Imagine you could change your behavior without relying on willpower?
It turns out you can. Human behavior researcher B.J. Fogg at Stanford University has come up with a foolproof method for forming new habits that he calls Tiny Habits.
For changing habits, he discovered that simplicity matters much more than motivation or willpower. To form the habit of flossing each evening, Fogg broke down this habit routine to its simplest form: flossing one tooth.
This may sound like an insignificant change, but according to Fogg, starting small is the key. What he needed to learn was how to make the habit of flossing automatic, which requires simplicity much more than motivation.
The same principle can (and should) be applied to achieving our fitness goals.
The Fogg Behavioral Model
From this fundamental insight into habit formation, Fogg developed the Fogg Behavior Model. This habit formation framework demonstrates that “if a behavior is really easy, you don’t need much motivation to do it. However, if the behavior is hard, you need a lot of motivation.”
Research shows that both motivation and willpower are unreliable. Eventually, when you feel hungry, angry, lonely or tired — you will lose your motivation to stick to a habit that requires a lot of motivation.
The rule you want to stick to for forming a new habit is: the simpler, the better.
“What can you do today to get you closer to that goal?”
- Fitplan Athlete Damien Patrick
The Role of Emotions in Habit Formation
Fogg also emphasizes that it is emotions that create and reinforce habits. When you feel positive emotions immediately following a new behavior, the behavior will become more automatic.
Fogg found that after a week of flossing a few teeth, he would gradually increase the number of teeth he flossed and then after a few weeks, he was flossing all of his teeth each evening, transforming the habit into an automatic routine.
When the effort required to do the new behavior is low, you are much more likely to stick with it because you will have no excuse not to do it.
Anchoring New Behavior To Existing Routines:
The last piece of the habit formation puzzle is how you remind yourself to do your new habit. What Fogg discovered in his research is the most effective way to trigger your new behavior is to anchor it to an existing routine.
For example, if you want to start tackling one Fitplan workout daily, you should anchor the habit to a similar pre-existing routine like drinking coffee. That way when you finish with your coffee, you have a trigger to open the Fitplan app and start your workout with your favorite athlete.
This is where setting clear intentions becomes important. You want to anchor your new habit to something that you are already doing each day.
“After I __________, I will ___________.”
Try it out! Think of a habit in your life and write a Tiny Habit recipe right now. Then, follow the behavior design process outlined in the next section on the Tiny Habits process.
The Tiny Habits Process:
Here’s how to apply Fogg’s step-by-step Tiny Habits method for forming new habits by using a fitness goal as an example. I want to run three miles every day.
- Make sure the new behavioral change you choose is really small.
Start with a single brisk walk every morning.
- Anchor it to an existing behavioral routine as the trigger.
Start your walk or run immediately after you have your morning cup of coffee.
- Find a way to feel good immediately after doing your behavior.
Give yourself a full round of applause and smile. You may feel silly at first but soon it will give you a great sense of accomplishment.
- Set the bar low and only increase the difficulty gradually.
Try running just one mile for the first week, then slowly tack on a half mile as you progress.
- After a few weeks or so you should be able to naturally build up to your full habit.
A month later, you will have built the running habit and it will be automatic (meaning it feels easier to do it than not do it).
Now it is your turn.
Time to get to work!
The more you do a behavior, the easier it gets.