I’ve always promoted the idea of starting small when creating new habits.
We all know that we can’t start a new workout routine by running 10 miles a day. That’s obvious. But even if you aren’t starting that big, you may be starting too big.
It’s usually not starting way too big that messes us up, it starting just a little bigger than we should have. Just big enough to stop the habit after a few days, weeks or months.
This is where tiny habits come in.
Bj Fogg, PhD, has started a habit revolution with tiny habits. And people are accomplishing amazing things by implementing them.
I’m going to show you how they work and how you can start implementing tiny habits today. Right now, actually…
How Habits Work
You acquire habits through repetition. There was a myth that it takes 21 days to form a new habit (which is probably true for some habits), but there wasn’t much science to back that claim up. And my personal experience shows that not to be true. Studies now show that it takes closer to two months. That’s not the point here though, because this is going to be so easy, you shouldn’t have a problem doing it. However, since it is so easy, you’ll be able to do it for well over two months, even as you increase the habit. What’s important is that you know you need to consistently, daily, repeat a new habit for it to stick. But this isn’t as easy as it sounds.
The first day usually goes well, and maybe the second…possibly the entire first week while you’re still motivated by the newness of the habit. But how long does it last if you start too big? Not long. Unless you’re extremely self-disciplined, but even then, there’s no reason to make it so hard on yourself. You risk losing the habit.
Dr. Fogg explains everything I just said with this simple graph:
Habits are not created out of motivation. Motivation is always temporary. We’re looking for a way to do our habits whether we are motivated or not. Dr. Fogg has found that way. To make a habit stick, start small and slowly increase your habits until you’re where you want to be. Start with a tiny habit. Here’s how they work…
How Tiny Habits Work
Bj Fogg describes a tiny habit as:
- A behavior you do at least once a day
- A behavior that takes you less than 30 seconds
- A behavior that requires little effort
Part of the habit-creation process is the “reward”. In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that habits are made up of three primary parts: cue, routine and reward. You need something that cues you to start the habit (the trigger), then you do the habit, then you have to experiment with some type of reward. Since a tiny habit is…tiny, the reward should be tiny as well, and it will still work. Dr. Fogg suggests that enthusiastically saying the word “awesome!” after completing a tiny habit can be enough to help it stick.
A tiny habit only requires a tiny reward.
Here’s how Dr. Fogg puts it:
The stronger you feel a positive emotion after your tiny habit, the faster it will become automatic in your life.
It’s important to add each tiny habit after an existing habit. Your existing habit is the trigger. There are things you do everyday, no matter what. These are things like eating, bodily functions, waking up…things you do that you don’t even think about doing.
Here are some examples of tiny habits, combined with existing behaviors:
- “After I brush my teeth, I will floss one tooth.”
- “After I pour my morning coffee, I will text my mom.”
- “After I start the dishwasher, I will read one sentence from a book.”
- “After I walk in my door from work, I will get out my workout clothes.”
- “After I sit down on the train, I will open my sketch notebook.”
- “After I hear any phone ring, I will exhale and relax for 2 seconds.”
- “After I put my head on the pillow, I will think of one good thing from my day.”
- “After I arrive home, I will hang my keys up by the door.”
It’s important to combine the habit with a previously established habit so you’ll remember to do it every time.
How Behavior Works
Depending on the type of habit you’re creating, you will approach it differently.
It’s very important to know which type of behavior change you’re going for. There are actually 15 ways behavior can change! It all depends on if you’ve done the behavior before, how long you plan to do the behavior, and the type of behavior.
This is Dr. Fogg’s Behavior Grid:
This chart may seem overwhelming, but Dr. Fogg actually made it even easier. He created a Behavior Wizard that guides you through a series of questions, and then explains which one of the 15 types your behavior falls into. I highly suggest typing any habit you’re working on into that wizard to learn more about that specific type of behavior change.
If you’re really interested in behavior change and want to implement some tiny habits, I suggest signing up for a 5-day session with Dr. Fogg. It’s free to sign up and it really just requires you to fill out some information, and then track three tiny habits for a five day period. You help yourself by learning more about tiny habits, and you help others by contributing to Dr. Fogg’s research in creating habits. He actually reads all of the habits that people submit, and he explains more about each one (see chart below for an example).
I’ve completed a session; it was simple and fun, and he replies to your questions.
He starts a new session each Monday that you can join. All you do is answer a few questions up front, choose a few tiny habits to implement and then respond to his emails for the 5-day session.
Here are some specific habits people have submitted, and Dr. Fogg’s responses:
As you can see, it’s all about trial and error. Just like budgeting, goal setting and dieting, you have to keep at it until you get the hang of it. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of tiny habits. They’re super easy!
Putting it All Together
Of course, if you keep the habit tiny forever, you’ll continue to see tiny results. The idea is to increase the habit over time. You’re not looking for results in the beginning; you’re just trying to create the habit. The results come later. After you use the bathroom, you may do two pushups. Next week, make it four. In 12 weeks, you’ll be doing 24 pushups every time you have to pee! If you implement the habit of drinking more water, you’ll be doing well over 100 pushups a day!
I highly recommend watching Dr. Fogg’s video about tiny habits when you have a few minutes. They really can change your life, and you can use them in every area. Here’s the video for a more in-depth description of tiny habits:
Do you use tiny habits? Which habit will you try? Share in the comments!