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The Building Blocks of Real Behavioral Change

Apr 01, 2021
Courtesy of Kovert Creative

They’re smaller than you might think

My husband and his brother grew up sharing a room. They’re only two years apart. They have the same family culture, the same values, and even the same voice. Yet, one of them makes his bed every single day–and the other one has never made our bed. Literally ever. I’m sure my husband would want me to tell you he has other amazing qualities, and that’s true. But the point remains.

What’s the difference between these two brothers that has caused such a divide in their daily rituals? It doesn’t seem to matter that their parents told both of them to make their beds every day or that they both value being clean and organized.

Here’s the deciding factor: habit. My brother-in-law has a habit of making his bed every day, and my husband does not. It’s as simple as that. Presumably, they both had this habit when they were younger, but only one of them maintained it.

The big question is this: how do you make a habit stick? And the answer will probably surprise you. It’s not about having the willpower of a superhero or the threat of punishment. It’s all about making it tiny enough.

The three key elements of a habit

According to BJ Fogg, behavior scientist at Stanford and author of Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything, there are three main components that need to exist for a habit to form: motivation, ability, and prompt.

“The way behavior works is way simpler than people think,” BJ says. “Any behavior happens when there’s motivation to do the behavior, there’s the ability to do the behavior, and there’s a prompt. The prompt is something that reminds you. When those three things come together, the behavior happens. If any one of those components is missing, it won’t happen. This is how all human behavior works.”

If a behavior is really difficult, you need to have a huge amount of motivation in order to make it into a habit. Let’s say you want to run a marathon. You’d better be highly motivated to train; otherwise, the difficulty of running 20+ miles a day will make you give up after just a few days.

But if a behavior is really easy, you don’t need to have much motivation in order to make it into a habit. If your goal is to eat one banana a day, it’s not hard to accomplish this. As long as you have bananas available (that’s the prompt), you can make it happen…even on the days you don’t feel very motivated.

Tiny habits

What BJ discovered is that developing a tiny habit is the key. Even when you don’t feel motivated, you can do anything if it’s easy enough.

His famous example is flossing your teeth. He recommends flossing one tooth a day until you can work up to flossing all of your teeth. Think about it. Flossing just one tooth only takes a couple of seconds. If you never floss your teeth, the idea of taking the time and energy to floss all of them seems overwhelming, but if you think about flossing only one per day, you can convince yourself to do it.

Think about your #1 goal right now. Perhaps you want to lose weight or develop a healthier mindset. Maybe you want to save money for your kids’ tuition or a down payment on a house.

Now that you have your goal in mind, consider which tiny habits you can build in order to work towards that goal. If you want to lose weight, you need to adopt some tiny habits that reduce stress, help you eat healthily, and encourage you to exercise more.

Which tiny habits can build these things? You might start by saying one thing you’re grateful for when your head hits the pillow, eating 5 carrots with your sandwich at lunch, and doing 3 sit-ups after you get out of the shower. Each of these tiny habits puts you on the path towards reaching your goal of losing weight.

Or if you’re trying to save money, start by putting $1 a day into savings. Eventually, work your way up to $5 a day. Along with that, say no to your second Starbucks of the day. Put that money into savings as well. Then, start limiting your Amazon purchases to a maximum amount per week. See what I mean? All of these tiny habits will combine to help you meet your financial goal.

The prompt

Once you’ve chosen which tiny habits to focus on, you need to find a prompt. The best way to prompt yourself to do a new habit is to rely on an existing habit. After all, you’re already succeeding at that habit. BJ recommends this simple statement: “After I (existing habit), I will (new habit).”

BJ started with this: “After I pee, I will do 2 pushups.” Because he has a habit of peeing, he is able to pair that with the new habit he wants to develop. Now, years later, he does 8 pushups every time he pees, which adds up to as many as 70 pushups per day (depending on how much water he drinks). 

Another thing BJ does to stay healthy is maintaining his SuperFridge. He came up with this idea so that he wouldn’t be tempted to snack on unhealthy foods. The SuperFridge is a well-organized, visually appealing layout of healthy food that aligns with his goals. Every time he opens his fridge, he is prompted to eat something healthy. There’s no junk food in sight.

As BJ says, “Plant a tiny seed in the right spot and it will grow without coaxing.”

How will you prompt yourself to follow through with your tiny habit?

Celebrate!

Now for the fun part. BJ says it’s important to celebrate victory every time you accomplish a tiny habit…and to do it immediately. You can do a little dance, throw up your hands and say, “I’m awesome!” or give yourself a standing ovation.

Celebrating these small moments will reinforce the habits in your brain. Before long, your tiny habits will become bigger and bigger until you reach your goals.

Are you hoping to develop a healthier mindset? Using Hapbee is the perfect tiny habit for you. All you have to do is press a button to become relaxed, focused, or happy. Don’t forget to celebrate every time you use it!

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