With the new year in full swing, I have been very interested in the topic of habit formation. Accomplishing our goals is very hard and most people give up on their resolutions very quickly. So I’m extremely eager to discover how we can actually accomplish what we have set out to do in the upcoming year.
I recently read the New York Times Best Seller Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything by a world leading expert in habit formation BJ Fogg, PhD. Dr. Fogg’s book got me thinking that making changes and achieving our goals doesn’t have to be hard. In this post we will examine Dr. Fogg’s behavior model and how life changing tiny habits can help us achieve our goals one step at a time. Cue Jordin Sparks song One Step At a Time 😉
How to achieve your goals one step at a time
The 3 Elements of Behavior
According to the Tiny Habits method created by Dr. Fogg, the key to achieving our goals is breaking them down into tiny, actionable habits that require minimal effort. To begin, we need to understand the three elements that need to happen at the same time in order for the behavior action to take place. Dr. Fogg used the mnemonic MAP to explain this concept.
According to Dr. Fogg, a behavior action occurs when we are motivated (have the desire to do the action), we have the ability to perform the action, and when we are prompted to do the action.
For example, let’s say that I worked out today. The three elements that converged for the action of working out to take place could be as follows:
- BEHAVIOR: I DID MY WORKOUT TODAY.
- MOTIVATION: I WANT TO TAKE CARE OF MY BODY AND FEEL STRONGER.
- ABILITY: IT WAS EASY FOR ME TO WORKOUT IN THE COMFORT OF MY HOME USING A FREE YOUTUBE WORKOUT VIDEO.
- PROMPT: I WAS PROMPTED TO WORKOUT BY HAVING MY GYM SHOES OUT IN THE ROOM WHERE I CAN SEE THEM.
Dr. Fogg explains that most of us focus to much attention to the motivation element of behavior. But for most us, motivation is often very fleeting. Instead, we should focus on the the ability and prompt elements to make the behavior easy to do. This will ignite the process of habit formation and ultimately, will allows us to achieve our goals one step at a time.
Once we understand this fundamental concept, the real work begins. Dr. Fogg advocates we should first determine what our ultimate goal is and then come up with a list of actual actions (habits) we can take to achieve that ultimate goal. These small actions will become our life changing tiny habits.
Tiny Habits: Starting Small by Focusing on the Ability Element
When we focus on the ability element of behavior, we should strive to make the behavior as easy to do as possible. Unfortunately, our brains are extremely lazy and prefer to conserve energy, rather than expand it. The path of least resistance is the approach we are striving for here.
So when we are first trying to create a habit, we need to make it simple. Dr. Fogg explains this idea with an example of someone whose intention is to form the habit of working out. He suggests that instead of committing to a full workout schedule and intense exercise classes right away, we should start with something simple and easy to do. This could be doing just 2 push-ups a day or taking a 5 minute walk. Most of us would be able to find the time and have the ability to do two push-ups or take a leisurely 5 minute stroll.
Dr. Fogg suggests that each time we do this simple habit consistently we can celebrate our success. This engrains the habit in our brain as something good and worth repeating.
Another important point to touch on here is the concept of repetition. Repetition helps to rewire our brains and is one of the key ideas behind the principle of brain neuroplasticity. (Neuroplasticity of the brain refers to the idea that we can modify our brains and neuron networks through our experiences and habits). When we become a disciplined person by consistently performing our tiny habits, we send a clear message to our brain. The message is that we are capable, disciplined and that we don’t give up.
Once we have our tiny habit hardwired in our brains, we can add on additional tiny habits that will help us achieve our ultimate goal. This way we will start to see life changing results. Going back to the intention of getting more fit, once we have mastered the 5 minute stroll or a quick set of push-ups, we can easily add on additional time to the workout or a more intense version.
Remember, it’s all about starting small. And once you are in the habit of doing something, even something tiny, you will continue to perform the action and start seeing results. You will learn discipline and effort. Both are essential to accomplishing your goals.
Forming Tiny Habits with Automatic Prompts
One easy way to form habits that will help us achieve our goals is to set up automatic prompts. As I mentioned before, prompts alert us to do the behavior. To form long lasting habits that will help us achieve our goals, we can easily set reminders that will notify us to do the habit.
For example, if our goal is to become fit, we need to create tiny habits that will help us achieve this resolution. Of course, we need to workout and eat healthier. To prompt us to exercise, we can set our alarm to go off at the same time each day with the message: It’s Time to Workout. Or, if our plan is to workout in the morning, we can set aside our gym clothes and gym shoes the night before where will see them when we wake up. To prompt us to eat healthier and avoid junk food, we can add a dry erase board on our fridge or pantry with the message: Eat Something Healthy!
A creative prompt for everyday living can be a vision board. I made a vision board last year. It definitely prompted me to form the habit of working out and healthy eating. My vision board included quotes like:
- “I am healthy and filled with energy”,
- “Drink water” and
- “Healthy Eating Makes me Feel Fantastic”.
These quotes all motivated me to workout and to eat lots of vegetables and fruits. I highly encourage you to create a vision board for yourself that will prompt you to perform your life changing tiny habits!
The Importance of Celebration in Habit Formation
One of my key takeaways from the Dr. Fogg’s book is that we should celebrate all of our accomplishments. Studies show that people who acknowledge their accomplishments and take the time to feel proud for what they’ve done, are more likely to form sustaining habits.
Celebrating helps to wire the behavior in our brains. It also allows the process of habit formation to occur naturally. Dr. Fogg explains that “we change best by feeling good (not by feeling bad).” This means the best way to form life changing habits that will help us achieve our goals one step at a time is to celebrate our successes. Each time we perform the desired action, we should salute! There are a ton of different ways we can commensurate our achievements. Here are a few:
- Sing “Celebrate good times you can”. If you’re in public, do this in your head 🙂
- Do a happy dance.
- Create a list of accomplishments in your journal.
- Give yourself a pat on the back.
- Whisper YAY to yourself.
To achieve our goals easily, we need to focus on the tiny habits that will help us reach our ultimate resolutions. To start, create a list of the actions you need to take in order to fulfill your goal. Then, focus on completing each tiny habit consistently. To aid the process of habit formation, create automatic prompts that alert you to do the behavior. Remember, we are naturally lazy, so make the behavior easy to do. Once you crush each tiny habit, add on more one step at a time. With this approach you will be on your way to achieving your utmost goal! Tiny habits are really life changing!