How many times have you attempted to incorporate a new habit into your life, you’ve repeated it for multiple days but it just hasn’t stuck? That’s because according to the behavioural scientist, BJ Fogg, three areas need to work together in order for a habit to become a constant part of your life.
He recognises that information alone does not reliably lead to sustained behaviour change. Information can be part of the puzzle but that alone doesn’t seem to do the trick for most people. Seeing statistics, seeing data won’t necessarily change somebody’s behaviour in the long term.
As many of my clients have recently been asking for help to change their habits and instil new healthy habits into their life, I thought I would share some of BJ Fogg’s method (Tiny Habits) with you which will hopefully enable you to incorporate new habits into your life sustainably.
The three areas that need to work together are:
Motivation, Ability and Prompt
Difficult behaviours require a high level of motivation. You’ve seen this in your own life. If there’s a tough task facing you, such as cleaning your entire home, you won’t do it unless your motivation level is high.
As human beings, our motivation level for any behaviour goes up and down over time. That’s natural. You can’t always rely on having a high level of motivation. Your motivation is often low for difficult, unpleasant tasks. That’s reality. On the flip side, when a behaviour is easy, you don’t need to rely on a high level of motivation.
There also could be more than one source of motivation for doing a behaviour. They are like forces pushing you toward or away from an action. Maybe it’s the desire to be accepted by a group or maybe it’s the fear of physical pain. Maybe your motivations are moving you toward an action or they are moving you away. Motivations are always there, but their direction depends on their strength at any given moment.
When it comes to most life changes that people want to make, big bold moves actually don’t work as well as small stealthy ones. Applying a big or go home attitude to everything you do is a recipe for self-criticism and disappointment.
Doing big things can be painful. We often push ourselves beyond our physical, emotional or mental capabilities. But as you know humans don’t do things that are painful for very long. As you can imagine, this isn’t a good recipe for creating successful habits.
That’s why making things easy to do will help with almost any behaviour. Whether the change you’re aiming for is big or small, tiny is where to start.
BJ Fogg says that if a behaviour is hard, make it easier to do. For example, if your new habit is to do 20 push-ups a day, start with 2 push-ups a day. You’ll see that over time your motivation will vary, but your ability will improve the more you do your new habit. And that increase in ability helps your habit grow.
In order to do a behaviour, motivation and ability have to exist in sufficient amounts to put you in the action mode.
In the Tiny Habits method, you pick an existing routine to remind you to do the new tiny behaviour. This existing routine is something solid in your life to which you attach the new habit such as brushing your teeth, putting your head on the pillow or putting on your shoes in the morning. This action prompts you into doing your new behaviour as that becomes your reminder. You do not use alarms or notes to remind you. So essentially this action acts as a trigger for you to practise your new behaviour.
Ask yourself: Where does this new tiny behaviour fit naturally in my life?
What routine does it come after?
This concept of “after” is important. You won’t reliably form a habit until you know where the new behaviour fits in your life—what it comes after.
Once you’ve got these three sorted it’s important to celebrate when you do the new behaviour. When you do a behaviour and feel a positive emotion about it, your brain pays attention. It thinks, “Wow, that felt good. I want to do that behaviour again!”
For emotion to rewire your brain, you must feel the emotion while you are doing the behaviour or immediately after.
There are many ways to celebrate. You need to find what works for you—what makes YOU feel positive, uplifted, successful and happy.
NOTE: Habit formation is a design process, not a willpower process.
So now that you are armed with this design process, perhaps you can begin adding new, tiny behaviours into your day. Of course, you won’t be perfect. There are some trial and error — always something to learn. But you will get better. You will learn new skills and gain confidence. And this, in turn, can change your life in big ways.
Good luck and have fun with it.
Tiny Habits, The small changes that change everything, BJ FOGG, PhD
Medical Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. For medical advice always consult your physician. The information provided in this blog is based on the best knowledge of the author at the time of writing and we do not assume liability for the information within this blog, be it direct or indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages.