This is a hidden page. I share it with my habiteers and Twitter followers.
Note: I stopped posting my thoughts in this sandbox. I still have thoughts and insights, but I also have a bunch of projects I need to get done. So I hope the content below is helpful, even if I’m not actively posting here. --BJ
The content here is optional. It’s me puttering around, sharing quick thoughts. That’s why I called it Sandbox.
BJ’s note April 10, 2016 10:21 am
Behavior change is a skill
What is your reaction to this statement?
“Behavior change is a skill.”
Was your reaction positive? Negative? Mixed? Or just simply unclear?
This idea is new but it’s accurate. I think it’s also very helpful. As a result (new, accurate, helpful), I’m writing a book on this topic.
By teaching the Tiny Habits method to over 40,000 people, I have seen thousands of cases where people have learned to change their behavior. Before they learned my method, they struggled and mostly failed. After training (which includes practice!), they started to succeed. With these new skills some people begin to succeed far beyond their expectations (see my post from March 27 below).
Like other skills, some people are naturally better than others at changing their behavior. But everyone can get better. And with practice you can become skilled; you can change most behaviors quickly and efficiently.
The way you’ve learned other skills is the same way to learn how to change your behavior. You can’t rely on magical thinking. Consider this: When someone learns to speak French (a skill), they didn’t just write a resolution on January 1st : “Speak French this year.” And they didn’t expect themselves to wake up speaking fluently, no matter how high their motivation was at the moment. By the same token, don’t expect yourself to suddenly eat perfectly nutritious food, or manage all your stress, or to be more productive. Instead, focus on gaining the skills that will lead to those outcomes. You can gain the skills of behavior change, just like you’ve gained skills in other areas.
I admit this --> Without structured guidance you can learn to speak French, or sing, or swim. But you will probably learn those skills faster with the help of a great teacher.
BJ’s note March 27, 2016 1:50 pm
What people said last week
At the end of each week, I make sure to wrap up the session of Tiny Habits. This includes noting some of the most interesting things people say. At this point, I rarely get a comment I haven’t seen before. Even if the comments aren’t new, it’s always great to see how Tiny Habits has helped people have better lives.
Below are some comments from this week . . .
- I was able to get so much done, I was so organized. I was on top of my game. Life just felt so good!
- Your idea of celebrating your "Tiny Habit" immediately after, even if my action made me feel a bit ridiculous, it truly helped build the habit.
- I'm surprised at how much of a difference it made to me to have my counter wiped clean in the morning! 30 seconds well spent.
- I was surprised by how effortless making new habits was. Now, I am empowered to make bigger changes in my life through baby steps. From baby steps to giant strides :)
- I've learned more about myself that I expected this week. Thanks for the class!
- if I could at least get my clothing on, I would at least go downstairs and work out. I did and completed the 25 minute workout routine all 5 days!!! I’m awesome
- I’m surprised at how ineffective goals can be (we’re all told to set goals all the time) and how effective habits can be.
- The most surprising thing to me, honestly, has been that I have actually stuck with doing my habits. The fact that we are on day 4 and I have done each tiny habit is actually a huge accomplishment for me.
- I am also so thankful for the new habit of writing just one sentence in my journal! Thank you!
- 3 Tiny Habits has changed my life....thank you Dr. Fogg..
- Thank you, BJ for sharing your knowledge so freely and being enthusiastic to teach others.
BJ’s note January 2, 2016 3:30 pm
After a month in Maui . . .
I spent the last month or so in Maui. I worked some each day while there, but I also took time off. It was rejuvenating.
I’m the kind of guy who works most every day, and I almost never take time off. Why? Because I like what I do, and I feel a responsibility to help people the best I can. However, in Maui I ramped things down a notch. I spent time swimming in shark-infested waters (Makena), laying in a hammock, and playing a flute. While I was away some of my habits also went on vacation. That’s normal (see my next post). But I continued most habits in my life. They are part of who I am.
But something strange happened on my return . . .
Coming back to California, I found myself getting up earlier in the morning. Not later, but earlier (yes, odd). I’ve used those early morning hours to think and write. For years I’ve said I don’t want to get out of bed when it’s still dark outside. Yuck. But I must say these morning sessions have been fun, and I’ve had some breakthroughs in Behavior Design.
Here’s how it works: If I wake up at 5 am or later, and if I feel like working, I just get up and get going. I don’t force myself to get out of be; I don’t set an alarm. I think this voluntary part matters: I get up because I *want* to get to work.
Maybe many days will come when I’d rather sleep than work during the dark morning hours. If that happens, that’s fine. I’m a big advocate of not forcing yourself to do things, and to adapt your life (and your habits) as needed. Don’t lock yourself into anything, and be sure you like what you’re doing.
A lightness — even a playfulness — with your habits is much better than getting uptight about things.
As you set out to be your best self in 2016, make sure you are pursuing what *you* want, not what others want for you. That’s my advice in this new year.
BJ’s note October 22, 2015 10:30am
Broken routines, broken habits (that’s normal)
When your normal routines get disrupted, it is hard on habits — both existing and new. Disruption might result from travel, illness, or an emergency.
During disruption, if the anchor still happens, that’s good. You can then do your new tiny behavior as planned. In fact, the tiny behavior should be simple enough that even if things are chaotic, you can still do it without effort. That’s one measure of being tiny enough.
If the anchor doesn’t happen because of disruption, you won’t likely do your new tiny behavior. My advice: Don’t sweat it. That’s how habits work. A collapse in one routine may lead to a collapse in other routines, including new habits you’re trying to create.
When things get back to normal, you pick it back up.
But there’s a bit more to know . . .
I sometimes talk about a concept I call “super habits.” These behaviors happen in all situations, even when things change. Super habits include brushing your teeth, putting on shoes, and going to bed. If you can build new habits after super habits, that’s good. But it’s not always practical. We have a limited number of true super habits.
BJ’s note October 10, 2015 4pm
Using Precise Words: Aspiration, Behavior, Outcome
When people talk about behavior, they often use imprecise words. Of course, people are not trying to be sloppy or careless. The fact is most do not have a good technical vocabulary for talking about how behavior works.
Using fuzzy or ambiguous words hurts innovation. Why? Because if you can’t communicate clearly about the problem or your proposed solution, you will waste time or you’ll get into arguments. Or both will happen.
To give you an example, I’ve written a little story below that shows a well-meaning work duo — Sarah and John — struggling to communicate clearly. The problem is the word “goals,” which has multiple meanings.
Context: Sarah and John are managers at a health club. They are creating a new fitness program.
Sarah: Next quarter, let’s help our customers focus on their goals. [She means their aspirations, such as “feel more energy during the day.”]
John: That’s a good idea. We can have them a goal on a card, and they can track progress toward the goal each day. [John means a target outcome, such as losing 15 pounds.”]
Sarah: Well, I was thinking something more visual. More inspiring. We give people magazines, and they cut out pictures that help them express their goal in images. They make a collage, and it inspires them.
John: I’d like to see something more useful and concrete. How about a worksheet that guides them in making their goals specific: Exactly what they want to accomplish and by when. Such as I will lose 15 pounds by the end of March.
Sarah: That sounds tedious. C’mon John, a worksheet feels like homework. People don’t join our club so they can do homework. And besides, it may set people up for failure. I mean, what if they don’t actually lose 15 pounds. They may get discouraged. That might even cause people to cancel their membership. My idea will inspire them. It will help them see their aspiration. It’s good for our business. A visual collage reminds them of why they joined our health club in the first place.
John: No. Your idea won’t work. A photo collage may look nice, but it doesn’t give clear guidance Goals need to be specific and clear. I mean that’s why goals work: People then know exactly the outcome they are working toward. You’ve heard of “smart” goals, right? Specific Measurable Assignable Realistic and Time-related. You’ve never heard of that?
Sarah: That’s not what I’m talking about. I want people to express their goals, to clearly connect to what they really want. Their dream. Make it vivid. That’s what a photo collage will do.
John: What? That’s not a goal. That’s just a wish, a fuzzy notion that doesn’t lead to action. Haven’t you heard the saying, “If you don’t write it down, it’s not a goal; it’s a wish.” Honestly, Sarah, you need to read up a bit on goals, Sarah. I mean, Instead of watching so much Reality TV, you could set aside one evening and learn how goals work. For starters, just type “goals” into Wikipedia. I’m pretty sure they cover the basics on Wikipedia. Is that so hard?
John: Okay, let’s not have this fight, okay? Instead you put together what you want. Test it with 5 customers. And I’ll do what I want. And I’ll test it too. Then we don’t have to argue. We let the customers decide which approach to goals is best.
Well, the interaction between John and Sarah didn’t go so well. The problem: Using words that didn’t communicate. (On top of that, John was a jerk and didn’t really listen.)
To clarify how we think and talk about behavior, I have created three categories that I call Fogg Buckets.
- Aspiration Bucket
- Behavior Bucket
- Outcome Bucket
I also mapped this out in a visual framework last week. I’m sharing it here first. Enjoy!
BJ’s note September 21, 2015 10:28 am
I’ve been thinking hard about this:
You can never change just one behavior. Our behaviors are interconnected, so when you change one behavior, other behaviors also shift.
From what I can tell, the above statement is accurate.
In my teaching at Stanford and in industry, I’ve often said that “behaviors travel in packs.” That’s not a scientific statement, I realize, but it gives students and professionals a clear view of how behavior works. That clarity helps them design effective solutions.
So why does the idea of “behavior packs” matter?
If you can get someone to change any one behavior (*any* behavior), it will affect other behaviors. So as Behavior Designers our jobs just got simpler. We can focus on helping people do what they already want to do. We don’t have to manipulate people into changing what *we* think would be good for them.
Consider someone who wants to lose weight and keep it off. Yes, that person should probably exercise and stop drinking sodas at some point. However, if that’s not where he or she wants to start, that’s okay. You can start people where *they* want to start, and trust the process of change, trust that behaviors travel in packs.
When someone starts eating more vegetables and saying “no” to bread at restaurants, that person is likely to begin doing other behaviors that will help them lose weight and keep it off. This won’t happen overnight, but it does seem to happen if that person feels successful, if they feel they are headed in the right direction. (Note that numbers on the bathroom scale often make people feel unsuccessful. That’s a problem -- and a topic for another post.)
Each week I gather data about the impact of Tiny Habits. I ask about ripple effects: Has doing Tiny Habits this week led to other changes in your life?
The vast majority of people responding say “yes.” And each week I get emails from people telling me their stories of how a small change led to a bunch of other changes, including big ones.
I don’t think science yet has an official name for this. We could say “behavior packs,” “ripple effects,” “domino action,” or “snowballing.”
Whatever you call it, the mechanism behind this dynamic isn’t entirely clear. In other words, how and why does this work?
I believe the mechanism involves natural increases in motivation, in ability, as well as a shift in identity -- how people see themselves. (There’s a lot more to the explanation, but I didn’t want to leave you hanging.)
One more point about behavior traveling in packs . . .
This applies both to good behaviors and those we consider bad.
In other words, if you start doing a new habit that’s unhealthy, it’s likely you’ll start doing other unhealthy behaviors. So watch for that in your life.
When an unhealthy behavior starts forming, the best thing is to weed it out quickly, before the roots grow deep, and before it generates other unwanted weeds. At least that’s how I think about it.
(Okay, it’s Monday and I gotta get other stuff done. More on this later, if you want. Just email me.)
BJ’s note August 31, 2015 5:06pm
So here’s a video of me blabbing about behavior change. See what you think.
BJ’s note August 9, 2015 11:45 am
May wiped me out.
I taught about 15 full days that month (I mean 8 hours/day), and by the end of the month I’d lost my voice. My voice came back in a few days, but it took me a good chunk of June to recover on my other projects. Looking back, I think the craziness in May was worth it. I taught a lot of people, I got a lot done, and I learned things.
When your life gets really crazy, you see the value habits more clearly. If the craziness makes you tired or distracted, your habits get you through the motions. Things don’t fall apart because you can rely on autopilot.
You can keep the house tidy and get the bills paid. You can continue to eat quality food and get in some time for exercise. It’s true that in May I wasn’t exercising as much as usual, but I didn’t stop.
Let me explain more about the habit of exercise, since that’s pretty time intensive, and it’s one of the hardest things to keep going when you get extremely busy. Here’s how I think about it . . .
Even if exercise I did in May was a token effort, I kept the habit alive. That’s all I need to do. Because I know that nurturing the habit, even in a tiny form, means that when my life stops being so crazy (like now, in August), my exercise habit will spring back to full size.
In my mind, I think of nurturing a habit like nurturing a tiny plant. My job is to keep it alive. That’s all. And as long as it’s alive, I can bring it back to full size quickly and easily.
Of course, that’s not how things really work with plants. However, that way of thinking does work with habits. Your just keep the habit alive and trust that when conditions change for the better, the big habit -- like exercising for an hour each day -- can spring right back into place.
BJ’s note May 3, 2015 12:02 pm
Over the past 100 years, scientists have made a lot of progress understanding habits, right?
Nope. I don’t think so.
Yes, there have been a few really good habit researchers (but not lots of them), and yes, research has created insights we didn’t have 100 years ago. However, it’s hard to point to new stuff that has changed the game on helping ordinary people have better habits. (If you think I’m wrong, let me know. I’m always in “learning mode,” and I’d love to change my mind on this question.)
The research I’ve done over the past three years has given me LOTS of data on how habits form, well over 500,000 data points and growing every week. The problem is that I can’t publish this data with my Stanford affiliation attached. Why? Because Tiny Habits worked so well that it became a product and a service with commercial potential. This creates a financial conflict of interest for me as an academic researcher. At good institutions like Stanford, you can’t run academic studies to benefit yourself financially.
Other academics are now running studies on Tiny Habits. They don’t have the same financial conflict of interest. So those scientists will be the first to publish peer-reviewed research about Tiny Habits, not me.
I DO think Tiny Habits is a breakthrough. I see it week after week in my data. But it’s frustrating to me that we -- scientists and psychologists -- haven’t had more breakthroughs in 100 years. For example, have there been any breakthroughs in understanding how to weaken habits that people don’t want? I can’t point to anything I’d consider a breakthrough. (Let me know if you can. I’d love to change my mind on this as well.)
Creating habits and weakening (or breaking) habits are different processes. At least that’s how I see it. And an effective method for creating habits -- like Tiny Habits -- won’t necessarily work for getting rid of behaviors you don’t want. (Okay, I actually think Tiny Habits can work to replace -- to override -- unwanted habits. But I’ve not done the research on this approach, so I’m not going to vouch for it -- yet. Someday I’ll dive into this area. Want more? See my post from March 1 below.)
If you want to see how little our thinking has progressed in over 125 years, check out what William James wrote about habits in the 1800s. You can buy his chapter on habits from Amazon, or you can simply read this chapter here.
James makes some mistakes in this work from 1890. But he gets a LOT of things right. Today, what most people believe about habits matches what James said 125 years ago. So where’s the progress?
Will technology lead us to breakthroughs? I certainly hope so. I don’t think it will be technology itself but instead technology will amplify our ability to run experiments, gather data, and create insights in a way -- and at a scale -- never before possible.
But wait! ---
One of my colleagues (Ed Framer) disagrees with what I wrote above. And he makes some good points. See what he said below . . .
I'm working my way through your Sandbox. Great to get your freewheeling thoughts. I want to comment on your thoughts about developing something to get rid of habits or at least reduce them. Several things come to mind. First, the Prochaska, Transtheoretical Model handles this pretty well for a lot of people -- especially if one attends to the Processes of Change that go with the Stages, not just using the Stages-of-Change part or the TTM. Second, I often find that building a number of new habits makes finally shutting down an unhealthy (not just physical health) one easier. The best Tobacco Cessation program we ever ran had people build in healthy fluids intake, healthy eating, healthy Physical Activity, Stress Reduction habits, etc. What it came down to was that people were not just ex-tobacco users, but healthy people. Starting to use again now had a higher barrier around it as more people wanted to remain as healthy people. Their new habits gave them a positive behavioral momentum and also gave them more to lose. Are you thinking of something similar?
-- Edward Framer, Ph.D.
BJ’s note April 4, 2015 11:12 am
Habits that take effort to maintain, I call “uphill habits.”
Habits that require work to weaken (or “break”), I call “downhill habits.”
BJ’s note March 1, 2015 10:17 am
It’s not my area. Or at least it hasn’t been.
Creating habits (<--my area) and breaking habits are different processes.
However, this morning I woke up thinking, “Maybe it’s time for me to dive into breaking habits.”
Then a part of my brain starts to resist . . .
I don’t want to be counseling people. I am not qualified. I’m not a clinical psychologist. I’m a *research* psychologist -- a scientist. People who need professional counseling shouldn’t look to me.
Then the other part of my brain says, “Hey, BJ. Your new method for weakening habits has potential. If it works, you could help a lot of people. So suck it up and get going.”
So I took the first few steps -- Writing this post, and creating a form where you can sign up: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/14Y3QOJxq5ZQJsGnUUM7M5hc7kha1BeULQBMycKoRun4/viewform?usp=send_form
Please set your expectations low. I can’t get to this project for a while. But I know I will someday. The more people who sign up to test my method (the bigger the demand), the faster I’ll get started.
BJ’s note February 15, 2015 1:17 pm
When people complete the 5-day session of Tiny Habits, they often ask me, “What’s next?”
To this point in time, my answer has been pretty lame: You can repeat the 5-day session now or later. You can practice adding new habits, growing existing habits, or getting good at celebrations. I asked people to practice on their own, because we didn’t have “next step” courses to guide them.
But now we do (or we almost do).
We are inviting people to get on the “early bird” list for a new set of courses in Tiny Habits.
My favorite right now is something we’ll call the Tiny Habits Blitz. In this 5-day session, you will work on creating 12 habits at once. Yes, the Blitz can be a challenge. But it’s entirely possible. I predict that most people doing the Blitz will succeed at most of the 12.
The point of Blitz won’t be to create 12 new habits. Instead, the real purpose is to get lots of experience using the Tiny Habits method. By pushing yourself to 12 habits, and not just 3, you will learn things about yourself and about how habits work.
To get on the “early bird” list for Blitz and other offerings, go here:
BJ’s note February 8, 2015 9:25 am
Warning: This post has little to do with Tiny Habits. So you can skip to the next one, if you want. Otherwise, you can get a glimpse into my thoughts on this Sunday morning . . .
I woke up this morning with an urge to do pull-ups in my garage. I realize this probably sounds weird, but it’s the truth.
I’m 51 years old, and I try to stay active. These days I mostly exercise in my garage, hike by the river, or bike around town. (And yes . . . I have all sorts of fitness and movement devices around my house too, like a kettlebell in my bathroom.)
The best and hardest workouts happen in my garage. My favorite thing in the garage is my custom pull-up bar. I’m 6’3”. I can reach 8’8” while standing (good for changing lightbulbs! -- bad for traveling in planes). The typical doorway pullup bar is far from ideal, so I installed a pullup bar in the garage to fit me exactly.
Today, I can probably do 10 or 12 full-extension pull-ups (all the way up, all the way down). Maybe I can only do 10. I’m not sure. And that’s why I had the urge this morning to go out to the garage. I want to see where I stand.
I hope to do 15 pull-ups soon.
The difference between 10 pull-ups and 15 is big. Really big. It’s like the difference between running an 8-minute mile and a 6-minute mile. You are not going to get from 8 to 6 without some serious training.
The first time I remember doing 15 pull-ups was in 9th grade. I was a skinny, bookish kid in Fresno. I had set my sights on being my high school class valedictorian. I knew that would mean getting perfect grades for four years. I had to get an A in every class, including P.E.
To get an A in his infamous 9th-grade P.E. class, Coach Obradovich required you to do 15 pull-ups and meet a bunch of other fitness requirements. I could do all the other stuff -- the mile run, the sprints, the sit-ups, the pushups -- but the pull-ups were tough. Actually, very few kids could reach 15. But I had to get there or my hopes of being valedictorian would be gone.
So I trained, pushing myself each P.E. period. By the time the final test came, I got all 15 done. Whew.
Now, at 51, I want to be able to do 15 pull-ups again. Just for fun, I suppose. Later today, if things go as I plan, I’ll warm up, and see how I do. Maybe I’ll turn on the video camera (and maybe post the video here - ? )
I’m pretty sure I can get to 10 pull-ups today. I’ll be happy with 12. To achieve 15 I probably have six weeks of steady work, without getting injured along the way. We’ll see.
UPDATE: I warmed up and then maxed out on pull-ups. How many did I do? Check out the video at the very bottom of http://bjfogg.org/ Note, I’ve been doing Tiny Habits for almost four years. I could not have done this at the start.
(Some people asked about valedictorian thing. Yeah, I made it. But getting there was tons of work and deprivation. I routinely hid from my parents and friends in the Fresno County Library so I could do homework. In the end, the valedictorian title was simply not worth the price I paid. Sliver lining --> I learned a big lesson: Don’t be afraid to revise your plans as you go along.)
BJ’s note February 1, 2015 3:53pm
Instead of writing something, I want to mix it up. Check out this video I made recently about how baby steps, when done well, leads to bigger changes.
Email me your thoughts on this -- both the content and the format. I’d love to get your feedback. bjfogg at stanford.edu
Note: One of my students suggested you read BehaviorModel.org to understand the video better. (Thx, Andrew)
BJ’s note January 19, 2015 10:49am
Here’s what I emailed to my Stanford Lab members today. It’s not directly related to Tiny Habits, but it does explain about how behavior works. I admit it’s sorta long so you may want to skip to the next entry. However, if you’re interested in stuff going on in my lab, then keep reading . . .
Our lab’s focus in 2015 is “Change Together.” So the content below (and an assignment I gave lab members this week) helps break new ground in understanding how social dynamics can influence the behavior of an individual.
Ways that Social Changes Behavior
Most people assume that adding a social element to behavior change is all about boosting motivation. That’s only partially true. Yes, a social component can add motivation. But for me, that’s the least interesting use of social. I find three other ways to be more interesting.
As you know, my Behavior Model states that behavior happens only when three things come together at the same moment: B=MAT.
Social can elevate M — motivation. You probably know lots of examples in this area. So let’s move on . . .
Social can also function to boost A — our ability (make the behavior easier). Below are a few examples how this can work.
- First example: I can watch someone make a green smoothie. From watching them, I learn techniques for doing this behavior. It becomes easier for me to do.
- Next example: Suppose I’m walking through a forest and find a trail, made by people hiking before me. If I get on the trail, then the behavior of walking through the forest gets easier. Social can change the environment to make things easier to do.
- One more example: If a crossfit coach gives me step by step guidance for doing kettle bell lifts (where to put my feet, how to flex at the hips, etc), then that behavior gets easier to do.
Note that in the three examples above, social did not boost motivation. It made the behavior easier.
Now, let’s move on to T — the trigger.
Our social environment can trigger us to do behaviors. By trigger, I mean a prompt or reminder.
- For example, on Thursday I may see my neighbor rolling her trashcan out to the street. Seeing this makes me think, “Oh yeah, Friday is garbage day.” The action of someone in my social world reminds me to take my trashcan out as well. A similar example is when you see a Friend 1 wish Friend 2 happy bday on Facebook by posting on the Wall. See that post may make you think: “Oh yeah . . . It’s Friend 2’s bday.” And then you also post a birthday greeting.
The related examples above I call the “Oh, yeah” social trigger. Social reminds you to do something you intended to do already.
- The other type of social trigger I call the “Why not” social trigger. Here’s an example: You are traveling on a plane, and you have a window seat. The passenger in front of you pulls down her window shade so she can watch TV better. You see this action and think, “Why not?” And you pull down your shade as well.
In these examples social isn’t boosting motivation. It’s reminding or prompting you to do something. Social is serving as a trigger.
There’s one more way social functions, and in some ways this is my favorite: Social can specify behaviors; it can point out a B we didn’t think of before.
- Here’s an example: Suppose I’m shopping for leafy greens at the store. I look at various options (mustard greens, kale, etc.), and I’m not sure what to pick. I see another shopper tear off small bits of the leaves, and he tastes them. He selects the greens he wants and leaves. After seeing him do this behavior, I then decide to follow suit. I sample bits of the leafy greens.
The nibbling shopper didn’t motivate me to sample greens. Instead, his actions articulated a new behavior option for me. He defined the B in B= MAT.
I’m pretty fascinated by how social can suggest behaviors to us. Certainly researchers like Bandura have demonstrated how modeling can change our behavior. In his research, I think modeling serves both B (here’s a behavior I could be doing!) and A (I learn how to do the behavior by watching).
My specific point here is that social can do more than boost motivation.
The larger point is this: Whatever behavior issue you face, you can understand it more clearly by looking through the lens of the Fogg Behavior Model.
I hope this helps you.
BJ’s note January 17, 2015 2:35pm
[I’m listening to 80s dance music as I write this. Go Michael!]
This week I got a few people worked up on Twitter. (Oops)
You know how people write reminders on Post-Its® and stick them all over -- on the computer screen, the fridge, and more? Yep, I’m against that practice.
Once in a while a habiteer (someone doing Tiny Habits) emails me to say they are using sticky notes to remind to do their new habits. I write back something like this: “Well, you can do that if you want. But please recognize this is not the Tiny Habits method.”
As you know, in the Tiny Habits method you use an existing routine to be your reminder for the new tiny behavior. You don’t use sticky notes.
I wanted a compelling way to explain why, so an idea struck me a few days ago,. I posted this to Twitter:
Of course, I’m not criticizing the brand Post-Its. I use lots and lots of the 3M products. I’m pointing out that this isn’t the best way to practice (or learn) habit formation.
On the same day I posted that tweet, I coincidentally launched a “Change Lesson” that was all about labeling where things should get stored. The exercise is to find five homeless objects that are cluttering your home and identify a spot for storing them. But more than that, I told my students to use a label to show what object that belongs in that space.
In doing this exercise myself, I found a spot for bike helmets cluttering the garage. I created a home for them, by installing hooks and putting labels by the hooks.
People might think that sticky notes and labels are the same. But they are not. They serve different purposes.
You can see this by looking at behavior through the Fogg Behavior Model. In this model, I say that behavior happens only when three things comes together at the same moment: motivation, ability, and trigger. You write it like this B = MAT.
Sticky reminders function as T -- the trigger -- in my model. People post them to prompt themselves to do something.
Here’s where things go really wrong: When they post lots of sticky notes, they have lots of triggers in their office or kitchen. These triggers are present all the time. That’s bad design. It’s like someone constantly reminding you to do something.
Triggers should occur at the right moment -- when someone is both able and motivated to do a behavior (when A and M are both present). When you trigger someone when the timing is wrong (when A or M isn’t sufficient), you don’t get the behavior to happen. Instead, you cause either frustration or annoyance, or both.
Now let’s turn to labels.
[Music playing now: “Stir it Up” by Bob Marley]
In my Change Lesson I had people use labels to define a behavior: Where to store an object. In this case the label isn’t a trigger; it’s not the T in my model. Instead (and this is really important), the label serves to specify the behavior -- it is the B in B=MAT.
And that’s the point of my Change Lesson. Sometimes you can get behavior to happen -- even habits to form -- by simply getting specific about the behavior. Define the B. And that’s what labels are doing.
Below is a picture from my garage. I’ve labeled where this helmet goes.
This is not a trigger. It’s not prompting me to put the helmet there. It’s serving to define the behavior for me and others: This is where the bike helmet goes.
When you make the target behavior clear and specific, the behavior can quickly become a habit.
The four minutes I invested installing hooks and posting labels has resulted in a cleaner garage, as well as a few new habits.
[Song playing now: Gotta Give It Up by Marvin Gaye]
BJ’s note January 7, 2015 12:31pm
At some point I need to explain more clearly why the celebration part matters. If you want to create a habit, the celebration is not optional. The positive emotion you feel right after doing the behavior is what helps you remember to do the behavior again in the future. My headline: Emotions create habits.
Hmm. Maybe I’ll take this new approach. Please say this outloud three times right now: “Emotions create habits.”
Let me explain more . . .
Firing off a positive emotion on demand is a skill. In Tiny Habits I call that skill “celebration.” If you don’t have the skill of celebration, then practice to build it.
You need to find a celebration that feels natural to you. It can’t make you feel stupid or awkward. Those feelings set you back. It needs to create a positive emotion inside of you.
Find what you do naturally to celebrate and then start applying it in Tiny Habits.
Okay . . . I’m writing more than I thought, but let me give you a technique. Imagine that you’re shooting a basketball from half court. If you make a basket, you get $5000. Well, you throw the ball . . . and it goes in!
At that moment, what is your reaction?
That reaction is a natural celebration for you. Note it. And use that celebration immediately after doing your new tiny behaviors.
You probably have a variety of celebrations that are natural and effective for you. Watch for them. And use them to create habits.
The celebration skill is to be able to effectively hack your brain (via firing off emotions on demand) so the new behavior becomes more automatic.
Anyway, now I’ll return to what I was planning to post today. Below are some comments people emailed back to me yesterday:
- This is actually fun to do and look forward to.
- The Tiny Habits method is certainly is a very powerful tool for behavioral change.
- Thanks BJ. I'm loving it, sharing it with lots of folks, and integrating it with my Physical Therapy clients. Thanks for sharing what you do!
- Still going strong! :-)
- 6 moments of awesomeness today :)
- I’ve always had "overachievement syndrome", maybe that's the primary reason why certain things have never stuck with me
- I'm loving the "I'm awesome!" moments.
BJ’s note January 6, 2015 10:03 am
The start of a new year brings many people to Tiny Habits. This year was bigger than ever. In fact, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with so many registrations.
When that happens, I think this: “Here are all these people who want to make their lives better, and I have a method that can help them. Okay, let’s do this . . . ”
In previous years, I capped enrollment each week. That meant some people needed to wait 5 or more weeks. Not ideal. You are here because you want to change now, not in 5 weeks.
So for now I won’t cap enrollment. I’ll try to be responsive to your questions and concerns. If you get a lame response from me (or no response), please be patient. I’m running a lab at Stanford, preparing to teach a new course, training industry innovators in behavior design, and helping people build their companies. Oh, and I’m trying to have a life. Tiny Habits is on top of all that.
I really like all the work I do. Yet sometimes it’s a bit much, and I can’t do everything right away.
It’s also why I haven’t posted here in a few months. But I have posted some good stuff to Twitter, mostly insights about how human behavior works.
BJ’s note November 17, 2015 4:03 pm
I never tire of how excited people get when they see evidence they can indeed change their behavior. Some of these people email me. Below are some anonymized samples:
- I feel a more hopeful about the future..a greater sense of control over myself. Thank you Dr Fogg!
- I can hardly believe how simple it is and that it works! Thank you for sharing your insights and wisdom.
- These three simple things naturally invigorated me to start making changes in other areas. I started feeling less like I was held captive by habits and more like a creator of my habits. This spilled over into other areas of my life in a nice way.
BJ’s note: August 23, 2014 11:51 am
I’m preparing to give a TED talk in Maui in about 30 days. My talk focus will be on the power of tiny changes.
I won’t talk too much about Tiny Habits, because it’s taboo to promote products or services in a TED talk. But I will explain why making tiny changes is powerful. I will also share five tiny behaviors that have powerful results. I’ll challenge the audience to try at least one of these tiny behaviors for themselves.
For example, here’s a Tiny Habit recipe I’ll offer the audience: “After I touch my feet on the floor in morning, I will say ‘It’s going to be a great day’ “
As you’ve probably seen, I offer this recipe as a suggestion when you sign up for Tiny Habits. Why? Because it works. Week after week people tell me that this simple, tiny behavior has changed the course of their day and their week.
I confess: This is not my favorite example, because it strikes some people as hippy-dippy California-psycho-babble. A lot of skeptical people do Tiny Habits, and this recipe probably makes them think I’m a loopy.
I might be skeptical too if I were reading about Tiny Habits for the first time. But I’ve seen the power of this recipe in my life. And more important, I get results week after week that shows this works very well.
My favorite example I’ll share at TED? Probably this one --> “After I pee, I will do two pushups”
That example is also weird. But it’s weird in a way that matches me.
Also, as people do pushups throughout their day, they start to see tangible results within the week. But that’s not all: Doing pushups seems to be the “gateway” exercise to doing more. And that’s what gives “two pushups” surprising power.
BJ’s note: August 8, 2014 5:33 pm
July was a crazy busy month. I traveled to 11 states, mostly to teach people about behavior change. Wow.
I kept teaching Tiny Habits via email. I had our coaches in training help as well.
Each week I measure the results. My semi-automated program does really well. But people who work with a personal coach (someone we’re training, or someone we’ve certified) get even better results. One of these days I’ll pull the data and show the comparison. But in either situation approach works. So that’s good.
BJ’s note: Juiy 6, 2014 4:59 pm
We’ve been busy training new coaches in Tiny Habits and getting them ready to specialize in one area. So a lot of my attention has been there the last few weeks.
BJ’s note: May 3, 2014 11:39 am
I’m very excited about this . . .
After a bunch of work, we launched something new: We are now offering Tiny Habit Specialty Topics, such as Tiny Habits for Productivity and Tiny Habits for Happiness.
When I posted these options online, I tweeted once about it. Within 48 hours, over 200 people signed up, and I had to close registration.
Our five Specialty coaches, who are certified in the Tiny Habits method, will blaze trails in our pilot.
In the coming week, the Specialists will work with habiteers (that’s what we call people who are learning Tiny Habits). And they will coach them for five days. After it’s over, we’ll evaluate the results.
I’m hoping that the results are better than the generic program. That might be tough. Because the generic program has very good outcomes. But I’d expect that working with a specialist on a specific topic would be even better.
BJ’s note: March 30, 2014 11:35pm
About half of the people doing Tiny Habits have a hard time with the celebration step. I wish this were easier for people. Why? Because that’s how you make your new behavior automatic: You fire off positive emotions right after you’re doing the behavior (or while you’re doing it). That’s the role of celebration.
We have many ways in our culture to tell ourselves we’ve done a bad job. But we don’t have many ways to say, “Good for me!” And I think that’s why celebration strikes people as awkward or unnatural.
