Tiny Habits to make behavior change; Getting started with behavior change; No more thoughts and prayers
This month, I asked my longtime friend and colleague, Deborah Teplow, to guest write the November edition of Tips & Topics. Deborah is co-founder of the Institute for Wellness Education IWE website and among many other educational and professional credits is a certified Tiny Habits coach, trained by BJ Fogg, a professor at Stanford and the “inventor” of what Deborah talks about in this edition.
Here’s what Deborah Teplow shares this month:
What does it take to make behavior change…and make it stick?
If you ask people what it takes, it’s likely that the first thing almost everyone will tell you is “motivation” or “willpower.”
Who hasn’t had a challenge trying to change and at some point, thought:
- “I just have to have more motivation…” or,
- “I just don’t have enough willpower.”
In terms of clients, who hasn’t thought:
- “If only they had more motivation…more willpower?”
Unfortunately, depending on motivation and willpower as the key to successful change is a big mistake that leads to failure. That’s because motivation isn’t reliable (it waxes and wanes over time), and willpower is an exhaustible resource that simply poops out.
BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model is a breakthrough in how we understand behavior change. This model shows how behavior occurs when three factors come together:
- Motivation (M) (want to do it)
- Ability (A) (able to do it)
- Prompt (P) (trigger or cue that says “do it now”)
This model can be represented by the equation, Behavior (B) = M+A+P
Consider how the relationship between motivation, ability and prompting works
M – Motivation
Notice that when a behavior is hard to do, you need a lot of motivation to do it. For example, a lot of people know that flossing teeth is good for you, but flossing takes time and effort. It’s easy to put off or avoid. In fact, just 30% of Americans manage to floss every day and 32% report never flossing.
If the behavior is easy to do, you don’t need as much motivation. In the flossing example, you can increase your ability to do it by making it easier to do. Easier means starting by doing a little bit, such as flossing just one tooth.
P – Prompt
When both motivation and ability are adequate, behavior occurs as long as it is triggered (prompted). Flossing one tooth after you finish brushing is a perfect example of the linkage between ability and prompt because the prompt (brush teeth) and flossing one tooth (the new behavior) happen in the same setting, are related in purpose or theme and happen with the same frequency…and you don’t have to have a lot of motivation to do it because after all, how hard is it to floss just one tooth if you’re already in the right setting at the right time with the right tools at hand?
The beauty of this model is that it makes the relationship between motivation and ability very clear.
- If a behavior is super easy to do (i.e., high ability), then you don’t need a lot of motivation.
- When a behavior is hard to do (i.e., requires a lot of ability), then motivation must be high to sustain it.
- In the presence of both motivation and ability, the behavior occurs when it is triggered.
Based on this behavior model, Professor Fogg developed a method for creating positive habits. The method is called Tiny Habits.
Start with the first two elements of Tiny Habits
Tiny Habits starts with two elements:
- The new behavior you want to establish as a routine in your life (your “tiny habit”)
- An existing routine related by location, frequency, or theme to your new behavior to that reminds or prompts you to do the new behavior (an “anchor” or “trigger”)
You put tiny habits into practice by using the formula:
“After I [existing anchor/trigger], I will [new tiny habit].”
Here are examples of tiny habits:
- After I put my toothbrush in the holder, I will floss one tooth.
- After I turn on the coffee maker, I will do two squats.
- After I pee, I will do two jumping jacks.
- After I open my eyes in the morning, I will tell myself, “Today is going to be a good day.”
- After I close the front door, I will take off and hang up my coat on the hook.
- After I click the power button on my computer to off, I will put my pens & pencils in the jar.
- After I hear my partner come in the front door, I will shout out, “Welcome home, honey!”
Once you start doing the behavior and it’s firmly established in your life, you can increase the behavior and do more of it…as long as you keep it easy to do e.g., floss two teeth, do three squats or jumping jacks etc.
These behaviors may seem ridiculously easy and almost pointless, but Fogg’s research and the experience of over 65,000 people who have used the tiny habits method has proven that one of the most powerful ways to create lasting behavior change are:
Making behavior easy to do; and
- Linking it to something you already do.
Finish with the third element of Tiny Habits – Celebration
The third and final element in the Tiny Habits method is celebration. Celebration is a physical gesture or something you say to yourself immediately after you complete your tiny habit behavior. Examples of celebration include:
- Saying “great job,” “yes!” or “you rock!” to yourself;
- Giving yourself a fist pump, thumbs up, or raising your hands in the air to signify victory.
- Doing the verbal and physical celebration together.
The reason celebration is so important is that forming habits depends on your ability to immediately feel good about the behavior. When you feel good about the behavior, it starts getting wired into your brain very quickly.
- Creates positive emotions, so the stronger the emotion, the more deeply your brain rewires, making you want to do the tiny habit again.
- Is unique to each person. Just find what makes you feel happy, uplifted, successful, and victorious.
Develop the skills of Tiny Habits by practicing
Like any new behavior, learning tiny habits requires skill that takes practice.
- The key to tiny habits is to have fun and play with it.
- Try some of the behaviors above or create your own.
- Make sure to keep it simple by choosing behaviors that would make a positive difference in your life, but aren’t earth-shattering or come with a lot of emotional baggage.
- Note too, that tiny habits is a method to add new, positive behaviors into your life, not break bad habits.
Ready to take the plunge?
You can learn a lot more about tiny habits and develop the skills you need to get the most benefit from them by taking a free, quick 5-day online training program with BJ Fogg and Deborah Teplow, certified Tiny Habits coach, trained by BJ Fogg.
It will take you a total of about 45 minutes (25 minutes to get started over a weekend and then no more than 5 minutes per day for the next 5 days).
You can sign up here for programs in December: Take a look and sign up here
November 2018 has been a horrendous month for California.
With the mass shooting in southern California at Thousand Oaks early in the month; and northern California’s still ongoing, most destructive and deadliest Camp Fire wildfire in California’s history, thousands of lives have been torn apart.
It is easy with Thanksgiving upon us to gather with our family and friends and be thankful for what we have in contrast to the families devastated this November. It is easy to say (and mean) our thoughts and prayers are with those less fortunate than us.
But when I saw and heard Susan Orfanos’ anguished plea, it made me think again on how to react.
“My son was in Las Vegas with a lot of his friends and he came home. He didn’t come home last night, and I don’t want prayers. I don’t want thoughts. I want gun control, and I hope to God nobody sends me any more prayers. I want gun control. No more guns.”
This distraught mother was stressing it is time for action, not thoughts and prayers. It reminded me of a poem by Edgar A. Guest, a couple of verses below:
I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day
I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye is a better pupil, more willing than the ear;
Fine counsel is confusing, but example is always clear,
And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds,
For to see a good put in action is what everybody needs.
I can soon learn how to do it if you will let me see it done;
I can watch your hand in action, but your tongue too fast may run.
And the lectures you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I’d rather get my lesson by observing what you do.
For I may misunderstand you and the high advice you give,
But there is no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.
Thoughts and prayers are real acts of compassion for many. For others it may just be a thinly veiled cover for perpetuating inactivity to maintain the status quo.
For the Susan Orfanos of the world and millions who feel the same way, the cry is for action and real change:
“I don’t want prayers. I don’t want thoughts …….. and I hope to God nobody sends me any more prayers.”