Habit change doesn’t have to be grand, spectacular, or a massive shift all at once. In fact, it may be better to start small, tiny, you might say. In this episode, Scott Weingart and I break down the methodology from BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits and give real world examples as to how it works (and might not work).
Tiny Habits was the selection for our most recent book club. We host these every few months and (free) tickets are available only to those on the mailing list. As you’ll hear us talk about in this pod episode, the discussion amongst the community is by far the best part of the book clubs. Our next book will be The Art of Learning by Josh Watizkin.
A Tiny Habits success story [04:55];
- Rob had a coaching client who had an aspiration to be better about stretching. Using the Tiny Habits method, they came up with a routine where the client would stretch while making his morning coffee. The anchor was pressing the button of the coffee maker, the stretch interval was while waiting for the coffee to brew, and the reward was the cup of coffee. Brilliant!
Why it may be better for habits to start tiny [07:10];
- Habits that start tiny are much more likely to happen than those that are grand or involved.
- For example, stretching for 10 seconds while coffee brewing is more likely to happen than an aspiration of going from no stretching at all to starting a 30 minute yoga routine each morning. You can get there, but it’s harder to start there.
The three step process of Tiny Habits begins with an ANCHOR MOMENT [08:05];
- The anchor moment is the trigger or reminder for you to do the new action or behavior. What works best is something you already do or already happens, like making coffee. The more specific and detailed the anchor, the better to tie it to the behavior.
- Fogg recommends using the trailing edge or very last moment of the anchor as the trigger. For example, making coffee is a general thing and a multi-step event. It has a beginning, middle and end. The trailing edge in this case may be the very specific pressing of the button and hearing the whirring noise.
- The concept is that we use an existing habit to connect the new behavior to. But it can take a while to find a good prompt. Things to consider are location (does this prompt happen in a place where it makes sense to do the behavior) and time (does it make sense to do this behavior at this moment and this time of day).
The second step is the NEW TINY BEHAVIOR [10:25];
- You identify an aspiration, like to be flexible, but keep it small. Taking a big bite initially, trying to do the whole thing at once, can make it harder to lock in. So start with something small that is the start of a bigger aspiration. We do the Tiny Behavior immediately after the Anchor Moment.
The third step and most often neglected: INSTANT CELEBRATION [12:45];
- Celebration is something you do to create positive emotions, such as saying, “I did a good job!” or having a sip of coffee after the stretch. You celebrate immediately after doing the new Tiny Behavior. If there’s no reward, it’s less likely the behavior will bake in.
- The celebration is personal because what makes us feel good is not universal. It can be hard to find a good celebration. When you’ve got the right celebration, it may create a feeling of shine, like a smile, fist pump, or thumbs up.
- For some, the hardest part of the celebration is really believing it!
Celebrations that are intrinsically rewarding resonate better from some people than those that are extrinsic [14:50];
- The striving for a goal and the pursuit of it may be more of a reward than the final achievement.
- For Scott, “Celebration that is intrinsic to the activity itself always works. Giving myself a high five just doesn’t cut it.”
Behavior swarm refers to using multiple specific behaviors that can help you achieve a big aspiration [18:50];
- First, you have to get clear on your aspiration. For a lot of people, the biggest aspiration is to find more joy in work.
- Next, come up with a bunch of specific behaviors that can help you achieve your aspiration – the behavior swarm. The swarm for finding joy at work might include: thanking my patients after each encounter, being open to gratitude, learning something new before each shift, taking scheduled breaks, etc.
- Last, assess the swarm for golden behaviors that are both effective in helping you achieve your aspiration and things you can get yourself to do. And then begin tiny.
“The swarm is lifestyle experimentation. You will not be able to predict which things actually stick, and we are really bad at figuring out what actually gives us joy or happiness. So, broad-based gamification and experimentation is the way to go.”
Why temptation linking can be remarkably effective [23:10];
- If you already have a behavior which is joyful, linking that anti-celebration to a habit necessity could be markedly effective. For example, if you have chocolate every night after dinner, you might tell yourself that you’re not going to have chocolate unless you do two minutes of meditation first.
The key to habits is to troubleshoot, iterate, expand, and make it fun. Otherwise, it’s just another thing to do or a burden to carry.
The two things that make an action more likely to happen: motivation and the ease of doing it [26:00];
- If you want to change behavior, you either need to change your motivation or change the ease with which you can do it. Rob shared the example of trying to limit his iPad screen time. He needed the iPad for connecting with his bike trainer, but found he was using it throughout the day for hours on end. His success came in reducing the ease of use by leaving the iPad connected to the trainer in the garage at all times.
- Another example of this is airway checklists in the ED. Motivation by physicians is low for these checklists (yet they are important). So if we’re going to incorporate them in our day-to-day practice, ease of use must be high by having them readily available.
Scaling tiny habits to larger habits [30:00];
- If you start tiny, you prove to yourself that change is possible. It provides you with a little activation energy for bigger habits.
“The engagement of the tiny habits opens the door to possibility.” Lon Setnick
Atomic Habits by James Clear may be even more applicable to large behavioral change [32:35];
- Clear stresses that if you want to change habits, you first need to decide the identity change that you desire. For example, Clear would say that instead of wanting to create a habit of meditating for 20 minutes a day, the focus should be on your identity as a meditator.
Adopting Fogg’s methodology of Tiny Habits can be part of the process, but identity is what changes us.
Willpower and behavioral change [35:20];
- People beat themselves up and blame their loss of willpower when they do things like eat the Twinkies in the pantry. If you want to have the identity of being a healthy eater and to consume fewer Twinkies, the key is to not buy Twinkies in the first place. Fill your pantry with wholesome foods.
- Many coaching clients contend that they don’t have the discipline to make a change. But the truth is that it’s not a matter of discipline or willpower. It’s a matter of structure.
“So much of behavioral change comes from not putting ourselves in a situation where willpower ever has to win, because willpower will rarely win in the exact circumstance where it’s hard to make that change in the first place.”
The psychological concept of streak perception [38:30];
- Many habit apps use visual markers as a celebration in and of themselves to create desired behavioral changes. Long success streaks and goals of not breaking the chain can be motivating.
Using a negative emotion as a prompt for behavioral change [40:00];
- Scott shared the example of feeling frustrated in the grocery line and using standing in the line as the ANCHOR for gratitude. The NEW BEHAVIOR is a mindfulness or Buddhist Metta meditation, counting himself lucky that he could even be there and wishing well to others in the line. The CELEBRATION is the intrinsic reward of feeling a sense of joy.
Shownotes by Melissa Orman, MD