You DO have a celebration. You may not call it that, and you may not yet recognize what you do to self-reinforce. But if you’re reading this optional stuff in my sandbox, I guarantee you have a celebration. This has helped you achieve. It’s helped go beyond the minimum requirements.
To find your natural celebration, imagine yourself in a big tennis match. To win the final point, you hit an excellent shot. Imagine that scene vividly. What is your natural reaction?
The answer should give you a clue about what celebration is natural for you.
I have many celebration types I use, from physical movement to phrases to sound effects. I see it as a collection I can draw from to fit the occasion.
I predict that in 5 years this idea of self-celebrating won’t seem weird. It will start to become the norm for people who are interested in improving their lives.
BJ’s note: March 2, 2014 12:10pm
If you change someone’s identity, you can also change his or her behavior. I’ve known this for a long time. For example, if you give someone a title (like prison guard), that person behaves differently. If you assign people to a team, they behave in team-like ways (more cooperative and self-sacrificing).
What’s been less clear is the most practical way to help someone shift identity. For example, consider this shift --> Two months ago Jennifer saw herself this way: “I’m unhealthy and stuck.” Today, she sees herself in a new way: “I’m the type of person who takes care of my health -- and getting better all the time.”
As an experimental psychologist (a scientist), I don’t have training or practice counseling people in a clinical setting. However, Tiny Habits has pulled me into the world of helping people change. After working with over 20,000 individuals, I’ve gained many insights into the process.
Here’s one clear pattern I’ve seen: When people succeed with a new health behavior, they start doing other health behaviors. For example, if you start flossing one tooth each day (and you recognize this as a success), your new behavior will have ripple effects. You will start doing additional healthy behaviors without any prompting.
It’s easy to call this a “ripple effect.” But that term doesn’t explain what’s going on.
I haven’t tested the mechanism (what causes the change) in an experiment, but here’s my strong sense . . .
Successfully flossing one tooth changes how you see yourself. Each day, as you watch yourself floss, you give yourself evidence that you are the type of person who cares for your health. You also see you’re a person who can change, who can bring new habits into your life. As a result of this evidence, part of your identity shifts.
I believe a shift in identity leads to the ripple effects I see each week.
In Tiny Habits you don’t shift because you read my stuff or watched a video. You shift because of your own actions. But it’s not just doing actions: It’s YOU watching YOURSELF succeed, almost like you’re someone else observing and drawing conclusions. I have a sense that’s key. Seeing yourself perform new behaviors shifts your identity. And that creates ripple effects.
What fascinates me is how even tiny behaviors can create this ripple effect. I’ve seen this many times: Flossing one tooth or doing two pushups can be the gateway to a healthier future.
BJ’s note: February 8, 2014 11:05 am
Toward the end of each 5-day session, I ask participants what has surprised them during the week. Below you’ll a few things people said yesterday:
- I'm surprised how good it feels to be creating habits with your method. It doesn't feel like a chore, it feels powerful.
- I was surprised that there is no need for ANY willpower to change behaviour. This is amazing experience and I hope to change large chunks of my life with this knowledge. Thank you!
- Your method is soooo easy and also enjoyable!
- The most surprising thing is how easy it is -- almost scary-easy.
- Biggest surprise: How setting myself up for success to make it totally pain free has made it super easy and frictionless.
- During my life, I have found serious difficulties to create habits. With your method I succeeded with no effort and having fun. This is very surprising for me.
- Biggest surprise? Actually, how easy it is to include tiny habits. I've also introduced the idea to my 6 year old son and he's picked it up easily too.
BJ’s note: January 20, 2014 11:01 am
Recently I renovated my home office.
The problem: A huge wall of books and a bunch of filing cabinets. I felt squashed by so much stuff around me . . . and not enough open space and natural light. Yes, my one window overlooked the river (whew). But even so, my office started feeling like a cave.
So I made a decision: Goodbye books (gasp). Goodbye filing cabinets. Hello more windows and brighter paint.
This renovation took about two weeks. During that time, I moved my stand-up desk and work tools into our sunroom. And I kept cranking out projects.
In the sunroom, some of my work habits stayed the same: I stood up while working (hooray for stand-up desks!). I used the same email tools, and so on. But other habits changed. For example, my old habit of tossing paper into the recycling bin wouldn’t work any more. In the sunroom, my bin didn’t fit next to me (okay, it did sorta fit, but it looked ugly). So for a few days, I tested different locations for the bin, trying to find the best spot. I tried this spot and that spot. Nothing seemed quite right.
Eventually, I tried on a spot by the sliding glass window. Aha! That felt right. And in about three days, it was natural and automatic to toss paper into the bin there.
My habit changed. And it changed quickly once I found the right location.
Note my approach: I was testing and revising. I didn’t expect to find the right solution instantly.
And here’s what I want you to recognize from my little story . . .
When you’re trying to create new habits in your life, the process is a lot like finding the right spot for your waste bin. When I tried a spot and it didn’t work, I didn’t get upset. I didn’t blame myself for lacking willpower or motivation. And I didn’t give up. I simply tried a new spot.
Creating habits is a design issue.
When you’re practicing Tiny Habits, you may not get a recipe exactly right on day 1. That’s fine. That’s like me not guessing the right spot for my trash bin on day 1. So the next step is to revise -- try something else. In Tiny Habits, you may want to make the behavior tinier. You may want to find a different anchor. In all of this, remember that you are designing a new habit, just like you are designing a new layout for your home office.
Not only is this the most accurate way to think of creating habits -- it’s a design issue -- this point of view removes self-blame, which I say is not helpful.
So back to my new office. The renovation took a lot more work than expected, but the effort paid off: My space is brighter and bigger. And now, day by day, I’m figuring out a bunch of new habits in this new space. For me, that’s not a drag -- it’s an opportunity.
BJ’s note: January 7, 2014 10:53am
Last night I was on a radio talk show with Kelly McGonigal and Daria Pino Rose. The topic: How to make resolutions work. We had fun talking.
When the radio host asked me why many resolutions fail, you can probably guess what I said: Most people frame resolutions as abstract goals, such as "lose weight." That's not a behavior. And it's very hard to design for these abstractions. I explained that people need to take the next step: Identify specific behaviors they want to do that will lead to the outcome they want. And then they can design for those behaviors. (I wanted to talk about the Fogg Method and Tiny Habits as the way to design for behaviors, but I didn't want to hog the time. I wanted to allow time for Kelly and Daria to respond.)
Anyway, some key terms from my explanation:
Specific: The more precise you can be about the behavior, the more likely you are to succeed.
Behaviors -- Note it's plural. You will probably need to change more than one behavior to make progress on a big resolution.
Want -- not should. Pick behaviors you want to have, not those you feel you "should" be doing.
BJ’s note: December 14, 2013 10:50am
I've been focusing a lot on the power of "starter steps."
"What's that?" you ask.
Well, a starter step is the first step in a longer sequence of behaviors. For example, opening your sketchbook is a starter step in drawing a picture. Putting on your gym clothes is a starter step for working out. Setting an apple on the kitchen counter is a starter step for eating it.
(I don't know who made up the term "starter step" but it wasn't me.)
When you think of the bigger behavior, the ultimately behavior you want -- drawing a picture or working out -- you might find yourself resisting. It's odd, but I've heard from lots of people about this resistance. Even though they sorta wanted to do the behavior (workout), something inside them resisted it at the moment of truth. Their brain finds excuses. Starter steps don't seem to invoke this kind of resistance. You just put on your gym clothes. No big deal.
Some people report that they trick themselves with starter steps (I've done this too): For example, people tell themselves, "okay, I'll put on my gym clothes, but I'm not really going to workout."
And guess what happens?
Surprisingly often people go all the way. And that's the magic --> With starter steps you overcome your initial resistance, and once you're started on the path, you just keep going.
I'm a fan of designing for starter steps. Some of my own Tiny Habits are starter steps.
But there's one more thing you should know: I don't feel bad if my starter step doesn't cascade all the way to the bigger behavior. Just celebrate the fact that you're making the starter step a habit. I know this may sound strange, but it's part of the secret to creating habits quickly and easily: Be happy with your tiny successes. Never feel guilty about not doing more.
BJ’s note: November 8, 2013 5:20 pm
A few months ago a journalist writing for Success Magazine phoned me to talk about Tiny Habits. I explained the method, and she signed up to do a 5-day session, just like many of you have done. The article she wrote is in the current edition: http://www.success.com/article/tiny-habits
I didn't get to read the article in advance. I didn't get to approve quotes or accuracy. In fact, I had forgotten about the interview. But then a few days before the magazine hit the shelves, I heard from the author, Jennifer Chang, via email warning me of the publication. So later that day I biked to my local bookstore (yes, we still have one in Healdsburg), and I found two copies of the magazine. I bought both of them (one for my Mom).
I biked on over to SHED, sat at the table outside, and read Jennifer's article. I was happy with it. She wrote insightfully about Tiny Habits. And I think it's fun to read.
In Jen's article and in some of her follow-on tweets, she says "this really works!" For some reason, that makes me smile.
The writers for Oprah.com, NPR, and Goop all reached the same conclusion when they tested Tiny Habits. And all of them seemed a little surprised that the method actually works. I can't help but smile, because this surprise is always fun to share.
BJ’s note: November 2, 2013 3:12 pm
I'm not dumping a lot of new content into this Sandbox, but I do read emails and respond to people daily as they learn the Tiny Habits method. It's fun.
A few months ago we started training people to officially coach others in Tiny Habits. Now we're hearing back from the coaches, and they find this same thing: It's fun and rewarding to teach this method. Something that seems so simple can have a big impact. As time goes on we'll have more coaches helping more people. In fact, you can expect to see some big companies train their people and get this method into the world.
BJ’s note: September 7, 2013 2:15 pm
Last week I read a chapter by William James about habits. He wrote it in 1870; it was part of his huge textbook on psychology (which took him 12 years to write). James was a notable psychologist of his day. Before transforming himself into a psychologist, he was one of those wealthy white guys who got educated in European schools and hung out with other thinkers.
Anyway, back in 1870, psychology wasn't the science it is today. They didn't do true experiments. Instead, they observed themselves and other people, they thought deeply, and they came up with insights about human nature. The approach James takes in this chapter on Habits seemed to me a lot like Aristotle's work from ancient Greece. Like Aristotle, James shares a lot of smart insights (but he also gets things wrong) In explaining habits, James writes about the role of the brain and the nervous system, which sounds like the "neuro" work paraded around today as new.
The biggest surprise to me? -- How little progress we've made in understanding habits since James wrote that chapter 1870. If I gave his chapter to you and said someone wrote it last year, you would read it and not likely realize it was old stuff (except for some of the language and examples he uses . . . you'd see the cultural differences).
Why so little progress in 140 years? That's a hard question to answer. And I probably won't try to figure out it. Instead, my work is about discovering new things and sharing them. That's why I spend so much time each week working on lots of pieces related to Tiny Habits.
I'm not afraid to say it: The Tiny Habits method is a breakthrough. I know the name sounds cute (c'mon, can you really take the word "tiny" seriously?) Even so, the method unlocks the door to habit formation unlike anything before it. For me, it's both fun and gratifying to share this method with you and others.
BJ’s note: August 11, 2013 1:30 pm
About eight weeks ago, my sister and I started training people to be Coaches in Tiny Habits -- an official certification program. This is a good step forward. Many people have been asking to take this method further to help clients and patients. And now we have a solution. The bulk of the training is a full day of learning in a small-group setting. This is a super deep dive into the Tiny Habits method to show why it works so well.
Some people joined the training just for their own benefit. They have no plans to coach others. That surprised me. And it was fun to have those type of people there.
