Forget Big Change, Start With A Tiny Habit by BJ Fogg (Transcript)

October 27, 2014 5:31 am | By More

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Dr. BJ Fogg- Computer Scientist

It’s great to be with you guys today. I have to get up at 4:00 in the morning because I live in the wine country. And so driving down here early in the morning, when the sun was coming up, it was — on one hand I wanted a little more sleep, and on the other hand, it was a beautiful morning coming in.

I teach at Stanford University. I do that one day a week. I figured out how to do that along with the Internet and phone calls, and what have you. My work is all about behavior and how you design to change people’s behaviors.

And what we’re going to do right now, we’re going to practice some behavior change. And the organizers of this event have been very good at providing some supplies. So I want all of you to look under your seat, right now, and see what surprise is waiting for you.

What I want you to do, and we debated whether we should really do this or not, but we’re going to do it. If I want you to tear off one piece of floss like this. And what we’re going to do, don’t do it quite yet, but we’re going to practice what I call a tiny habit. And in this case, we’re going to do something very, very small, and I’m going to have you floss one tooth. Not yet, we’re going to do it all together. I know some of you think that’s kind of gross. But we can do this.

Now, there’s one more piece, and I’ll explain this a little bit later in my presentation. After you do a tiny behavior that you want to repeat in the future, or maybe expand, what you need to do is celebrate victory immediately, right away. So I’m not talking about going out to the bar, or going and making cookies, or what have you. You need to tell yourself, in some way, that you’re awesome.

So we’re going to practice this. There’re a few ways to do this. I have about 10 different ways to celebrate, but we’re going to start with one that’s pretty common, that works, and it goes like this. I’m awesome!

You ready? One, two, three, I’m awesome!.

[Audience: I’m awesome.]

Let’s try another celebration. This one is bingo. Ready? One, two three, bingo!

[Audience: Bingo!]

Awesome. I’m awesome.

There are some people, when they’re working with tiny habits with me they like doing a little dance. That makes them feel like, “Yeah, I’m rocking it.” Okay, ready? Little dance. One, two, three. Awesome!

Now we’re going to get to this in a minute, so just hang tight. I’ll give you a little bit of background, and we’re going to practice this together. You guys are great sports in practicing the celebrations with me.

I’m obsessed with how behavior works. Even on vacation, I’m thinking about behavior. I’m watching behavior. I’m reading stuff on it. I’m trying to understand it systematically. And when I’m sleeping, and this is a little bit scary, I’m thinking about behavior model, behavior grid, domino actions, motivation waves, in my sleep. And this happens almost every night now, so that’s a little freaky. But I learn things, so that’s nice.

I would’ve never expected that a year ago that today I would be doing 50, 60, 70 push-ups a day, but all this is part of being obsessed with a behavior. One of the things that you need to do is practice changing your own behavior. That gives you an understanding of how behavior works.

The way I arrived here was very much like the flossing, but a little bit different. This was the equation. After I pee, I will do two push-ups.

I’d use the facility, yes, technically, you flush the toilet first, and then two push-ups, and you’re done, and you go, “Awesome!”

Okay, awesome, yeah. Well, after two it’s really easy. You move on, and then you do five, then you do eight. Where I’m at now, I do eight, but I always do extra credits, so I tend to do 12 or so, and it adds up over the day. I end up doing, who knows, 50, 60, 70 depending on how much water I’ve had and other factors. [

The good news is that behavior and behavior change is not as complicated as most people think. It’s systematic. There are ways to understand behavior that are pretty straightforward and simple, and I’m going to share some of those with you today.

There are 15 ways that behaviors can change. There are not hundreds of behavior types. There’re 15 ways. When we talk about health behavior change, people are mostly talking about long term change. This row, these are the five that represent different types of long term change. I’m not going to go into depth here, but what I want to explain to you is that when it comes to long term change there’s only two ways you can get it done.

Change Your Environment

Number one, you can change your environment. Before, here’s your environment, certain behavior. And then after, the changed environment changes your behavior. That’s a reliable way. It also includes your social environment. Before. After.

Now, changing your environment is a reliable way to change your behavior. However, it can be tricky. Especially, the social environment with families and coworkers, and so on.

So there’s one other way of changing your behavior long term, and I’ll give you a hint. It does not have to do with motivation. Surprise.

Motivation actually applies to other kinds of temporary behavior change, but not long term. In other words, relying primarily on motivation to change your behavior long term is a losing strategy, and similarly for willpower. So you can take those off the table if you make the behavior change tiny enough.

Now, in this grid this is where habits live, the blue path. It’s something familiar that you do from now on. If you make that very tiny, like two push ups, floss one tooth, and so on, it’s very easy to repeat and make that become a habit.

Think about it this way. You already know how to floss all your teeth. That’s not what you’re lacking. What you’re lacking is the automaticity of flossing. You don’t need to train flossing all your teeth. You need to train making it automatic.

Now in the persuasion boot camps that I teach we geek out about this stuff. This is one of the crews with me up in the wine country during it. We look at the sequences of behaviors that eventually land you here to habit. We won’t go in that kind of depth today, but what I do want to say, and this is a little bit controversial, is this puzzle is solved. I’m going to share the pieces with you, and I’m going to share some ways that it got solved. We’ll see what you think.

There’s a new way to create habits that is reliable and it’s systematic.

Now we we look at health outcomes, bulls eye, what do we want to do? Well things like lose weight, manage stress, and so on. But if you design for the outcomes, you’re designing at the wrong place. You need to design for the behaviors that lead to the outcome. If you take an issue like weight loss there are many, many behaviors that can contribute to that outcome. Stress reduction, eating better, and so on. I would propose that most of the behaviors that we need to do are habits.

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