Tiny habits: the bearers of big results

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“It’s emotions that create habits, not repetition.”

“By feeling good you can wire in habits … Habit formation doesn’t have to be treachery; it can be fun; it can be uplifting; it can be a discovery.”

“There really is a way to understand behavior, everybody. It’s not as complicated as you think.”

These are just a few of the gems I gleaned from a video podcast presented by the Charity Miles app, which I’ve begun using to help track my exercise plus give to charity at the same time. The app uses sponsor support to turn walking, running or biking into funds for your chosen organization.

And, yes, it’s completely above board. I did the research.

On the podcast, Charity Miles founder Gene Gurkoff interviewed BJ Fogg, a well-known behavior scientist whose book “Tiny Habits” was named by Amazon on Dec. 31 as the No. 1 business and leadership book for 2020.

So I want to believe him when he says that most of the things we’ve heard about creating habits are incorrect.

“The same old stuff gets trotted out over and over,” he said, adding that people think the question of how habits are created has been solved. “It’s not been solved,” he said. “That’s stuff from decades ago, and much of it doesn’t work.”

So what are his ideas? I’ll summarize as best I can in my limited space, but you might want to watch to the Vimeo podcast “BJ Fogg: How and Why to Form Tiny Habits.”

Fogg said habits – both good and bad – all form the same way: “They start tiny; they find where they naturally fit; and they get nourished.” The good news, Fogg said, is that forming new habits is a design challenge, not a willpower challenge.

Three things are necessary for a behavior, according to the BJ Fogg Model: “When there’s a motivation to do the behavior, (when) there’s an ability to do the behavior and (when) there’s a prompt.” It can be a behavior we want, such as meditation, or one we don’t necessarily desire, such as 3 a.m. snacking.

Breaking the tiny habit “recipe” down into a 1-2-3 approach, Fogg said: (1) Pick a habit you want, so this takes care of motivation. (2) Make the sought-after habit ridiculously easy, something that doesn’t take much time or effort. And (3) use an existing routine as your prompt. Forget about Post-it notes or external alarms; look for something you already have in place.

For example, if you want to go to bed earlier, tie that in with brushing your teeth. Then, brush earlier than usual, but be aware that you may have to play a mind game with yourself. You may have to say, “I can brush my teeth if I want, but I can still stay up. Brushing my teeth does not mean I MUST go to bed.” If you don’t say this, you might talk yourself out of brushing because the thought of watching another Netflix episode might be too alluring. But if you DO brush, this could, indeed, lead to an earlier bedtime.

Fogg said purposefully causing yourself to feel successful by rewiring the brain with positive emotion is helpful, too.

After you floss that one tooth (remember: simplicity), smile at yourself in the mirror and say, “Good for me.” Or after you wipe down your kitchen counter, think: “Oh, my gosh, this is so much cleaner.” The changes in your brain because of this positivity will help cement the behavior.

Now, in this season of newness, the important thing to remember is, in Fogg’s words: “There’s no time you can’t start your tiny habits.”

Sallie Rose Hollis is a Union Parish native, retired Louisiana Tech associate professor of journalism and Ruston resident. She can be reached via email at sallierose@mail.com.