With the certification we can teach this method in depth. It's also a way of quality assurance. When someone is officially certified in Tiny Habits, you can be confident they know their stuff.
If you're interested, let me know.
BJ’s note: April 6, 2013 11:15 am
For about six months, I've been super interested -- obsessed even -- with a concept I call "success momentum." I knew this existed for a long time, but I didn't quite know what to call it. A couple years ago I called it "design for uplift." But I think "success momentum" is better.
What does it mean?
Well, it's the feeling you get when you succeed over and over. Some might call it self-efficacy (Bandura). Others may compare it to a mastery mindset (Dweck). But I think it's different from those things in some important ways. Instead of parsing out the differences here, I'll quickly explain how this relates to my 5-day course.
When you succeed on chaining small things in your life, you will likely feel a growing sense of optimism and control. Your successes don't need to be big things, like cleaning your entire home. Just wiping out the bathroom sink can help create success momentum if (and here's what is soooo important) . . . if you feel you succeeded. In the Tiny Habits method I give you permission -- in fact I beg you -- to celebrate your small wins. This has two effects.
First, when you feel good about what you did, your brain will change. It will want to do the behavior again in the future. That leads to making the habit stronger.
Second, the success you feel will radiate out to other parts of your life. I believe this is true even for the smallest of successes. And that's what I find it so fascinating. Wiping the bathroom sink can have a big impact on your day, if you recognize that act as a success.
It seems our brains aren't very good at recognizing big successes from small successes. Our small successes can have a big impact on us. It's not rational, but that's how it works.
The small successes are easier to get than big ones. And you can stack up many small successes within a few minutes. And you can have dozens during any given morning. And small successes (not big ones) are the fastest, simplest way to build success momentum.
Each week people doing Tiny Habits with me report this experience in one form or another. One sign is this: After a few days, people tackle a big project or problem that's nagged them for years. To me, this breakthrough is a sign they have quickly built success momentum. Other signs of success momentum are less dramatic but seem rather widespread when people to Tiny Habits.
I believe I know the mechanism (how it works psychologically) that leads to this breakthrough phenomenon. I'm still watching and testing if my hypothesis about the mechanism is right.
BJ’s note: Feb 26, 2013 10:30 am
It's boring for me to write about my weight loss. But it seems some people like it, so I'll share more . . .
This morning I weighed myself (as I do each day). The scale said I was 171.0 pounds. I think that's the lowest weight I've been since about 1993. And I'm happy about it.
About 14 months ago, I decided to lose some weight. I was around 192-196 pounds. Given that I'm 6 foot 3 inches tall, that extra weight got spread around and I didn't consider myself heavy. But even so, I knew I'd feel better at a lower weight.
So I started a few things toward that goal, including creating many "Tiny Habits for Weight Loss." I've written about my approach earlier in this Sandbox, but in summary you should know two things:
1. I was patient
I changed my behaviors in very small ways over time. I wasn't in a rush to lose weight, and I didn't get bummed when a week went by and I lost just a few ounces. I saw it as progress. With weight loss, I'm convinced that the slower the change, the longer it lasts.
2. I didn't deprive myself
If I wanted to munch on Fritos, I'd buy Fritos (comfort food for someone in my generation). If the brie cheese looked yummy at a party, I'd eat some (but not a lot). My policy was to never say "no" to food I really wanted. But I did learn to eat just a bit -- or to replace what I wanted with a better option (instead of ice cream, I'd have plain yogurt with cinnamon and apples added).
(Also, I never worked out super hard at the gym. I moved a lot, but it wasn't super strenuous)
Then over the course of months, I created a bunch of new behaviors using my Tiny Habits method. If my first attempt didn't work, I'd revise -- and revise more if needed.
About three years ago, I went to the DMV to renew my drivers license. When they asked for a weight, I put down 175 lbs, even though I was probably more like 190. When I got the license in the mail, I felt I'd made a mistake. I should have put down 185 -- or something reasonable like that. I didn't think I would ever get back to 175. Why? I don't know. I just didn't. I'd never tried very hard to lose weight. It never had been a pressing issue for me. But I knew that taking off just a few pounds took (1) time and (2) effort.
I see now I was right and wrong. Yes, it takes time. But it doesn't really take a lot of effort -- at least not willpower-type effort. For me, it was mostly about creating new behaviors, using Tiny Habits method. This means I planned out a new tiny behavior, and if it didn't work, I would revise. So the effort goes into planning, practicing, and revising. It's not willpower.
I'm am not an expert in weight loss. But I am convinced that making the right small changes over a long period of time can help you achieve big goals, including those you thought impossible.
The chart I posted above shows my journey. Note that for the first year or so, I didn't lose anything, even though I was tracking (and tweeting!) my weight. It wasn't until I focused on making the small changes, using Tiny Habits, that the weight came off.
I'm not trying to lose more weight. I'm happy where I am. But in the process of keeping my many, many Tiny Habits alive, I guess my body is finding that a lower weight works better for me. So when I get on the scale and it says 171.0 (10 pounds below my target weight and 25 pounds below where I was), I just sort of smile and think "wow."
BJ’s note: Feb 11, 2013 11am
When you get stressed or super busy, you tend to fall back on old habits, old routines. I don't know if this phenomenon has a name. There are lots of dynamics in behavior change that are not yet named.
BJ’s note: Jan 14, 2013 10am
As you might expect, a lot of people are joining me each week to do 3 Tiny Habits. I've had to stop registration each week because I can't work with so many people. But from what I've seen people are waiting patiently for their week to come. In the meantime, some people get started on their own. That's a good thing.
My method is about practice and revision, not perfection. So the more you practice, the more you can see what's working and what's not. Then you can revise.
Those who do best in my sessions and later in their lives are the people who are best at revising their Tiny Habits, whether than be the anchor or the tiny behavior or the celebration. A key skill is know what to revise.
BJ’s note: December 21, 2012 3:30pm PST
The best time to practice creating habits is during a typical week in your life. The worst times? When you are on vacation, when you're sick, when you're in transition (say changing jobs or homes). In these unusual situations, you often don't do your typical behaviors. When you're not doing your usual routines, a Tiny Habit like this probably won't work: "After I park at work, I will take one deep breaths." Why? Because you may not be going to work if you're on vacation or sick.
Despite the challenges of practicing habits during odd times, I'm going to offer sessions during the holidays. This is probably a mistake. But I'm sure people will want to learn about habits, and I don't want people to wait.
So I'll warn people -- like I'm doing right now. Yes, give this a shot during the holidays. But be prepared for challenges. Once the holidays are over, then join me again. You'll see how much a stable routine matters when practicing habit formation.
That said, a good time to form new habits (as oppose to practicing habits [there's a difference!]), is when you are making a transition in your life. If you've moved to a new city, you must start doing things in new ways. That's the exact right time to figure out what new routines you want in your life. Don't leave this to accident.
So the summary is this: The best time to learn how habits work is when you are doing your normal routine. The best time to form new habits (especially bigger habits) is when you're in a new situation.
Let me know and I'll explain more, if needed.
BJ’s note: December 7, 2012 6:30 pm PST
Have I been running weekly sessions of 3 Tiny Habits for a full year now?
Well, this wasn't my intention a year ago. I just wanted to teach some friends a new way to create habits, a method I'd be practicing on my own for a while. And then one thing led to another and -- boom! -- it's a year later and thousands of people have joined me for one week or more.
This also means I've had new tasks to do *every* day of 2012. Despite my "busyness," I don't regret spending time helping people with tiny habits.
Today, for example, while I was reading people's responses, I noticed how happy it made me. I see this clearly: People are learning to change their behavior. And sometimes it surprises people in a good way. And that made me happier.
About my own tiny habits . . .
The tiny habits can get so automatic that sometimes I forget I deliberately formed the habit. Consider this example: When I dry my hair, I lean over and rub a towel all over my head. (Hair experts probably say this is bad, but whatever.)
Drying my hair is not the tiny habit. Instead, it's a behavior I do after I lean over: I do a few seconds of leg stretches, while I'm drying my hair. It's a good fit. I'm already leaning over so why not stretch the back of my legs? So the tiny habit goes like this: After I start drying my hair, I will stretch my legs.
The stretch is simple. I never go to the extreme. However, I'm sure this tiny habit over time has helped me become more limber.
I've got a bunch of simple things like that in my life. Together they have helped me be healthier and happier. Can I prove it? No. Am I sure of it? Yes!
BJ’s note: December 3, 2012 6:30 pm PST
As I explain in my Intro Doc, I don't specialize in breaking habits. The process, I've long believed, is different from creating new habits. But in the last couple of weeks, I've had some insights about breaking habits.
Let me start with a metaphor: the "Tangle"
Imagine you have a rope that is tangled in a big knot. How would you get out the tangle?
First of all, you would *not* expect to suddenly have the tangle vanish, no matter how much you wanted it so. Instead, you would take a slow and steady approach. And you'd probably start with the most accessible part of the tangle first, then work your way to tangles that are deeper. Eventually, you would be free of the tangle. Your result came from solving one problem, then another, then another. Baby steps.
I'm starting to believe this is a good metaphor for undoing bad habits. When it comes to something like smoking, or procrastinating, or overeating, those are not single behaviors. They are a mesh of interlocking behaviors, like a tangle. And you can't resolve them all at once. You must work on the myriad behaviors, changing them one by one until the habit "tangle" is resolved. In other words, planning and patience matter. Shame and guilt are useless.
Let me give an example:
(Warning: I've never been a smoker, and I've never coached anyone to quit smoking, so this example may not be accurate.)
I suspect that the smoking habit starts tiny and it multiplies. Eventually, smoking is really a bunch of tiny habits, not a single habit.
People who are trying to break the "habit" of smoking (I used quotes because I think we need to have a better word for this tangle) usually have to break a bunch of specific habits related to smoking. For example, smoking during a morning work break is different from smoking with friends at the bar. Those are different behaviors.
If I were coaching someone to quit (again, I have no experience here, so indulge me, okay?), I would use the tangle metaphor and I would have them identify the simplest snarl they can iron out first. Perhaps that would be smoking during the work break. Once you've replaced that habit with something else, move on to the next smoking snarl, and so on. For the toughest snarl (perhaps smoking at a bar with friends), I'd say save that for later, just as you'd save the deepest tangle for late in the process.
I'm going to keep thinking about this metaphor. I like that it helps people see that a bad "habit" is more than one behavior. And I like that the tangle metaphor helps people see they need to plan and persist -- and that each snarl you undo gets you closer. The fact that you can't untangle everything at once is okay. And therefore, you shouldn't feel bad. You should just keep going, seeking a series of small successes.
In that way, my work on Tiny Habits may have a lot in common with breaking bad habits. I didn't think that way a year ago, but now I'm at least going to give it more thought.
(let me know what you think)
BJ’s note: November 26, 2012 5:46 pm PST
I like to try new things. In fact, right now I am speaking to my laptop and it is writing these words down. (We'll see how it goes . . . )
Because of my love for novelty, I find it a little bit strange that I have focused so much on learning ways to create habits. In some ways, the need for novelty is the opposite of habit.
This reminds me . . .
About 15 years ago I had a friend who was a programmer in an early Silicon Valley company. He was extremely driven by his routines. Every day he a specific place he went to lunch and a specific thing he would eat. For example, each Monday at exactly the same time he would go to exactly the same spot to eat the same meal in exactly the same chair. And then on Tuesday he would go to a different place to eat his regular Tuesday lunch. And so on.
