Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything

Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything
Category: Motivational
Author: B.J. Fogg
Genre: Self-Help
Published: 1/1/2020
The world’s leading expert on habit formation shows how you can have a happier, healthier life: by starting small. When it comes to change, tiny is mighty. Start with two pushups a day, not a two-hour workout; or five deep breaths each morning rather than an hour of meditation. In Tiny Habits, B.J. Fogg brings his experience coaching more than 40,000 people to help you lose weight, de-stress, sleep better, or achieve any goal of your choice. …

Book Summary - Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything by BJ Fogg

Key Insights

Trying to change your life is harder than it looks. You may have the best of intentions when you decide you’re going to finally lose that weight, practice yoga daily, or read more books. Jumping in, you make big changes and you’re excited to see results.

Time passes. Life happens. And you’re back to your old ways. You really wanted to change, but it just doesn’t seem to be happening for you. Why?

The short answer is that you asked too much of yourself too soon. Humans are creatures of habit. Replacing old habits with new ones is harder than it looks.

But change is possible. You just have to break it down into a series of “tiny habits” that get you closer to your big goal. Tiny Habits is all about setting yourself up for incremental success. In the end, it all adds up to big changes.

Key Points

Knowing you should change isn’t enough.

You know that it’s important to eat less junk food, sleep enough, exercise, spend less time staring at your phone, avoid procrastination, and do all those other things that you should do. You know you could be healthier, happier, and more productive. But you don’t always get there.

The Information-Action Fallacy is the idea that attitudes and behaviors change when people have all the facts. If that were true, nobody would smoke, eat fast food, or take sedentary jobs. Information isn’t enough to build new and lasting habits.

If you haven’t been able to sustain change, you probably have the wrong approach.

What people do and what they should do doesn’t line up. It may feel like you’re not strong enough and that change comes down to willpower. You think that if you had the right mindset or were a more disciplined person, you would be able to succeed.

Let yourself off the hook. Motivation isn’t the only thing you need to be able to change your habits. Sure, there are people that seem to be able to make changes and stick to them without wavering. You can be one of those people. You need the right approach.

Once you understand that you’re not to blame for not changing your behavior, you can move on to the work of actually changing it for good. You just need to take the big goal and break it down. You can handle it in pieces better than you can if you tried to tackle the whole thing at once.

This approach works. BJ Fogg has tested it over the years with more than 40,000 people at the Stanford Behavior Design Lab. You can change and you can sustain the changes you make.

Small adjustments make up a successful approach to change.

Changes to behavior actually come from three places: epiphanies, environment, and incremental modifications. Of these, only the third one is truly in your control.

Epiphanies come out of nowhere. They are sudden revelations, which may be the push you need to change. But the very nature of an epiphany means you can’t force it.

Your environment can motivate you to change. When the people you surround yourself with are making positive changes, you are more likely to join in. It would be hard to force change on everyone or drop yourself into a new environment.

That leaves tiny habits, which are in your control. Tiny habits can be done in under a minute. They are meant to be small because they’re easy to finish. For example, a tiny habit is flossing one tooth. You start by doing that small thing over and over until it becomes a habit.

Behaviors or actions happen because of motivation, ability, or prompts.

To build new habits, you have to change your behaviors. There are three things that cause people to take action. First, you are motivated to take action. In other words, you do it because you want to do it. Second, you do something because you can. You don’t take any actions that you’re simply unable to do. Third, prompts are triggers for action.

If all three drivers of behavior work together, the behavior becomes more likely. The three parts even conspire to keep bad habits going. Think about something you might want to stop doing, like eating fast food. It can be tasty, which is motivating. It is cheap and convenient, which means you have the ability to get it. You’re hungry and fast food is around, which prompts you to just grab that instead of going home to cook.

To change your behavior, you have to align these three drivers to support the habits you want and not the ones you’re trying to stop.

Motivation alone cannot create lasting change, but it can get something extraordinary done once.

It is amazing what you can do with an extraordinary burst of motivation. A person who has a stable career in an office gives it all up to open a bakery. The alcoholic suddenly gets himself to his first AA meeting. An emergency gives you speed or strength you didn’t know you had. These are impressive feats but they are not the same as ongoing habits.

A spike in motivation will not get you to those long-term goals. These are your aspirations and are defined by some outcome in the future. For example, you want to set up a fund for emergencies like car repairs or you want to lose 10 pounds. These cannot be done with just a single burst of desire. No matter how much you want it, you’re not going to be 10 pounds lighter instantly.

To get from a desire now to realizing your aspirations, you need consistent changes in behavior. These are the small choices and actions that get you to your goals. If you want to save up, you start by canceling a subscription you don’t need. That is something you can do right away that helps get you closer to your goal. Behaviors are the gap between motivation now and meeting goals in the future.

The easier it is to do, the more likely you are to do it.

Aim for the simplest behaviors that can get you closer to your goal. Easy actions work well for creating tiny habits.

