BJ Fogg On How Tiny Habits Will Change Your Life
The tiny habits that we do every day have the power to change our lives. Whether it’s getting up early, so you have a moment to yourself before the kids wake up or making time to exercise or meditate or something as simple as a cup of tea in silence, these habits have a profound impact on our wellbeing and also our mental health. Yet, so many of us find it hard to start a new habit and stick to it. We often find ourselves in a rut which we can’t get out of.
In his book ‘Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything’, world-renowned behaviour scientist BJ Fogg looks at how we’re approaching habits the wrong way. He says we can all change, but we need to start small. He also looks at how simplicity lies at the heart of behaviour change and how starting a habit begins with looking at the sequence of events surrounding this one tiny habit.
BJ says that when it comes to change, tiny is mighty. Start with two sit-ups a day, not a two-hour workout; or three deep breaths each morning rather than 20 minutes of meditation. Start your day with one glass of water, and build up to more. Just remember, it’s all about starting small and building from there.
Let’s meet BJ Fogg…
Your book and program, Tiny Habits, is based on 20 years of research and experience, personally coaching over 40,000 people. And your system, which you’ve coined “Behaviour Design” - cracks the code of habit formation. Talk me through the Tiny Habits method and can we actually change?
We can change. That's the good news here. The Tiny Habits Method is the simplest and fastest way to bring new habits into your life and you’re hacking three things to do it. You take any habit that you want, and you scale it back so it's super tiny.
Hack number one. If you want to meditate, say, for a half an hour a day, you scale it back, so maybe it's just three breaths. Three calming breaths. Hack number two, you find where it fits naturally in your existing routine. Does this come after I feed the dog? Does it come after I turn off the TV? Does it come after I turn on the coffee maker? The third hack is how you wire the habit in, so it becomes automatic very quickly. That is a hack we call celebration, where you help yourself feel successful because it's that emotion that wires in the habit.
Tell me more about the role of simplicity in our lives?
Motivation goes up and down over time and we don't have a whole lot of control over our motivation. It will fluctuate and I call it the ‘motivation wave’ – the wave goes up and down.
If something's easy or really simple, then it doesn't require much motivation to do it. Think about the motivation to meditate for 30 minutes – it needs to be high. Whereas the motivation to meditate for three breaths could be low and you would still do it. If a behaviour is super easy, you don't need lots of motivation. But if it's hard, you do need high levels of motivation. I just faced up to the reality that our motivation is not always high, and we can't magically make it always be high. The way to create habits is to make it super, super easy.
At the same moment, I’m trying to get into the habit of getting up earlier because my day runs so much more smoothly when I do and those golden hours in the morning are incredible. But what I tend to do is press the snooze button…
Here's what happens. When the snooze goes off, how motivated are you to get up the first time? What you have in that moment is you have conflicting motivations. Part of you wants to stay in bed and a part of you wants to get up, and guess which motivation is probably stronger - staying in bed. Do you have the ability to get up? Yes, but you're being motivated for a different behaviour. Getting out of bed and staying in bed are different behaviours, and in that moment, you're going to do one or the other. You're not going to do both.
What you're going to do in all situations in your life, is the one that you’re most motivated to do that is also the easiest to do. Unless you apply willpower. Willpower can get you out of that, but you can't keep applying willpower forever.
In order to change that choice, you say, "Okay, what is going to make me less motivated to stay in bed?” Maybe it's sleep more, and to do that, I need to go to bed earlier. Number two, what makes it easier to get out of bed than stay in bed? Well, that one might be a hard one to do, but you can look at like, wow, if I'm less tired, then when the alarm goes off, it's going to be easier to get out of bed. Then it turns out that the piece of the puzzle to solve isn't finding the willpower every morning to get out of bed. It's you rewind to the night before and you design a new habit to go to bed earlier.
Let's say somebody who comes home from work, and she’s stressed. She pours a glass of wine, then she cooks and has another glass because she's getting rid of her stress. Well, yeah, she can worry about drinking too much wine in the evenings and beat herself up for that, but one way to tackle that is say, “Wow, what's stressing me out during the day? What habits can I create so I'm not so stressed and so my motivation to drink wine is not so strong?”
Part of a more sophisticated and effective way of thinking about behaviour is what behaviours lead to other behaviours. Going to bed late leads to hitting snooze. Being too stressed can lead to wanting wine at night. Figure out what's causing the habit and go right to the thing you can change, which is go to bed earlier or reduce your stress during the day, so you don't binge on wine in the evening.
What are some of the tiny habits that you implement into your life daily that really help you be your best self?
Getting enough sleep. Back in 2009, when I was in trouble physically and mentally, I wasn't getting enough sleep. I get enough sleep now and make it a priority. Part of it is just having the household habit of we're done for the evening, let's go to bed. So you want to change together something like going to bed, the way you eat, the way you consume media – it’s really a household level behaviour change.
Next, talking about nutrition. We totally changed how we eat. And again, eating is very much a household habit. If you want to eat one way and other people are still eating pizza, it's hard. It's not impossible, but it's hard. In our home, it's low carb, it's lots of vegetables, and it's sometimes fish and then high quality fats.
Daily exercise. Here in Maui, I surf every morning and it's very hard to get me to not go surfing. I love it, so if you can find an exercise that you love, that's the key. Then I stop drinking entirely two years ago. I never thought I would because in California we live in the wine country and wine is a huge part of the culture. In fact, it is the culture. I just reached a point where I realised, I was done with alcohol. It wasn’t serving me.