bit would definitely prompt Dweck to roll her eyes — just “awesome!” maybe –but the victory dance is good. That’s a tiny habit right there, worth slathering all over everything liberally.

    Reply
  • 26/03/2017 at 13:27
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    A serious stream of Little Victory Dances modeled here:

    Reply

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