This is the time of year that we think about habits we want to change. We know the recipe – set a challenging goal, give yourself a “done by” date, figure out the steps to get there, and off you go.
Unfortunately, although the recipe makes sense to us, most of us start out enthusiastically and follow the steps for a few days or possibly a couple of weeks. But then our enthusiasm wanes, the rest of our life takes over, and eventually, we give up, blaming ourselves for a lack of discipline and weak willpower.
Professor BJ Fogg says, “It isn’t your fault.”
Back in 2010, Stanford Professor BJ Fogg, a researcher in behaviour change, set conventional wisdom aside and started over. Over the last nine years, he developed, tested, and refined a technique he calls ‘Tiny Habits’. He has coached over 40,000 people in these tiny habits, measuring the results week by week, and finding what really works and what doesn’t.
By reading Professor BJ Fogg’s book, The Tiny Habits that Change Everything, I am inspired to use his technique to establish a habit I have been struggling to establish for years. Like many small business owners, I love what I do – researching, designing, and teaching interesting courses for people at work. Unfortunately, there is one part of my job I dislike intensely: lifting the phone and calling clients and potential clients to find out how I can serve them.
I am perfectly comfortable once I am talking to the client; it is everything that has to be done before and after the call that bogs me down. Before I tackle this bigger habit change, I have now followed Fogg’s recipe and have been able to develop a new Tiny Habit which is working well for me.
I know (and teach) that regular cardio exercise is the best thing you can do for your brain, but I have found it very hard to actually do it. Like many of you, I used to do more exercise, more often, but gradually I got too busy, too tired, and too distracted to keep it up. Then two years ago, I tripped and fell hard on my knee, breaking the knee cap in three places. After surgery and a recovery that took months, I was told that if I did not do frequent, consistent resistance training, I would not get my knee flexibility back. I made it a priority, signed up with a trainer and have increased my strength, flexibility, and balance in my whole body and my knee is doing well. However, I was still not doing enough cardio.
After reading about Tiny Habits, I followed BJ Fogg’s recipe, which is:
After I wash my hands (something routine that I do several times a day), I will climb my stairs for 30 seconds (something very easy). Then I yell “Awesome” to celebrate my new habit (and give my brain a dopamine boost).
Within a week, I was climbing my stairs for 5 minutes after each time I washed my hands, so now I am doing cardio exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day.
Why does this work so well? Because it works with our brain. Our brains love habits – the ones they already have – but they really don’t like changing habits. However, our brains also like feeling successful, so if we can set things up so that the behaviour change we want to make starts with a very easy change, and we celebrate that change each time we make it, the new habit develops. In a relatively short time, we have established a consistent habit we really wanted.
Once you have been successful with a relatively easy habit change using this technique, then it is time to start with something more challenging.
I have followed BJ Fogg’s ‘Steps in Behaviour Design’ to ensure that during the next week (and I hope for the next year), I will make three client calls every morning I am in my office.
Here is how I am going to do it, using a series of tiny habits:
- Before Monday morning, I will have prepared a list of 15 names and phone numbers. The selected names will be up-to-date in Highrise, my Customer Relationship Management tool.
- On Monday morning, when I first sit in my office chair, I will open Highrise and click on the first name.
- Start a timer and make the first call.
- Celebrate with myself for completing the first call.
- Record essential information from the first call.
- Make the second call.
- Celebrate with myself for completing the second call.
- Record essential information from the second call.
- Make the third call.
- Celebrate with myself for completing the third call.
- Record essential information from the third call.
- Stop the timer and celebrate all three calls.
- Do any follow-ups promised during the calls.
- Do any additional updates needed in Highrise.
- Record the time and have everything ready for 3 calls tomorrow. I am pretty sure that for the rest of the day, I will be feeling energized and successful.
Next month, I will let you know how well I was able to stick to my new Tiny Habit series and what happened as a result.
Before Christmas, I signed up for BJ Fogg’s Free 5-Day Program which you can do at https://www.tinyhabits.com/join. It helps you to get started on 2 to 3 Tiny Habits.