A method for building new behaviours

If trying to make a change in your life, one protocol suggests going small is the way forward…
14 March 2022

Interview with 

BJ Fogg, Stanford University


BJ Fogg, the author of “Tiny Habits” from Stanford University, has offered a helping hand to Julia Ravey & Harry Lewis in finally kick-starting New Years Resolutions resolutions using his approach for change…

BJ - Make it super tiny - set the bar really low. Let's say you want to read more books. Many people say, "Oh, I'm going to read a chapter a day." Well, that takes a lot of time. So, instead, in the tiny habits way, you scale back the chapter to a paragraph, or even one sentence, and then you find where that fits naturally in your life: "Okay, I'll read one paragraph of my book after I sit down with my morning tea." And if you want to read more than one paragraph, you can, but you set the bar so low that every day you can do it really reliably. And you say, "good for me. I did my habit," and you move on with your day.

Julia - And you mentioned a few processes there. You were saying, "Sit down with my tea, then I read, and then I say well done me."

BJ - Yes, exactly. And those three parts are A, B, C. What is going to remind me to do the new habit? We call that an anchor. The anchor is something you already do, like sitting down for tea or turning off the telly. Then, the B is the new behaviour you want to make a habit of, so reading a paragraph from a book. Then, as you do the habit, or immediately after, you say, "Good for me." You reinforce yourself. You cause yourself to feel successful. So, that's ABC: anchor, behaviour, celebration.

Julia - So, Harry and I, we had new year's resolutions this year. It's March. We haven't been successful with them right now. I thought I'd put them to you to try and tiny habit-ify them. So, one of them was to build strength: to get stronger and feel more healthy. What would you do for that type of behaviour?

BJ - Pick the upper body exercise that you want the most. So, what do you think Harry's going to want the most?

Julia - Let's say he'll do a push up. I'll make him do them.

BJ - Okay. You don't do 10 or 20, you do 1 or 2. You make it so tiny that it's just super easy to do. Then, it's finding where does this fit naturally in Harry's life? What does it come after? It's hard for me to know Harry's routine. Where do you think it would fit for Harry?

Julia - He loves a cup of tea. He's always in the kitchen here, boiling the kettle.

BJ - Okay, good. The tiny habit recipe becomes, "After I start the kettle, I will do two pushups." And then as Harry stands up, "Good for me," or, "Way to go," or just say "I did it." Harry, dive in and practice that, and if for some reason that doesn't fit, after you start the tea, then look for another place where it might fit.

Julia - My one was, I have a terrible sweet tooth, but only in the evening. After I've had my dinner, I feel like I have to have a chocolate bar or a cake. I really want to replace it with eating something a bit healthier, like fruit. How can I tiny habit-ify that?

BJ - Well, first of all, you are not alone, for sure. You know that, right? This is really common. The first thing is to make a list of all the snacks that you might eat after dinner that you consider healthy. On your side, what might be on your list of healthy snacks?

Julia - I love strawberries with Greek yogurt.

BJ - So, the next step for that is to buy the yogurt and prep the strawberries. Wash the strawberries, get them ready. If you like them sliced up, get them pre-sliced. Then you would design it into your routine like we did with the pushups. What would be the specific moment after dinner that you would do that?

Julia - It would be taking my plate to the sink, because that's when I go to the cupboard.

BJ - So then, and you would actually write this down, you'd write it down on a note card, "After I put my plate by the sink, I will prepare my snack for the evening." And then, as you open the fridge and you see those two things, tell yourself, "Good for me. I'm on my game plan." Let yourself feel successful that you're following through with this game plan you designed for yourself. Now, in addition to that, remove the chocolate from your home. I know, I know, but this is part of it. You don't have to do this, but if you want to increase your chances, try it for three days and see how it goes.

Julia - I'm going to give that a go. I'm sure it will help me.

BJ - It will. And if it works, you keep going and if it doesn't, that's okay. You don't beat yourself up. It's sort of like decorating a room where you want to put a new painting on the wall, and if it doesn't fit there, you don't beat yourself up. You just redesign. In the tiny habits method, a big part of it is to iterate, to try things out. And if it doesn't work, you don't blame yourself because it's a design process, and you just accept that as a positive. You've learnt something, and you redesign it and try again. You change best by feeling good, not by feeling bad.

Julia - It's been a week since I set the team the walking challenge. So, I'm going to see how we've done and which intervention fared best. The results are in, and I've had everyone's results except for Harry. Where are your steps?

Harry - I didn't record my steps.

Julia - Why?

Harry - There wasn't much motivation. I think I have walked a lot more, but I didn't switch on the health tracker on my iPhone.

Julia - You need the trundle wheel.

Harry - What the heck's a trundle wheel?

Julia - I've given Harry a rough average for his steps. The counts were all added together and this is what the results showed. What I can say is that, for all of us, no matter what the intervention was, everyone has improved in their step count in the past week. Maybe that's because we were all under a challenge, but the best intervention based on the percentage increase was Otis'. Otis improved by 55%. Remind us what your intervention was, Otis.

Otis - During the walking process, I would be listening to an audio book.

Julia - So, this week, we've walked, as a collective, 425,467 steps.

Anoushka  - Not far enough.

Julia - That's 177.3 miles. We almost got there. The target was 460,800 (steps). We pretty much hit Warrington. From my house, to Warrington, you can drive there in about 15 minutes. So, I'd say we're not far off and you know what, because we've done so well, Shelly will come and pick us up in the car.

Harry - Shelly's your mom, Julia?

Julia - Yeah, Shelly's my mum.

Harry - Is that a round of applause?

Julia - That is a round of applause. Well done everyone.


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