Tiny habits and the Fogg Behavior Model

Building habits and creating positive change can be easy if you start tiny. Could you write a novel by working on it for one minute a day? Could you become a vegan by starting with one vegan breakfast? Could you develop an exercise habit by beginning with one push-up per day?  

The essence of Tiny Habits is this: Take a behavior you want, make it tiny, find where it fits naturally in your life, and nurture its growth. Dr BJ Fogg is the founder of the Behavior Design Labat Stanford University and is famous for his Fogg Behavior Modelhe invented in 2007. He now finally wrote a book about it called Tiny Habits. He tested the habit design process with more than 40,000 people during years of research and refinement. 

The Fogg Behavior Model

The Fogg Behavior Model shows that three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: Motivation, Ability, and a Prompt. Motivation is your desire to do the behavior. Ability is your capacity to do the behavior. And Prompt is your cue to do the behavior. When a behavior does not occur, at least one of those three elements is missing. 

Fogg Behavior Model

You need to have both motivation and ability for a behavior to land above the Action Line, but motivation and ability can work together like teammates. If one is weak, the other needs to be strong to get you above the curve. 

Motivation

The more motivated you are to do a behavior, the more likely you are to do the behavior. As you know, motivation and willpower get a lot of airtime. People are always looking for ways to ramp them up and sustain them over time. The problem is that both motivation and willpower are shape-shifters by nature, which makes them unreliable.

Ability – Make it easier to do

In order to perform a target behavior, a person must have the ability to do so. That seems obvious, of course. Simplicity is the key. What is making behavior hard to do? BJ Fogg found in his research what he calls the Ability Chain:

Ability Chain - BJ Fogg

Do you have enough time to do the behavior?

Do you have enough money to do the behavior?

Does the behavior require a lot of physical effort?

Does the behavior require a lot of mental effort?

Does the behavior fit into your current routine?

The weakest link in the Ability Chain determines how difficult your new habit will be. If one link is weak (suppose you don’t have enough time), then the strength of the other four links doesn’t matter. Even with one weak link, the chain is not reliable.If you don’t strengthen the weak links, your new habit will be hard to do. And that means you’ll need to rely on motivation. The problem: Motivation is not reliable. It shifts day by day, even minute by minute.

Prompt

Prompts are the invisible drivers of our life. The concept of Prompt has different names: cue, trigger, call to action, request, and so on. Whether natural or designed, a prompt says, “Do this behavior now.” A prompt can be for example an alarm, a phone ringing, a mobile app notification. Sometimes a Prompt can be external, like an alarm sounding. Other times, the Prompt can come from our daily routine: Walking through the kitchen may trigger us to open the fridge. 

But this is the crucial nugget: No behavior happens without a prompt. You can disrupt a behavior you don’t want by removing the prompt. This isn’t always easy, but removing the prompt is your best first move to stop a behavior from happening.

Tiny Habits

With the Tiny Habits method, you focus on small actions that you can do in less than thirty seconds. Starting tiny means you can begin creating a big change without worrying about the time involved. You will quickly wire in new habits, and then they will grow naturally.

It’s like creating computer code. If you get the algorithm correct — this behavior then this behavior then this behavior and then bam — you have a reliable outcome. You just have to “code” things correctly by putting them in the right order after the right anchor. 

Tiny Habits Recipe

The Tiny Habit Recipe of BJ Fogg consists of three steps: 

Tiny Habits Recipe Card

1. Anchor moment

An existing routine (like brushing your teeth) or an event that happens (like a phone ringing). The Anchor Moment reminds you to do the new Tiny Behavior.

2. New tiny behavior

A simple version of the new habit you want, such as flossing one tooth or doing two push-ups. You do the Tiny Behavior immediately after the Anchor Moment.

3. Instant celebration

Something you do to create positive emotions, such as saying, “I did a good job!” You celebrate immediately after doing the new Tiny Behavior. With the Tiny Habits method, you celebrate successes no matter how small they are. This is how we take advantage of our neurochemistry and quickly turn deliberate actions into automatic habits.

Tiny habits examples

The power of after is not magic, it’s closer to chemistry. Combine the right behaviors with the right chronology, and, poof, a new habit is created.

After I brush my teeth, I will floss one tooth

After I pour my morning coffee, I will drink a glass of water

After I pee in my home toilet, I will do two pushups

After I sit down on the train, I will take three deep breaths

After I put my head on the pillow, I will think about my crush of the day

When you celebrate effectively, you tap into the rewardcircuitryof your brain. By feeling good at the right moment, you cause your brain to recognize and encode the sequence of behaviors you just performed. In other words, you can hack your brain to create a habit by celebrating and self-reinforcing.

How do tiny habits grow big?

Every day you do the behavior, you build a bit more muscle strength, flexibility, and skill. This makes the behavior easier and easier to do, moving the behavior farther and farther to the right. And if you feel successful, your motivation will also increase.

Grow your habit garden

Forming a habit is like growing a plant: 

1. You start with something tiny (a seed or a sprout). 

2. You find a good spot for it in your garden (proper soil, light, moisture).

3. You nourish your tiny plant so the roots get established

As you do these three things, your tiny plant will take root and thrive. Another important thing to remember is that celebration is habitfertilizer. Each individual celebration strengthens the roots of a specific habit, but the accumulation of celebrations over time is what fertilizes the entire habit garden.

More tiny habits resources:

Website Tiny Habits

Book Tiny Habits

Website BJ Fogg  

Ted Talk BJ Fogg

Podcast BJ Fogg