I met him at the gym. I noticed that he would use exactly the same stair stepper from exactly the same start time to exactly the same ending time. One day we got to talking, and we became friends. He was very aware that his life was a routine that he would run over and over and over. It bothered him a little bit, but he liked the predictability of the routine more than what novelty would bring him.
In some ways, when you look at what I am teaching here in 3 Tiny Habits, I am teaching you to program yourself. I don't think that's a bad thing. I think it's a good thing. And I don't think it's insulting to talk about programming yourself in the same way that we program machines.
So that will be my final sentence before I click "done" and I allow my laptop to type in these final words.
(confession: I did go back and edit some things the computer got wrong, but I probably didn't catch everything)
BJ’s note: October 27, 2012 1:46 pm PST
After 12 days of biz travel, I'm back home. Whew.
I got on the scale this morning, and I lost 3 pounds. Woot!
The reason: my Tiny Habits.
Despite having food all around me every day in conference buffets and corporate dinners and all the free snacks imaginable, I kept up my Tiny Habits when possible (including additional specific Tiny Habits I have when I travel). And it worked. Again.
This is the sixth time this year I've been on a long-ish trip and have come home to face the scale. Each time I actually lost weight. To be clear, weight loss is not my goal right now. I'm exactly where I want to be. And this time -- 3 pounds -- is probably the most I've lost. But for me the reassuring news is that I've never come home heavier. I must say that during the trip I sometimes worry, especially after those big corporate dinners where the food is amazing and it just keeps coming. (And there's social pressure to not just say "no" all the time.)
But somehow even if I stuff myself at those events, all the Tiny Habits together make it all work out.
On the most recent trip -- for 12 straight days -- I was either on a plane or giving a talk/workshop each day. Yes, day after day. And every talk was different in some way. The schedule was a bit tiring, but the actual teaching was fun. And I really loved meeting people.
More and more, when I speak to a group, people come up to me after my talk to say they are graduates of 3 Tiny Habits. Often people tell me that 2 of 3 habits are still going strong (that seems pretty typical). This good news -- and meeting graduates -- makes me happy.
BJ’s note: October 7, 2012 6:01 pm PST
In a few weeks I'll be testing a new system for my 3 Tiny Habits course. And it's about time!
I've been running this course for 40 weeks now, and it takes a lot of manual work. I log into Eventbrite and download a list of registered people each week. I email people on how to get set up. Then on Sunday I then go into google docs and see who has entered their habits for the week. I add those people to a list. I upload this to a server. And I send another email. And so on.
I've done this while working in Europe and while vacationing in Hawaii ("Sorry I can't go to the beach right now, I'm setting up Tiny Habits for this week"). But despite all the manual downloading and emailing, I don't regret the effort. Not at all.
Each week I get to interact with people (like you!) who are improving their lives. It's fun and inspiring. And most of the time people are grateful. So all that makes it worthwhile.
What's does this new system mean for you?
The new system will allow me to focus more on people enrolled in the course each week. I'll be able to update the "getting started" doc so it's shorter and better. I'll have better ways to suggest tiny habits. And with the new system, you'll find it easier to repeat the course if you want.
So stay tuned.
BJ’s note: October 1, 2012 8:01 am PST
Last week we brought home three young goats -- you know, those small Nigerian Dwarf types. Getting goats was not my idea, but I'm glad we have them. I didn't expect goats to be so cute or so fun.
Of course, I started to train them right away. One of the goats is a fast learner. Her name is Nicky. Within minutes she learned to touch her nose to the end of a stick to get a reward (search "target stick" on YouTube if you're interested). The other goats didn't learn this so quickly. They started to learn it and then sort of faltered, wandering off to graze in the field.
Today, Nicky has nailed this tiny skill. And because of that, she's continuing to learn things each day, while the other goats just wander around.
As I look ahead to the coming months and years with our three goats, I foresee that Nicky will become much more skilled than the other two. I don't think Nicky is smarter. And she's not the cutest. The difference is that Nicky learned a small skill earlier than the other goats. And building on this small skill, Nicky will be able to learn bigger and bigger skills.
Sometimes a small thing can make a big difference over time. And that's the impact of learning to do Tiny Habits. As you learn these skills related to habits, no matter how small, you'll be able to build from there.
BJ’s note: September 23, 2012 3:53 pm PST
Can we talk about celebrating your tiny successes?
Yes, I know about half of you would rather not. You figure that flossing one tooth isn't much cause for celebration. You might think, "Ha! Doing a tiny behavior is trivial. It's no cause for celebration."
But you would be wrong.
Think about it this way: The fact that you're learning to change your behavior is a big deal. Think how rare a skill it is. Think how long behavior change has eluded you. And now you are succeeding.
So don't celebrate that one tooth is cleaner. Instead, celebrate that you have taken another step forward to improve your life. In some ways, it's a symbol and a glimpse of your future. If you can learn to do Tiny Habits, like floss one tooth, you can apply the same skills over and over to many areas in your life. And in that way, you will become the best version of yourself.
I say that *is* cause to celebrate.
(Oh, and on top of that, the emotions you feel when you celebrate help the habit form faster. Your brain literally changes. But I've explained all that in the Intro Doc.)
BJ’s note: September 16, 2012 4:16 pm PST
As you might expect, I've created a lot of Tiny Habits in my life. But one habit has been hard to nail down: daily meditation. Earlier this year, I tried to make this a Tiny Habit three times and just couldn't get it to work. I'm pretty darn good at creating habits, but this one -- meditation -- is like Everest. I'll tell you why it's so tough, and I'll explain my solution. Read on . . .
Creating Tiny Habits is like solving a puzzle with two vital pieces. One piece is making the new behavior tiny. That's easy: For me, the tiny meditation was just sitting for three breaths. Simple.
My problem was finding the other piece of the puzzle: the anchor. In other words, I couldn't find a spot when meditation would fit in my day.
I tried various anchors, but nothing snapped into place. So after a number of revisions, I moved on to other Tiny Habits and made myself a note to come back to meditation later. (By the way, I think that's a good plan: If you can't quite get a Tiny Habit to take hold, change your focus to something else. Just keep on practicing habits.)
Today, I'm happy to report I've solved the puzzle, at least for myself. About four weeks weeks ago (see my entry for August 17), I realized that a good time to meditate each day was right after I removed the last email from my inbox.
Some background: Each morning, I don't answer all my email (ha! that would be really hard), but I do categorize and file everything. Along the way I plan and prioritize.
As you can imagine, the sight of an empty inbox brings a moment of calm. It's just a beautiful white space on the computer screen. One day, I saw this white space, and then -- boom -- it clicked. That's my anchor. So I wrote down this Tiny Habit:
"After I empty my inbox in the morning, I will meditate for three breaths."
This recipe has worked like a charm.
In retrospect, It's kinda obvious now why this anchor works: After I prioritize and file everything in my inbox, I know what I have to do that day. I've set my plan and my priorities. That makes me relax. My mind can be calmer. And that's a good moment to meditate.
Finding a good anchor to trigger meditation is hard. You need to in a location where you can meditate. You need minimal distractions. And so on. In Western culture, we don't have many quiet spaces; we don't have many periods free of distractions. As a results, I believe meditation is the hardest habit for Westerners to form..
As I worked on this Tiny Habits -- revising and revising -- I knew I needed to plant the tiny meditation in a spot where it could grow bigger over time. I want to meditate for more than 3 breaths, of course.. So in trying different anchors, I was looking for a spot in my day where I would reliably have 20 or 30 minutes open in the future.
For now, I'm keeping the habit tiny. It's just three breaths. Usually, I go longer -- like 5 or 6 minutes -- but I don't have to expand it; I don't feel obligated to do more.. Just three breaths -- then I celebrate.
Like my work with all Tiny Habits, I'm not going to force growth; I will simply keep the habit alive and celebrate immediately each day. The meditation period will expand in time, naturally, just like my pushup habit grew from tiny to over 60 pushups each day. I'll be delighted with 60 minutes of meditation. But for now, it's just three breaths.
BJ’s note: September 7, 2012 1:43 pm PST
Last week I earned "Lifetime Membership" with Weight Watchers. Here's how my journey started . . .
In late 2011 I met David Kirchhoff, the Weight Watchers CEO at TedMED. After talking with him for about 30 minutes, I decided to join up and experience for myself how the program works. I started attending my local meetings like a typical person. I wanted to lose 15 pounds, but my real purpose was research and insight. (The things I do in the name of science!)
What I learned about WW surprised me in a good way. The program is all about creating lots of tiny habits related to food. It's not about motivation or quick-fix gimmicks. And it's not about buying their food (which I never did).
I was happy to see most of each meeting was devoted to practical "how to" skills, and many of those were about habits. I used my own Tiny Habits method along the way to create and maintain my new habits. Simple. Painless.
Now, seven months later, I have a few dozen new eating habits. That's how I lost about 15 pounds and stayed at my goal weight.
I've never tried to lose weight before, but I do know that people often yo-yo: lose then gain, over and over. I'm pretty sure this won't happen to me. Why? Because I made a bunch of small, painless changes over the course of months. I never felt deprived. My new food habits are simple and rewarding, like eating a bit of yogurt after I finish breakfast.
This term at Stanford I'm asking all my lab members to join Weight Watchers and attend their weekly meetings for three months. I want them to experience this classic program for themselves.
(Coincidentally: The official weekly publication from Weight Watchers talked about my work last week. My meeting leader was surprised to see my name in her teaching materials. Now my cover is blown, but I still hope my experience at meetings will be that of a typical person, not someone who is advising Weight Watchers leaders about how behavior works.)
[ I write a bit more about my experience with Weight Watchers here. Warning: I wrote it really fast, without editing much.]
BJ’s note: August 17, 2012 4:34 pm PST
I've run weekly sessions of 3 Tiny Habits since December of 2011. And most weeks I work on new habits in my own life. This week, for example, here are my tiny habits:
- 1. After I set out the blue chair on the patio, I will read one sentence from Kelly's book.
- 2. After I empty my inbox in the morning, I will meditate for three breaths in my office chair.
- 3. After I hang up the phone, I will launch Evernote.
Above I've selected three stable anchors in my life.
Let's start with #1: The patio chair ritual marks the end of my work day, and it's a natural trigger to read. But I don't require myself to read much. Just get the book and see where I left off last time. And I'll read one sentence. If I want to do more, that's fine. But it's not a requirement.
Next, I have the ritual of emptying my inbox each morning. This doesn't mean I've answered all my emails (I wish!), but I do categorize them at the start of my day. This moment in my day -- seeing an empty inbox -- seems a natural trigger to meditate briefly. In this case, I'll allow myself to mediate longer (5 minutes) if I want. But again, it's not a requirement. I'm just going to celebrate that I actually remembered to meditate. (My celebration for this is a smile and a happy feeling that I'm on my way to getting this habit nailed down.)
My third tiny habit for the week may not work. The tiny behavior is easy enough: launch Evernote. I've picked that tiny behavior because I want to get better at Evernote. And if I launch it a few times a day, this is the "starter step."
What worries me about my tiny habit #3 is my anchor. Will hanging up the phone be precise enough? Will I want to do something else after I hang up the phone, such as take action on the phone meeting? So I'll stay tuned to this. If the "hang up the phone" anchor doesn't work, I'll find a new one. To start this week, I'm going to rehearse mentally, saying "good bye" on the phone, pretending I'm turning off my phone, and then -- in real life -- launching Evernote. Then I'll celebrate. For this one, I will say "awesome!" because getting skilled on Evernote would be awesome (a productivity boost, I believe).
