Monday, December 29, 2014

How to Create Habits

Dr. BJ Fogg, creator of Tiny Habits recently had an article featured in ACE ProSource where he revealed the secrets to creating habits. It is a brilliant (and long) article that you can read in full here. For your reading pleasure, here's the Clif's Notes version put together by myself with some of the highlights and ways you can create the habits you want in your life.

Simplify the Behavior

Dr. Fogg used a very simple example, flossing his teeth, as the habit he wanted to create so the first thing to consider when trying to create habits of your own would be the simplicity of the action. When considering flossing his teeth, Fogg scales the behavior back to its simplest form, flossing just one tooth.
"I knew that simplicity could mean the difference between doing a behavior and not doing it."
The key to behavior change according to Fogg is to focus on making the new behavior automatic and to also make that behavior something that will not require a large time or energy expenditure. The reason you aren't doing the behavior already is because you're perceiving the behavior as difficult. Flossing for example is not difficult but when you already perceive your time as limited and perceive flossing and time consuming and to some degree unnecessary, it's easy to see why you're not doing it. By flossing one tooth, Fogg established the behavior of putting down his toothbrush, picking up the floss and actively flossing. The simplicity of the behavior makes it almost comical to not complete it. I mean, how long does it take to floss one tooth? It's just one tooth.

Make it Feel Good

Emotions also play an important role in whether or not a behavior will stick around long enough to become a habit. Completion of the behavior has to feel good. If you are not celebrating your achievement (and yes, even an action as small as flossing one tooth is an achievement) then it's easy to feel unattached and in turn abandon the behavior. Fogg's celebration word was "Victory!" Saying that to himself made him feel good, made him feel excited and made him want to repeat the behavior that lead to those positive emotions. Who doesn't want to do something that makes them feel proud?
So each day as I flossed, I thought this to myself: “If everything ends up awful today, at least I did one thing right: I flossed one tooth. Good for me—Victory!”
Find the Anchor

The last piece of the habit creating puzzle is all about timing. Where does this new behavior go? How does it fit into your life? Fogg recommends looking to a simple 5-letter word, A-F-T-E-R. You've got to figure out what Fogg calls "the anchor" behavior that is already in your routine that lends itself to usher in the new behavior. Flossing pretty obviously comes after brushing but what if your goal was to do more push ups? You've simplified your goal into doing 1 push up a day. But when? When you perform the push up is crucial to turning it into a habit. Let's say every night you take a shower and change into your pajamas. Right after the pajamas are put on you leave your room to let the dog out for the last time then head into your room to lay down in bed. What part of that routine can be an easy anchor? I would recommend doing one push up A-F-T-E-R you let the dog out. Dogs are creatures of habit. Your dog won't let you forget to take her outside. Your schedule may cause you to shower in the morning or at the gym. The shower is not a stable anchor. You may be so tired one day after work that you fall asleep in your clothes. Pajamas, also not stable. But the dog. The dog will always need to go outside. The key is finding something in your routine that you always do. It doesn't necessarily have to be something that's done at the same time (although that helps) it just has to be something that's always done.

The article continues on and explains more about Fogg's Tiny Habits method which you are welcome to read more about in the article.

In short, there are three steps in creating habits. First, simplify the habit you want to create (i.e. one tooth, one push up; not all teeth or 20 push ups). Second, make it feel good! And finally, find the anchor; A-F-T-E-R.

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