Tiny Habits: “This Book Will Change Your Life.”

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"This book will change your life. Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg, PhD" on a wood background

The statement screams out against the white and green of the cover of BJ Fogg’s new book Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything. What a statement. “THIS BOOK WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE” followed by a hand-drawn smiley face (the same smiley found on the book cover). But does the book live up to the statement?

First, What Are Tiny Habits?

Tiny Habits are the building blocks of everything you do intentionally (and repeatedly). They’re the small steps you take between never cleaning the dishes and cleaning them every time you use them. A Tiny Habit might be a single pushup, a single dish rinsed, or even turning the shower on.

How Do Tiny Habits Work?

B = M A P

Fogg Behavior Model

Behavior happens when Motivation + Ability + Prompt converge

Anything you do (behavior) can be broken down into motivation (why), ability (how), and prompt (what). Not your character, not your self-discipline. Why, how, and what. And Tiny Habits shows you how to turn MAP into B.

Motivation

Motivation is why you want to do something, and how much you want to do it. I want to run a marathon. I want to keep my living area neat.

Ability

Ability is how easy it is to do something. I may have the motivation to run a marathon, but I don’t have the ability (yet). Given how messy it is now, neatening my living area would take a significant amount of effort, so it’s not easy to do.

Prompt

The prompt is what causes the behavior to happen. Without a prompt, the habit doesn’t occur. I get prompted to run by seeing my running app on my phone. Every time I see the mess in my room, I’m prompted to do something about it.

When These Happen At The Same Time, The Behavior (The Tiny Habit) Can Occur

Your motivation and ability need to be above what Fogg calls the Action Line for the behavior to occur. Like in my marathon example, I may have a motivation to run (I want to get into shape) and a prompt (a beautiful day), but if it’s too hard to do (I have to get on my running clothes, shoes, headphones, go outside), I’m not going to do the behavior.

The Action Line

Graph depicting the Fogg Behavior Model for creating Tiny Habits.  X axis is Ability, Hard to Do -> Easy to Do.  Y axis is Motivation, Low -> High.  The Action Line is a shallow curve going from High Motivation to Easy to Do.  Prompts above this line succeed, prompts below it fail.
Reproduced with permission. Source: behaviormodel.org

When you find a prompt that matches something that you want to do (motivation) and is easy to do (ability), you’re very likely to do that thing. It falls above the Action Line. The smaller the idea, the easier it is to control for motivation, ability, and prompt, and the more likely you are to create your tiny habit.

Example Tiny Habit: Cleaning The Litter Box

Let’s say you have a cat (or several cats, not judging). Let’s also assume this cat stays indoors and you have a litter box for it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy cleaning the litter box. Motivation to clean it is typically pretty low. It’s a pretty easy task though, so the ability is there. Then there’s the prompt. Simply seeing the litter box is a prompt, but with low motivation, you’re likely to fall under the action line and not clean the box. But say you can smell the litter box-now that might be enough of a prompt to boost your motivation enough to put it above the action line. And the prompt of seeing your cat is going outside the litter box to avoid the mess in it? I’d say that about tops out my motivation.

The little squirt calmly napping

How Do We Create A Tiny Habit Of Cleaning The Litter Box?

As Fogg points out, there are three ways. Increase your motivation, your ability, or your chance of being prompted. Increasing motivation is difficult to do in a vacuum. The above example takes time (the prompts affect the motivation). How about ability? You could store the scoop and a trash can next to the litter box. Now it’s even easier for you to scoop it. And the prompt could be a sticky note next to your toothbrush.

What worked for me was a bit of all three at once, and it was a bit drastic (I did this before I read Tiny Habits). I removed the door to the closet where the litter box is and moved the scoop and a trash can near the box. Now I see it every time I go to the bathroom and am prompted to scoop it. My motivation is high (the cat’s been having “accidents” elsewhere), the ability is easy to perform (just stand next to the litter box, scoop, and toss), and the prompt is presented every time I use the bathroom.

TL;DR How Do I Make A Tiny Habit?

Increase your motivation, your ability, or your prompt, and your resulting behavior (habit) is much more likely to occur.

Fogg Suggests Changing MAP In Order, One At A Time

First, see if the behavior is prompted. Without a prompt, the behavior won’t happen, period. That prompt could be brushing your teeth, yawning, or getting up in the morning.

Next, make it easier to be able to do the behavior. If you want to go running in the morning, put out everything you need before you go to bed. If you want to clean the dishes regularly, keep the soap by the sink, not under it.

Last, and only once you’ve tried the first two, try to affect your motivation to do the behavior. Do you actually want to run 2 miles every day, or are you just doing it to look cool? If you’re not motivated to do the behavior, it’s unlikely to fall above the action line.

But Wait, There’s More!

There’s a secret ingredient to making a Tiny Habit.

I will show you how to gain a superpower–the ability to feel good at any given moment. You can use this superpower to transform your habits and, ultimately, your life.

BJ Fogg, PhD, Tiny Habits, p. 130

Feeling good is that secret ingredient. Celebrating your accomplishment, no matter how small, creates that good feeling. Fogg calls it Shine.

Shine Is The Key To Making Habits Happen

Fogg defines Shine as “the positive feeling we get from experiencing success” (Tiny Habits, p, 143). And you can create Shine-that’s the superpower. Do a little (or big) fist pump. Smile. Sing a theme song you like. Find what works for you (not everything will create Shine for every person), and celebrate when you do a habit.

Cleaned the litterbox? Cheer! Went for a run? Fist pump! Celebration and feeling Shine increases your motivation for next time you want to complete the habit.

Celebrate Your Tiny Habits

If you don’t want to do your habit, chances are you won’t do it. Adding Shine to a habit you’re trying to make but don’t really want to do can mean the difference between creating that habit and not doing it at all. No matter how small your tiny habit is (and the smaller the better), celebrate when you accomplish it.

Hold up, Jess. That’s All Well And Good. But Will It Change My Life?

That’s up to you. If you follow the suggestions in Tiny Habits, then yes. I think you’ll change your life. While I’ve only had the book a month, I’ve already put into place several tiny habits. Some have worked great; the Maui habit in particular that Fogg describes in chapter 1 has been an amazing help during the last few rough weeks. Some haven’t worked, but know that that’s not because of the suggestions in this book, rather it’s an evolving process. Albert Einstein found numerous ways NOT to invent the lightbulb before succeeding, and I’ve found a few ways not to integrate the habits I want to create into my life. But, with BJ Fogg’s book in hand, I’m on a new path. Are you next?


Buy via Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything on Amazon, at your local bookstore, or on Fogg’s website.

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