The process here is all about practice and revision. Not everything will work. And that's okay. Notice that by exploring "hang up the phone" as an anchor, I'll learn something. And if it doesn't work, I won't feel bad. I'll feel smarter. And that's how I want YOU to feel as well when you revise your tiny habit -- you've learned something. In fact, if you don't revise at all during the week, I suspect you didn't learn enough.
That's how I see it.
New note: I'm already seeing a better solution for Evernote: After I find a webpage I like, I will save it in Evernote. Well, I'm gonna keep this revision in mind for later because right now I want to test the "hang up the phone" anchor. We'll see.
Update about 10 minutes later . . .
I rehearsed my tiny habit #3 just now. I did it on all my devices: two computers, my phone, and my iPad. In other words, I rehearsed hanging up the phone (which means removing the headset, I realized) and I launched Evernote on each device. And I then celebrated each time. I found that "awesome" worked fine as a celebration, but I also added a little tune. Mapped to the keyboard, it would be C - C - C - G (last note is a perfect fifth that sustains). This seems a fitting celebration.
The level of detail and planning here is what I want you to do. It doesn't take long. And it leads to either a great tiny habit or insight into why the tiny habit didn't work.
BJ’s note: August 10, 2012 6:25 pm PST
Whew! . . . Let me say that again: Whew!
Last week I looked over the Tiny Habits people had crafted at the start. And I was worried (see entry from August 3). I know that huge habits don't work, and rarely do even sorta small habits take hold. They have to be tiny. Really tiny. But people last week were unusually ambitious, crafting tiny habits that weren't tiny.
During the week people did a lot of revising. And that's good. Not only did people cut small behaviors down to tiny, they improved their anchors, and they practiced celebrating.
Now that the week is done, I'm reading lots of success stories. It turned out to be a huge week of learning. And in some cases, the program has changed people's lives dramatically. One of these days I should pull these stories together so the patterns are clear.
One pattern goes like this: "I really didn't think this would work for me. I've tried stuff before and I always fail. But then the first day, I succeeded. (How could I not? It was so simple.) And then on Tuesday, I succeeded again. And I felt proud of myself. Yes, I had to revise a few things, but I got results. Now, on Friday, I see myself in a new way. I know how to make small changes . . and -- Wow. I think I'm ready to take on some hard challenges I've been avoiding for years."
BJ’s note: August 3, 2012 7:17 pm PST
Oh no! I'm worried about people doing Tiny Habits this week. For some reason, a lot of people have picked new tiny behaviors that are not at all tiny. Yikes. I think I'll see a lot of revision this week. (and that's fine -- revision is part of the process)
I wonder what more I can say in my intro doc to convince people the behaviors really have to be tiny. If they aren't tiny, you won't likely succeed. It's that simple.
For example, reading a page of a book is not tiny. Writing one sentence is not tiny (because you have to actually think). Drinking two glasses of water is not tiny. And "changing into workout clothes" is not tiny enough. It might work for this week, but . . . scale back, please, so these tiny habits live on beyond this week.
But I am seeing some good tiny behaviors this week (whew!): "Read one verse of scripture" (though that one could be tinier -- just open the book). "Fill a glass with water" (hooray! that's a great one). "Put keys in a basket" (becoming a classic tiny behavior). And then there's always the poster child of "flossing one tooth" (tons of success on this one)
So if you've cared enough to read this, then look at your tiny habits and see if you can make things even easier.
BJ’s note: July 14, 2012 3:25 pm PST
I'm finding a lot of this --> If one person in a family does 3 Tiny Habits, others in the home get involved too. For example, a husband gets interested after seeing his wife succeed. In other cases, parents help their kids start new habits around the house, such as tidying up just one thing in the kitchens. And I'm finding that family members can help you celebrate. Case in point: Today a woman said each time she does her two ab crunches, her 3-year-old cheers "Hooray for Mommy!" And she likes that.
BJ’s note: July 8, 2012 6:44 pm PST
This post is going to sound a bit crazy, so if you don't know that I'm actually sane (most of the time), then you probably want to skip to the next entry. But here's what's on my mind . . . .
I found this rubber and wire monkey in my drawer. He has really long arms, with wire inside. I bought it to fasten cables together in a tidy way.
Well, yesterday, without thinking much about it, I wrapped the monkey around my wrist and went on with my day. Later I saw that it appeared the monkey was giving me a big hug around my wrist.
"Hmm," I thought. "He seems really appreciative."
So then I thought about why this monkey was thanking me. That's when it dawned on me: This monkey represents my future self, and that future self is thanking me for creating good habits right now.
So now it's my turn to thank the wire monkey on my wrist, for giving me this insight: My future self will be happy and grateful that I'm building good habits now.
The monkey is still hugging my wrist. And I'm curious to see what happens next.
BJ’s note: July 1, 2012 5:24 pm PST
Each week people email me to say that 3 Tiny Habits has changed their lives in important ways. Of course, I'm happy about that. When I created this program, I didn't realize that such a small bit of training could have such big impact -- at least for some.
When people succeed with 3 Tiny Habits -- and most do -- they are often surprised and delighted. That's a big contrast to the frustration and failure that fill most lives in today's world. So success, even tiny success over a few days, tastes extra sweet. But that yummy tidbit is not the whole story. I'm finding that tiny successes lead to bigger achievements. The feedback from almost 5,000 people shows that over 60% improve their lives in larger ways during the week. And for some people, these shifts are "life changing," as one person told me today. (I say "hooray!")
BJ’s note: June 23, 2012 1:13 pm PST
Over the last 10 days, I've given two talks about the power of celebrating small successes in creating habits. This wasn't my sole topic for 50 minutes, but more than ever before I'm starting to share why celebrations matter. I've done some quantitative research to see this clearly. But what I've not yet studied is the divide between people who can celebrate easily and those who cannot. I'm finding that some people are naturals at celebrating tiny successes. Some of those people love this part of my method; it makes them happy. Then there's a set of people who simply cannot bring themselves to celebrate. They feel foolish or inauthentic -- or they forget. I don't know why -- or what percent -- of people feel this way (yet), but I do know that those who celebrate their tiny successes also are better at creating tiny habits.
BJ’s note: June 15, 2012 5:01 pm PST
As I look over what people have entered at their Tiny Habits, once in a while I see an entry that is far from tiny. For example, this week someone entered, "After I pee, I will do 50 squats." Now that sentence alone might make you smile, because it's just plain funny to read. But as a tiny habit, this won't work. I guarantee this person will need to revise. Doing 50 squats is not tiny. It's a pain. And a normal person's brain will happily forget to remind you to do painful things.
If you're reading this entry, you probably read my Intro Doc where I say (I even plead!) to make the behaviors tiny. Despite all that I say, some people still charge ahead with big behaviors. What more can I do?
So if you made your Tiny Habits truly tiny, good for you! Not everyone gets it.
BJ’s note: June 10, 2012 1:35 pm PST
The response of people doing 3 Tiny Habits last week was amazing. It was one of the best weeks ever. But I still want to make the program better. Soooo . . . . .
In the coming few weeks, I'll revise the current version of 3 Tiny Habits to make the introduction shorter. And I'll test some ways to make choosing the Tiny Habits simpler. And then my plan is to work on Level 2.
The focus of Level 2 will be on celebrations. Why? Because a lot of people have a hard time celebrating their victories. Without this ability, habit formation will be slow -- or habits won't stick. So I plan to invite graduates of Level 1 to do Level 2 and give me feedback. In Level 2, I'll suggest many ways to celebrate. And (I think) I'll have people choose 3 ways to celebrate . . . so by the end of the week, they haver a rock solid method for celebrating.
BJ’s note: June 5, 2012 2:23 pm PST
I had dinner tonight with other keynote speakers from the Persuasive Tech event here in Sweden. We talked about habits, of course. We all agreed that the context around us influences our behaviors -- and our habits. I see so much evidence for this each day from people doing Tiny Habits with me. When your context changes (like you go on vacation) your habits will also change.
When there's a behavior you do no matter the context (in my life, for example, it's brushing my teeth), then I call that a "super habit." We all have super habits in our lives. Most people don't recognize them. These super habits are great anchors to trigger new tiny habits.
BJ’s note: May 28, 2012 7:15 am
Today I’m looking over the results from last. week. And it’s puzzling, in a good way.
By now, I know what to expect each week -- how many people succeed (a very high percent), how many people want to do this again (virtually everyone), and so on. I also know a few issues I need to fix (yes, the fixes are coming soon to make this all better/easier).
But last week’s results were unusually good. This is odd, since I was traveling most of the time. As a result, I didn’t interact much with people directly, even though I read everyone’s responses. Virtually everyone got automated messages from me throughout the week. (Hmmm. Maybe I’m better as a robot. Nope. I don’t think so.)
My best guess is that the people who joined me last wereunusually inspired, probably thanks to Oprah.com.
I expect more amazing results this week. But this week should be even better because I have a lot more free time.
BJ’s note: May 21, 2012 11:00 am
Leigh Newman at Oprah.com wrote a story about 3 Tiny Habits. So a bunch of new people are trying out my method this week. Hello, people from Oprah.com!
Also, this week I interviewed the CEO of Weight Watchers at my Mobile Health Conference at Stanford. It was fun. He and his team are into tiny habits. That’s not news to me, but it was the first time we could talk about it in public.
BJ’s note: May 9, 2012 12:15 pm
Last week I tried a new way to have people report in on their Tiny Habits. It went okay, but the response wasn’t as good as what I’ve done before. So this week, I went back to what worked better.
That said, I gathered some info last week that shows clearly that the easier people perceive the behavior to do, the more likely they are to do it. So that’s good news. But in the process I made last week’s session about 20% worse, I’d say. (Sorry about that people last week!)
BJ’s note: May 7, 2012 1:15 pm
This week I’ve invited people attending Mobile Health to do 3 Tiny Habits. The theme of the event is about the power of baby steps, and I think Tiny Habits helps show how it works.
BJ’s note: April 23, 2012 10:35 am
Last week some people focused on Tiny Love Habits. The biggest surprise was the big impact a little hug made. The hugger didn’t realize that his or her partner would appreciate it so much. I head some really good things back. So hooray.
This week an innovation team is doing 3 Tiny Habits. I will work with their company next week in a persuasion workshop. The goal is to get them familiar with tiny habits before I do my workshop. Our time together will be more productive.
One tip: A good anchor seems to be while waiting for water to heat up (for tea, or shower, or shaving). So the Tiny Habit might be this: “After I turn on the water to heat up, I will . . .” This gives you a small window to do some tiny behavior.
BJ’s note: April 16, 2012 12:40 pm
This is the first week I’ve set a theme for 3 Tiny Habits. It’s *love* habits (I’m not sure why I put asterisks on it. But it seems fitting). Most people this week -- but not all -- have joined up for the theme. There are some rough summaries of who’s on board this week at this hidden page.
BJ’s note: March 31, 2012 12:10 pm
Finally! -- At long last I have a way for people to pick when they want the daily message from me. The default has been 4pm PST. This did not work well for people in other countries. And for many weeks, I just asked them to be flexible. But now people can adjust the timing. I’m glad. And I wished I’d done this sooner.
BJ’s note: March 24, 2012 2:10 pm
I’ve been on the road a lot, teaching people about how behavior works. Despite the busy schedule, I’ve been able to read and respond to people doing 3 Tiny Habits with me. For example, the other night I got back to my hotel room after a speaker dinner. Even though I was tried, I was happy to log in and see how people did that day on their tiny habits. If people asked direct questions, I responded. It’s not hard work, and it’s fun to see people discovering what works for them. On top of that, I always get some new insight.