If something is hard, even if it doesn’t take a long time, you may be more resistant to doing it. If you have a goal to become stronger, doing pushups could get you there. But what if you struggle to even do a single pushup? A dip in motivation is all it would take for you to skip the task.

On the other hand, using an action that you have the capacity to do means you’re more likely to keep doing it. Using the strength example, you could replace standard pushups with wall pushups. They also build strength, but they are more suited to your personal abilities. Easier actions work best for lasting habits.

Simplify what you need for the tiny habits. Don’t make it a requirement that you have to pull out and set up complicated equipment for some quick strength training. You’re looking for the path of least resistance, which has behaviors in line with your abilities that can be done in the simplest way possible.

If you’re struggling with adopting a behavior and creating a tiny habit, look for ways to simplify. Troubleshooting in this manner will help you design a tiny habit that is better suited for you.

Make positive changes permanent by creating unconscious triggers for them.

You’re constantly influenced by stimuli, often without even realizing what is going on. For example, traffic lights are prompts for when you’re driving. If you see a red light, your foot goes to the brake pedal without you making a conscious decision to stop.

Prompts that trigger good behaviors can help make tiny habits a permanent part of your routine. But you have to make sure the prompt is well-designed for what you’re trying to accomplish. Alarm clocks have poorly designed prompts. They encourage staying in bed because most have a much larger snooze button.

There are three types of prompts: contextual, person, and action. Contextual prompts are part of the environment around you. The snooze button on the alarm clock is an example. Person prompts are built into your body, like your stomach grumbling when you’re hungry. Action prompts are behaviors that trigger new behaviors, like a chain of habits.

Action prompts are ideal for building new tiny habits. You take something you already do and then add on the tiny habit. Instead of having to create a brand new routine, you’re just expanding it a little.

Fogg was trying to improve his fitness with pushups. To build a habit of doing them more often, he needed a prompt that would occur more than once per day. So, he went with something everyone does. When he used the bathroom, he would do two pushups after flushing. Some days, he gets in as many as 50 pushups.

There are lots of little things you do throughout the day like brushing your teeth, making coffee, checking the mail, and countless others. Depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, you can find the perfect action prompt to support your new tiny habit.

Your tiny habit should have an overlapping location, frequency, and theme as your prompt for the best results.

Not all action prompts work for every tiny habit. If you want to increase the likelihood of success, you need to choose the right prompt.

First, the location where the prompt takes place has to make sense for the action that follows. For someone who works from home, doing pushups after flushing the toilet is fine. In an office, you probably don’t want to be the person doing pushups on the bathroom floor.

Second, the frequency of the prompt should be the same as the frequency of the behavior. If you want a positive affirmation once a day, pick an action prompt that only happens once a day. Otherwise, the prompt doesn’t solidify a habit when you only follow the prompt with the action sometimes.

Third, if possible, try to connect the substance of the habit you’re trying to build to the action prompt. If you are trying to be better about flossing, you can anchor it to brushing your teeth. It makes sense to do these in tandem.

Sometimes your prompt doesn’t work for the behavior you want. It’s perfectly fine to adjust. You’ll feel the pleasant satisfaction of the connections when you have the right fit. With the right prompts, you’re on your way to the successful building of tiny habits.

The Main Take-away

If you want to improve your life, you probably have to accept that it won’t happen immediately. Meaningful change requires building habits. Making drastic alterations to your lifestyle will not result in making habits you can maintain. Instead, you need tiny habits.

Tiny habits take an aspiration, like living a healthier lifestyle, and breaks it into one-minute chunks that you can start doing right away. Incorporating these behaviors into your routine creates habits.

Behaviors occur as a result of your desire to do them, your ability to do them, and a prompt triggering you to do them. Ideally, you should have all three of these to build a habit. You’re probably already motivated to change. You just have to figure out what you are capable of doing and what stimulus will work best to prompt you to do it.

The best prompt is an action prompt. You take an action that is already a habit and you use that to anchor your new, desirable behavior to it. If your prompt fits your desired habit by location, frequency, and theme, you have a good chance at cementing that tiny habit.

Each tiny habit on its own may not seem like much. But it is all progress. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to change everything. Just keep changing one thing at a time. It all adds up to the life you want to be living.

About the Author

BJ Fogg, founder of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University, is a social scientist. He specializes in the science of changing behavior for the purpose of improving lives. In addition to individual behavior changes, he also works with innovators looking to design products that help people achieve these improvements.

Before pioneering his methods in behavior design, Fogg attended Brigham Young University for his first two degrees before completing his doctorate at Stanford University. As a student at Stanford, he studied how technology could change people’s actions and mindsets. He named the field “persuasive technology” and it continues to be an active academic topic.

Tiny Habits is Fogg’s fifth book. He has previously written on persuasive technology and digital platforms. The methods from Tiny Habits are part of a separate project involving coaching those seeking to make lasting change. Fogg is aiming to scale it with trained coaches using technological solutions to reach more people.


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