Tiny Habits - The Small Changes That Changes Everything

For as long as I can recall, I have been interested in what drives my behavior. In other words why do I do, what I do? Some call this motivation. Even more broadly speaking this could be in the realms of psychology and philosophy.

BJ Fogg has written a book related to behavioral design - or how to create and remove habits.

I am experimenting with the Tiny Habits method and find it quite interesting.

As I am currently working from home I find myself forgetting to get regular exercise.

Therefore I am not trying to use this method to get a bit of exercise every day - starting tiny.

At the present moment I have been able to do three stretching exercises in the morning 133 days in a row without fail / skipping a day and I have been able to do six static core body exercises 130 days in a row without fail / skipping a day.

  • The first routine takes less than 2 minutes.
  • The second routine takes approximately 7 minutes.

So I started tiny.

Not a lot - but I have been able to do these even when not feeling motivated to them - which I find very interesting. At the present moment the time is 11:14 PM CET - and I have not done the second routine yet. I am tired and not motivate for physical activity - but I will do it anyway - in a few minutes.

Oh, and I also use the same approach for learning to play the guitar. Maybe it can be used for other things too?

You can check the book out here: https://tinyhabits.com/

@Angus: Maybe you also have something to share here?

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Hey, Mark—

I bought the ‘Tiny Habits’ ebook last year and had a quick skim. I’d read most of Charles Duhigg’s ‘The Power of Habit’ and thought it was a retread of the cue-routine-reward process outlined there. Little did I know at the time that Duhigg was a journalist while BJ Fogg is a behavioural science researcher at Stanford.

An idea for a client project triggered (!) me to return to Tiny Habits for its graphic of the behaviour curve. I started reading the book properly and was hooked. I realised how profound the model is.

His model refutes the idea that trying to ramp up motivation is the way to achieve success. Instead, we should (initially) make the desired action easier to perform. I also like how the model illustrates the tension between a positive motivation (‘get up and exercise’) and a negative one (‘stay in bed and read’). Both are at play.

I’ve also used the approach to develop a push-up habit (I’d like to know the source of your 9-minute workout!), take my vitamins and get back to practising the piano. Even a Roam daily notes habit. I’m now adding others.

Interestingly, there are obvious uses for marketing and persuasion. BJ Fogg himself seems like a great guy who believes his model can change the world. (And perhaps he’s right!) Several of his students have been doing that…with mixed results. Two of them who passed through his class went on to found Instagram. Their idea? How do you make it really easy to share pics from your phone with the world. Their simple three-step process (snap -add a filter - post) beat the dozens of other pic-sharing apps that were around a few years ago.

Here’s an interesting piece on BJ Fogg from The Economist 1843 magazine before he’d written the book.

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but I have been able to do these even when not feeling motivated to them

That is the key. Motivation is over ratted.

This is a great topic and one I have been experimenting with as well over the last 6+ months.

I have framed the experiment within the context of control theory, especially with respect to the important concepts of “observability and controllability”.

The main idea is that you can’t control what you can’t observe. Which raises the question… what does it mean to “observe”? (when applied to humans).

I am still trying to figure this out… At a minimum it involves good record keeping (i.e. reliable and consistent records).

This is easier said than done… keeping good records is actually really hard!

It needs to be really easy to write down records even if it means keeping a pen and paper near the places you complete a task. And then transfer that information to an excel spreadsheet later. (… If you think you can consistently remember to do it later… then you have never done this for long periods of time :wink: … don’t trust your memory!)

So in a “meta-habit” kind of way, if you can form the habit of taking good records, you can “piggy back” any other habit on top of that. Just add it to the list of things you keep track of. (I wouldn’t suggest starting off with more than 3 things and gradually building up.)

Some of the things I have been tracking in an Excel spreadsheet, over the last 6+ months:

  • Pushups (50+ a day as I go up the stairs. Not “real” pushups, but I keep going until my muscles fail. It works. And there are a lot of variations you can do to make it harder.)
  • Typing exercises (3 mins a day. First thing as I sit at the computer to start the days work. Significantly improved my accuracy and speed.)
  • When I wake up. When I go to bed

I keep track of a few other things as well. I have found this to be extremely beneficial and have shared it with others, however I have since found out that for some people, the very fact of keeping reliable and consistent records is already too difficult. Not sure how to make it any simpler. (If anyone has some ideas, please share.)

In a paradoxical kind of way the motivation isn’t for doing the task itself, but rather “ticking it off the list” once it is completed. (i.e. keeping a record of it)

I find this whole area fascinating and feel there is still so much to learn and discover.

One area that seems promising is keeping track of things that must NOT be done… (I am finding that to be much harder…)


Just remembered something that helped me a lot. Doing things in a pre-defined order makes things easier. Find a sequence that works and then stick with it.

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Thanks for taking the time to contribute, bvautier (sorry, don’t know how else to address you…).

It sounds like you may be doing the Tiny Habits approach instinctively. Initially, it’s the sequence (and the fact that you start ‘tiny’) that makes it stick. ‘After I X, I will do Y’. Which is what say at the end.

I agree about how hard it is to keep track, and how fallible our memories are. I’ve also found, though, that if I do the habit each day (eg, pushups), I don’t need to track it because I know I’ve done it. It just becomes like brushing my teeth.