BJ’s note: March 13, 2012 12:20 pm
A doctor emailed me today. He did 3 Tiny Habits in December. He said, this program has been a “very profound and life-changing experience.”
Do you see why I like teaching this stuff?
BJ’s note: March 12, 2012 11:30 am
For people who live far away from me, I’m changing the daily message timing this week. It’s not simple. But I hope it’s worthwhile.
Also, I looked over the tiny habits that people are doing this week. Most are good. But some are likely not to work. I’ve seen the problems before, and I’ve posted them. I wish there were a simple way to go directly to the person and say “hey, that’s not a good anchor!” or “you need to make the behavior tinier.” At this point, there’s no realistic way for me to coach each person on each habit.
BJ’s note: Feb 22, 2012 11:45 am
Wow. Has it really been so long since I updated? It’s clear that doing this update is not a tiny habit -- and can’t be because it takes longer than 30 seconds and it requires effort. But just the same, there have been so many cool things and insights during the last 3 weeks.
I am good about reading everyone’s replies each day. This takes about 30 minutes. It’s fun. Usually people just send “yyy” or whatever. About 20% of time, people add a note, such as they are going to change their anchor. I like seeing how people are revising and discovering what works. About 10% of the time, people reply with something that triggers me to write them back. When I do this, I’ve found that people wonder if the reply was automated or really me.
BJ’s note: Feb 3, 2012 10:45 am
You need to find an anchor to get you headed to bed earlier. As you suggested, you can create an artificial anchor with a timer. That's okay if you can't find a stable behavior you already have to serve as the anchor.
As for the tiny behavior, I'd say pick something simpler than "going to bed." That can be complicated. I suggest finding the first step in your sequence of going to bed, like brushing teeth. Then make that step even simpler, such as “put toothpaste on my toothbrush.”
So the formula may end up something like this: “After I turn off the timer alarm at 9:55pm, I will put toothpaste on my brush.”
BTW, The "toothpaste on brush" is what I call a domino action. Once you do that action, other behaviors naturally follow, such as actually getting into bed..
BJ’s notes, Jan 23, 2012 11:30 am A habitmaker wraps up his week. He said his most reliable new habit was “kissing my wife immediately after brushing my teeth in the morning. The trigger is meaningful and motivation is reliable.”
BJ’s notes, Jan 21, 2012 19:30 am I’m struggling with how to scale my teaching. I have 3000 people waiting to do 3 Tiny Habits. It’s a good problem to have . . . but it’s still a problem. I’m testing some solutions.
BJ’s notes, Jan 18, 2012 12:30 pm Nancy asks me about behaviors that happen 3x/week. My response: Those type of habits are harder to create. For example, "After arrive home from work on M,W,F, I will get into my workout clothes." Changing into the clothes is not going to get automatic -- or at least not directly automatic. You’ll first need to make a decision each day: “Um, what day is it?” The real habit won’t be to get into workout clothes; it will be to ask yourself the question: “What day is it?” after you arrive home.
BJ’s notes, Jan 18, 2012 12noonish
Just advised someone: If you want to do the new behavior 10x/day, find an anchor that happens 10x/day. There’s a lot more I can share about matching anchors to behaviors. That’s a topic for Level 2 . . . whenever I create Level 2.
Earlier today, I also told someone about temporary habits. I think this is a good idea: You create a habit for a while. Then you stop it once the purpose is fulfilled. For example, once you have a new job, you can end your habit of looking for a job every morning.
BJ’s notes, Jan 17, 2012 12noonish
My own Tiny Habit of 3 pushups is now more like 8 or 10. Sometimes I do 20, just to knock it out of the park. But I do more only when it makes me happy -- like I’m overachieving. Total each day is 40 or 50.
BJ’s notes, Jan 14, 2012 3pm
I’m so tempted to add more content to 3 Tiny Habits. But the feedback I get is to make the Intro Doc shorter. I’ll probably do that in late Jan. Maybe I’ll ask alumni what I should cut out.
BJ’s notes, Jan 11, 2012 11am
Another good practicer of habits . . . here’s what Emily wrote in: “I’ve changed everything already! Changed one habit completely, and changed the order/timing of the other two. So far so good.”
BJ’s notes, Jan 11, 2012 9am
|I’m getting a lot of requests to connect 3 Tiny Habits to the outcome of losing weight. Yes, there’s a connection. But I wonder if I’m the right person to make it. Why? First, I don’t have lots of spare time to do this. Next (and more important) I’m not an expert in weight loss. And I don’t want to pretend that I am. If some expert could tell me the tiny, specific behaviors that lead to weight loss, then I could do it. I’m sure lists exist, but even so . . . Weight loss is not my focus. It’s teaching the skills of creating habits. I’ve learned over the years to stay focused and avoid the temptation to broaden. That’s why in this program I’m clear: This is not about breaking habits; it’s about creating them. Tighter focus. |
BJ’s notes, Jan 11, 2012 9am
|This is a great practice technique. Good for you, Mark:|
“After one of my triggers, I was distracted into doing something else on the way to executing my "habit", although I did not forget about it. Later, I repeated my trigger and executed the habit.”
BJ’s notes, Jan 10, 2012 4pm
At some point, I need to teach people that if you have a tiny habit that needs to grow (such as working out for longer and longer periods), you need to sequence it in a spot where it *can* grow (where you have open-ended time). Otherwise, you will have to transplant it later -- and that’s not optimal.
With this and other material, the issue for me, as a teacher, is to not overload people. But there is a lot more to know. But is it essential? I hope that people learn to discover these things on their own. And that’s really my goals as a teacher -- Don’t depend on me: learn for yourself what works.
BJ’s notes, Jan 9, 2012 12noon
Lots of prep over the weekend to get ready for this week of 3 Tiny Habits.
Some people who are starting this week left comments about themselves on the form. I like that. It helps me see who is doing this and why. Also, it gives me a sense of what people are struggling with, from a spouse passing away to pressure at work. The more I know about people, the more I get committed to use my vacation weeks right now for running Tiny Habits.
BJ’s notes, Jan 6, 2012 4pm
We are wrapping up a big week now. I just sent out the last email: did you do your tiny habits? Once again, I’m sad to end the session. But 5 days is enough. At this point, people should be able to learn and practice on their own. I will offer a Level 2 some day. And I will invite alumni back.
BJ’s notes, Jan 6, 2012 9am
I woke up with this thought in my head: Never feel guilty if you don’t do your tiny habit. Just move on and celebrate when you do. I know the habit gets stronger from positive emotions. And I’m starting to believe that negative stuff either doesn’t help or it takes you back a step. Forget guilt <-- Yep, there’s something right about that. I gotta investigate this more before i make “forget guilt” an official part of my method.
BJ’s notes, Jan 5, 2012 11am
I’m seeing some great tweets about 3 Tiny Habits. I hope to add them here soon.
BJ’s notes, Jan 4, 2012 12 noon
What fellow habiteers (is that a real word?) said yesterday:
- I find that saying 'victory!' triumphantly really does make me feel good. Also- I found myself doing a 'v' for victory
- Interestingly enough, as I work on my 3 little habits, I am finding that my husband is mirroring my efforts. It is surprising how good it feels to be successful.
- I probably need to rethink my anchors, the evening one especially isn't weighed down very well.
- One interesting tidbit...I am amazed at how many tiny habits I have already - this process sheds a light on those - it's really wild!
- I am going to scale back on tiny habit #2 - instead of requiring myself to actually do a sketch, I just need to Open My Sketchbook. The other two seem tiny enough
- I'm changing my Tiny Habit #1 to "After the alarm goes off in the morning, I will put two feet on the ground." There were just too many steps between waking up and turning on the kettle!
- I realized that my tiny habit of changing into workout clothes after I tucked the boys in really wasn't a tiny habit. I can't change my clothes in 30 seconds; believe me, I tried. So, the new third habit is just getting on a pair of shorts. I'll worry about changing my socks, shoes, and shirt later
- This morning I woke up and got distracted by my partner and didn't do my sit up straight out of bed. But then ten minutes later had this light bulb " oh dam nearly forgot my situps" but then did them. I was quoie chuffed that the memory triggered for me even after the fact...
- I haven't played my guitar for a couple years before this. Fun to dust it off!
- My tiny habit of cleaning one item off my desk every time i sat down sparked inspiration, and I cleaned some other areas of my room, since I sat down so many times that my desk is 100% tidy now!
BJ’s notes, Jan 3, 2012 2pm
Yes, I like getting YYY in response to my email. But what I like even more is when someone tells me how they’ve made the tiny behavior simpler, or they’ve changed to a new anchor. That’s a better sign that people are learning.
BJ’s notes, Jan 3, 2012 9:30 am
I woke up to 1200 new people wanting to do 3 Tiny Habits next week (thanks @ynab!). I’m not sure how I’ll scale to so many people. It will work out. Somehow.
BJ’s notes, Jan 2, 2012 4:05pm
I love it when I get email back from you that says “yyy” -- Keep up the good work, y’all!
And don’t let any “n” get you down. Adjust the tiny behavior or the anchor. Or celebrate harder.
BJ’s notes, Jan 2, 2012 2:55pm
In the last week or so, about 6 people asked me how to break bad habits. I’ve not designed or tested any solutions to break habits. But if people persist, I try to help. Here’s what I sent to a former student yesterday:
- The methods for breaking bad habits are not the same as creating new ones. And I don't claim to be an expert in breaking habits. I suspect the solutions are specific to the bad habits. In other words, each addiction probably has its own way to get solved, not a general approach. As for simpler bad habits, each probably has specific solutions.
- Here’s what I DO know for sure: Your context (friends, surroundings) plays a huge role in behavior. If you change your context, you change your behavior.
- My approach would be to play offense, not defense. Work toward something positive rather than avoid something negative. That means --> Create a bunch of tiny habits that make the bad habit impossible or undesirable. Combine this with changing your context.
- So that would be my advice, but again . . . this is not an area I’ve explored. I’ve chosen habit formation instead.
BJ’s notes, Jan 2, 2012 11:45am
A few random things you may find interesting . . .
We have 372 people enrolled this week for 3 Tiny Habits. Yep, that’s a lot of people in a program that is not automated. The challenge is to respond to each person individually, as much as possible. I suspect most people will get one or two responses during the week. But I will read everything people send (that’s easy). It’s a good thing I’m on “vacation” right now!
At least 1/3 of the people are from outside the U.S. This makes the time zone issues tricky. I don’t have an easy solve for this. People far away from me will need to be adaptive and interpret my emails according to their timezone.
I do tiny habits all the time in my own life. I’ve found there are at least 4 types (for example, some behaviors that need to expand eventually [like flossing all your teeth] and some behaviors that can stay tiny [like closing sunroom blinds]). I will explain these at some point, but for now it’s not vital to add to the intro week of 3 Tiny Habits.
This week one of my tiny behaviors will be to open my accounting spreadsheet. I don’t have to do any actual accounting, I just have to open it -- and celebrate. This type of behavior I call a “domino action” because it easily triggers a sequence of behaviors (update items, enter new stuff, etc.). I love numbers and data, but I don’t like bookkeeping financial stuff. So I need to get deliberate about doing a bit each day. This tiny habit is how I’m solving it.
We set up Tiny Habit groups one week in December. It went fine. But it wasn’t vital to anyone’s success, though it was extra work for me. For now, I don’t think groups matter so much. I need to write someday about the role of social in habit creation. Yes, social has a role, but it’s not what most think. Short version: Social is good at motivation. Habits don’t depend on motivation. But there’s another reason social matters . . .