Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Me & My Tiny Habits: How I Dedicated One Week to Practice Forming New Routines

There is a tremendous amount of power when one develops good habits.

Whether those habits involve practicing a musical instrument (like the banjo), developing  effective business-related habits, or building good health habits, positive results follow from making positive behaviors a matter of automatic routine.

It was in this spirit that I recently participated in the Tiny Habits program. created by BJ Fogg, PhD, Director, Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University,

The innovative (and free) one-week program helps people practice the process of building good habits.

According to Dr. Fogg:
my goal is to help you practice the skill of creating new habits. I believe you can get better at creating new habits. Much like a pianist who practices scales, or a chef who practices knife skills, people can practice the skills of creating habits.

A Single Atom of Behavior
Dr. Fogg has reduced habit building to a fundamental unit or “atom” of easily managed behavior change. The key is to make it simple and easy - to leverage the power in simplicity. Fogg defines a Tiny Habit as a behavior that…

  • Is undertaken at least once a day
  • takes less than 30 seconds
  • requires little effort

Anchors Aweigh
Dr. Fogg believes in “habit anchors” – linking a new (tiny)  habit to a daily anchor behavior one does everyday (like morning coffee, or brushing teeth...)

So What Happened?
In late Summer, I took Dr. Fog’s suggestions and chose three simple, tiny behaviors to practice over the course of a week. He warned against trying for a bigger behaviors because if it was cumbersome or difficult in any way, the habit won't form. He was right!
Here’s what I practiced:

  1. After I brush my teeth, I will floss 1 tooth (flossing all my teeth is too big a behavior to practice, according to Dr. Fogg)
  2. After I pour AM coffee, I will play 3 banjo chord changes (in less than 30 seconds…)
  3. After I go to bathroom, I will fill my water glass (note, I didn’t say DRINK the water, just fill the glass – but of course I then went ahead and drank!)

At the beginning of the week, I got everything ready – that means I got out the floss and put it right next to my toothbrush, carried around a water glass all day, and put the banjo out of its case in my living room.

In general, it was a successful week, except in one area – habit #2.

It was a bit counterintuitive to remember to do chord changes on the banjo after coffee.  Why?

  • I didn’t keep the banjo right next to the coffee pot, so didn’t have an immediate “cue”
  • It never became “automatic” to tie the coffee anchor to the banjo habit
  • The teeth habit, and drinking water habit, were intuitively linked to the anchors – both behaviors now so automated I still do them! But the coffee/banjo link was tenuous at best

A Not So Tiny Truth
My experience proved this to be true: one needs to match the new desired behavior (new tiny habit) with the best anchor to trigger the new behavior.
After all, the goal is to make desired behaviors automatic.  
The bottom line is to shoot for what Fogg calls “training automaticity” -- in the case of practicing banjo, I’m going to try a new approach and identify a more relevant anchor. Fun!
 Want to give 3 Tiny Habits a try?  Join here! 

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post Julie! Flossing one tooth had me laughing out loud but I love the logic here. I'm going to give this a shot. I'll let you know next week what tiny habits I chose to work on.