Tiny Habits: The Trick to Creating Habits that Stick
You roll into 2023 full of drive, and decide that this is the year you'll fit into those jeans again. You dig out the Nikes at the back of the shoe cabinet and embark on your first 10km run in forever.
But 1km in... and you're done.
There are a couple of problems with grand new year's resolutions and big changes to your habits that make them more aspirational than realistic. First is the problem of relying on motivation to drive a new habit. Unfortunately, motivation waxes and wanes, so initial bursts of enthusiasm are unlikely to last long, and after they fizzle out, there wouldn't be any other systems in place to keep the habit going.
Secondly, while big and grandiose habits always sound enticing and exciting, they lead not to change, but to burnout. Doing too much too quickly would only set you up for failure.
What then, is the key to making habits stick? It seems like B.J Fogg has the answer.
B.J. Fogg, a psychologist and researcher at Standard University who has studied behaviour change for over 20 years, has come up with a fool proof method for making habits stick – a method and a program known as Tiny Habits.
Fogg believes that habit formation is just a matter of building automaticity. Tiny habits rely less on motivation and willpower and more on training your brain to succeed at tiny, easy-to-do tasks that are almost impossible to fail at. Basically, the tinier the habit, the higher the chance of success.
With that ongoing success, you start to feel good about yourself, and it is these small shifts that create more dramatic and lasting results in habit formation.
So how exactly does this magical method work? Fogg breaks down the method into three steps:
1. Start tiny
The first step and most crucial part of Fogg’s Tiny Habits method is keeping the habits teeny-tiny – so tiny that it borders on ridiculous. He also has three rules for these habits: they should be done at least once a day, take less than 30 seconds to complete, and require little effort.
The example he gives is flossing your teeth. Instead of taking five minutes to meticulously floss every tooth in your mouth, start by flossing one tooth.
Nope, that wasn’t a mistake. Just one tooth.
I know it sounds a bit like a joke, but think about it: because flossing a single tooth is so ridiculously easy, you need almost no willpower or motivation to get it done. Plus, any excuse you could potentially come up with – too time consuming, too difficult, etc. – will have to be thrown out the window.
So if you’ve been meaning to start meditation, sit for one minute. If you’ve been trying to get into routine of strength training, start with one push-up. Want to read before bedtime? Read one page.
2. Find the right anchor for your new habit
Tiny habits are designed to be done right after an existing habit – something you do every day without fail. Think taking a shower, eating, waking up or getting dressed.
In this way, you are using the existing habit to trigger that new tiny habit that you wish to establish. For example, in the case of flossing, the natural anchor for flossing that single tooth can be the act of brushing your teeth.
Though teeth brushing is a natural anchor for something like flossing, the anchor and tiny habit don’t always have to be so closely connected. To build upper body strength, Fogg anchored doing push-ups to peeing! When he first started this tiny habit, he did just two push-ups, and only increased the number when the two became too easy.
Most importantly, remember to reward yourself each time immediately after you successfully engage in your tiny habit. It can be as small as giving yourself a pat on the shoulder or saying “well done!” out loud. Maybe even a little private victory dance?
It might seem silly to make a big deal out of a habit so small – especially if you’re flossing one tooth, but that’s the point. When you exaggerate a little in your head, you trick your brain into thinking that your success is bigger than it really is, which then builds up a positive attitude towards the habit.
Just keep in mind that you aren’t celebrating the results, but the fact that you showed up and took another step forward in improving your life.
Moving forward and staying on track
Of course, if the tiny habit stays tiny forever, you’ll always have tiny results. The idea is once that tiny habit – whether it’s doing one push-up, flossing one tooth or reading one page – becomes easy, you increase it bit by bit.
But remember: the key here is to make sure the habit is easy and achievable. So keep your increments small. Once one push-up becomes easy, move to two – not five – until two becomes a breeze. Don’t be in a rush to bang out 50 push-ups (even if that may be your ultimate goal), because building habits takes time.
Want to get started on a healthy habit?
Here are some ideas:
Meditation: Do 1 minute of meditation after you brush your teeth
Improve your fitness: Do 1 bodyweight squat after each time you put your phone down.
Slow down: Take 2 deep breaths after you hear your phone ring
Drink more water: Drink 3 gulps of water after you use the bathroom