By BJ Fogg, PhD
What are Tiny Habits and why do they work?
If you want to make positive tweaks to your day-to-day routine, I've created a system that can help you make lasting healthy changes. I call it Tiny Habits.
I created this method because I personally wanted to build dozens of habits for better health. I'm a behaviour scientist at Stanford University, and my 10 years of research on tech products has taught me this truth: simplicity changes behaviour.
I spent months exploring how to lodge new exercise, nutrition and recovery habits into my routine and keep them there. As I kept going, my life transformed in ways that felt almost effortless—but I wanted to know if my method would do the same for others.
"Changing in tiny ways is effective, even fun. It works quickly, opening the door to bigger changes and a life transformed".
BJ Fogg, PhD
Nine years later, I've coached more than 40,000 people in establishing habits, and I've gathered more than 500,000 data points about what works. My overall conclusion: Changing in tiny ways is effective, even fun. It works quickly, opening the door to bigger changes and a life transformed.
How "Going Tiny" Works
Tiny changes mean you can wire in habits without relying on willpower or motivation, which are poor tools for forcing a habit to form. The scientific explanation is pretty simple: The harder a behaviour is to perform, the more motivation it requires. To do 100 burpees, you may need a whole team cheering you on. But when you're on your own and your internal motivation sags, you give up on hard behaviours.
To avoid this boom-and-bust cycle, tiny and easy is your better option. Vow to do two burpees a day, and you're much more likely to squeeze them in, even if it's the end of a long day and afterwards you collapse on the couch. You're designing for consistency. And in this way, you'll feel successful more easily. That's the feeling that creates lasting change.
Why Feeling "Shine" Leads to Success
Despite what's often said, habits are not formed through repetition—they're formed based on emotions. When you perform a new habit and feel successful, you're wiring the habit into your brain. The feeling of success creates a chemical reaction that makes the habit more automatic in the future (and that's what a habit is—something you do automatically).
"In my research, I've found that habits can be formed almost instantly if you have a strong and immediate feeling of success".
BJ Fogg, PhD
In my research, I've found that habits can be formed almost instantly if you have a strong and immediate feeling of success. I also discovered that this successful feeling didn't have a proper name. So, in my book, Tiny Habits, I named the emotion "shine".
To get really good at creating habits, you want to get really good at feeling "shine". This is a powerful feeling, and the confidence it gives you will change how you make choices each day.
Putting Tiny Habits into Practice
I've written a book on how to put the Tiny Habits method into practice, and I offer a free five-day programme where you can get guidance from me or an expert coach I've trained.
But for right here, right now, let me outline how it works with three basic steps:
01 Design your new habit so it's tiny.
Whatever new habit you have in mind—and make sure it's a habit that you want to have, not one you think you should have—revise it to be specific and tiny. When I say tiny, I really want you to set the bar low; my research shows this is essential in order to stay the course. So, for example, if you want to sleep better, your tiny habit could be charging your phone in the kitchen, not the bedroom. Or if you'd like to exercise more regularly, your tiny habit could be packing your gym bag in the evenings. And if, on any given day, you want to go beyond tiny—say, do 20 burpees instead of the two you planned—that's great.
"The point: The tinier you make the new habit, the less you'll need to rely on motivation".
BJ Fogg, PhD
Just view it as extra credit, and not a requirement for the future. The point: The tinier you make the new habit, the less you'll need to rely on motivation.
02 Find where the new habit naturally fits into your daily routine.
For example, a new habit of taking three meditative breaths might come after pouring your morning coffee or sitting down on your commute to work. To solidify the new habit even further, write down the sequence of behaviours in a recipe:
After I pour my morning coffee, I will take three meditative breaths.
The routine you already have (pouring your morning coffee) is the best reminder for a new habit (take three breaths).
03 Deliberately wire in the habit.
We know that the feeling of "shine" wires in new habits, but don't leave this good feeling to chance. You can hack your emotions and deliberately cause the habit to form by purposefully creating the feeling of shine.
"With an effective celebration, your habit can be formed in just a few days".
BJ Fogg, PhD
For some people, a fist pump (à la Tiger Woods) will create shine on demand. Others feel shine when they do a quick dance to their favourite song in their head. And for most people, self-talk can create shine—saying things like "good job" or "way to go!" Explore lots of options and find what works for you. For example, to wire in a burpee habit, after you jump up for the last time, you could do a fist pump and say "Nailed it!" With an effective celebration, your habit can be formed in just a few days.
And if it's not sticking, try making it even tinier. Or find a different place to put the habit in your daily routine. Or if your celebration doesn't feels genuine, explore other ways to feel shine.
Know that some habits will fall right into place, and others will be more challenging. In some cases, you may find you don't want to form a particular habit after all. And that's okay. Scratch your plan and focus on new habits you do want to form. With practice, you'll gain skills that will give you the superpower of being able to change.
BJ Fogg, PhD, is the founder of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University.
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