We’re told we can change.
We’re told that a key is to write “SMART” goals. Make them specific, measurable, realistic, and focused on results. Give them a deadline. And, for heaven’s sake, put them to paper because “a goal that is not written down is just a wish.”
We’re told a key is to dream, that “whatever the mind can believe, it can achieve.”
We’re told that the key to changing our life is changing our habits, and that they way to change our habits is to stick with something for twenty-one days.
Except, well, how many habits have you been successful in establishing?
How many of those lofty goals have you achieved?
How many New Year’s resolutions have you really followed through with?
The problem is that all of the good advice on goals and habits seems to only work for other people. And I grant that there might be some AAA+++ personalities out there with megawatts of motivation who seem to be able to do whatever they set their mind to.
But that triple A plus personality passed me by. It passed a lot of us by.
So are we doomed?
B.J. Fogg, a Stanford researcher, says no. There’s hope for all of us. Because the key is not in having megawatts of motivation.
It’s not that we disregard the power of motivation. It’s just that motivation, Fogg has found, is never constant. It comes in waves. And while we certainly want to take advantage of it when it comes and do things that increase it, a much more effective way to grow habits and meet goals and change our lives is to focus on the other things that drive behavior.
Fogg has spent his career studying persuasion and habit. He works with companies to help them create products that are habit-forming. Think about Facebook, Twitter, or Candy Crush, and the habits those products form. These and similar companies have implemented the principles of habit so well that their products have become, for some, something of an addiction.
So what’s the secret?
Fogg has identified three things that must be present if we’re going to do something:
- The motivation to do it
- The ability to do it
- A trigger to remind us to do it
When those three things are present, we act. And we often do so without thinking. If one of those three elements is missing, we don’t act. So if we want to start a new habit, we need to focus on these three things.
But if motivation goes up and down, then we don’t want to rely on that part of the equation. Fogg’s insight is that it’s much easier and more effective to focus on the ability and the trigger parts.
When we focus on the ability, we make the habit we want to form so tiny and small that it’s super easy to do. Such tiny behaviors require only the smallest levels of motivation. And if we’ve planted them in good ground (at a time of day where they can expand and linked to a good trigger), those tiny habits eventually grow into the full blown big habit we wanted all along.
Does this work?
Well, I started Fogg’s Tiny Habits back at the beginning of December. And I’m happy to report that starting new habits using this approach has been easy.
Like falling off a log easy.
For example, because I work on the computer, I know that to increase my health, I need to get at least forty minutes of good, heart-pumping activity each day. But did I start there? No.
Did I start at twenty minutes?
Five? Surely, I started at five minutes.
The Tiny Habits approach suggests starting much smaller. I started with doing one push up after I used the restroom. And it was an incline pushup on the stairs, which my daughter found hilarious.
Yes, that’s how tiny you start them. Something that takes less than 30 seconds.
That tiny habit grew. And I am now doing 60 regular floor pushups each day, plus 75 curls, 75 flies, 75 squats, and 75 bicycle crunches. It’s about 25 minutes of good activity. And it’s only going to grow. Come April, I’m pretty sure I’ll be around 100 pushups every day.
And there was no twenty-one day business. Fogg has found that’s not the secret. Habits can form in just a few days.
I started the delicious habit of kissing my wife for at least five seconds each day. Along with a five-second hug. And then a little more kissing, and little more hugging, and a little more kissing (when I can steal it). Did I mention it was delicious? This is a highly-recommend habit.
I started the habit of daily morning scripture reading. I have tried to be consistent for years and couldn’t do it. But with this new approach, I think I’ve missed three times in the last two months.
I started the habit of beginning the day with a positive thought, the habit of turning off my wireless mouse when I’m done at my desk, and I’ve also made great headway against the mother of all habits for me—going to bed by 10 PM.
I can easily stay up until one a.m. reading, “researching” on the internet, wasting time watching political videos, or Facebooking. Or a million other things. This bad habit is so ingrained it is almost like someone else is controlling me. All day long I say I’ll go to bed only to find myself, yet again well past dark, screwing up my life plans. It’s like some evil villain has me on remote. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to “motivate” myself to change this. All to no avail.
But with the tiny habits approach, I finally figured out the triggers that were driving it. Then I engineered other triggers and tiny habits to replace them. And now my computer is off and behind a closed door most of the time in the evenings. I’m actually getting to bed. It’s huge progress. There are still some kinks to work out, but it’s only going to grow.
I found the Tiny Habits program through my insurance provider. They had an annual wellness check in November, and on their website they had a link to Tiny Habits. I clicked, signed up for their tiny program, and I’m so happy I did.
I’m hooked on tiny habits.
And the cool thing is that you can begin learning and developing your ability to plant and grow tiny habits too. For free.
If you want to change your life, I think you will love their free five-day, three-habit program. It’s there to teach you how to create tiny habits, triggers, and celebrate.
Let me also recommend a few videos. Here’s the best video I’ve found that explains Fogg’s model of behavior and why tiny habits work.
And here’s the best video that explains the pitfalls of relying mostly on motivation instead of bringing in the other two Musketeers.
Researchers say that between 40-70% of all we do each day is driven by habit and external triggers. We think we’re exercising our agency all day long, but it’s an illusion. We’re not. Most of the day we’re running on auto pilot and responding to triggers. But we can change those routines. That’s the promise of tiny habits. And so far, the results for me have been promising. Give it a try. I think you’ll be happy you did.
SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound. SMART goals are helpful. But the key, Fogg has found, is in not trying to eat the whole SMART whale in one bite. Instead, you start with the tiniest part of the very first step. And then watch as the habit grows.
I reviewed The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg back in 2012. It provided great insight about habits, but not a tested program to actually change them. In fact, the author states himself that his book doesn’t provide a program, just a way of thinking about habits. I tried to apply his insights, and, as expected, wasn’t very successful in changing things. But Fogg and his Tiny Habits fills that gap in a spectacular way. Read Duhigg for great stories and insights about habits in general. But go to Fogg for a tested program that will guide you step by step.