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.
So of the 15 ways that behaviors can change, the ones that matters most to long term health are habits. And as we create what I call these tiny habits, and we can’t do it all at once, little by little we will approach this health outcome in a very reliable way, in a way that doesn’t regress, in a way that doesn’t make you, “Oh, I give up, now I’m just going to go back to how I was.” Let me share a personal example, and I hesitated about including this, but I will.
In 2010 I got one of these scales that’s super high tech, and it can tweet out your weight. Okay. I set it up so it’s tweeting my weight. I started tweeting it out in 2010. This is about a year, so you can see what’s going on. Not much changed up and down, up and down. What I learned was, number one, simply tweeting your weight didn’t seem to have any effect on me. I looked up others who had done it and didn’t seem to have lots of an impact.
Number two, my Twitter followers hated it, so I stopped. But I made it a habit of stepping on the scale. It was right there. A few months later, going up. At one point I thought, “I’ve been doing this thing called tiny habits, something I’ve applied elsewhere. Now I’m going to apply it to weight loss because I want to lose some pounds.” After creating many, many, many, many tiny habits this is where I am this week. That’s probably the course of a year or so. You can see, no real change.
And then putting them together, little by little, these tiny habits that took root and would grow. I believe I’ve made a long term change. We’ll see five to 10 years from now, but it seems like these habits will be very hard to undo. I put this out there.
When you know how to create tiny habits, you can change your behavior and your life forever.
Now let me back up and explain how I honed in on the formula of tiny habits, and you can see whether it syncs with how you think about it.
There are three things that have to happen, at the same moment, to cause a behavior.
Number one, there has to be some level of motivation. You’ve got to want to keep your teeth clean. You’ve got to want to get stronger with push ups, or something like that.
Next, you’ve got to have the ability to do it.
Then, there has to be a trigger. Now when I say trigger, I mean I call to action. It’s the thing that says, “Do push ups now,” “Floss your teeth now,” and so on.
It’s these three things together when they combine at once then the behavior will also occur, whether it’s floss your teeth, do push ups, what have you, send a thank you note. Now motivation and ability are trade offs. This curved line represents that trade off. If you’re anywhere above the line and the trigger occurs, you will do the behavior.
So let me get some examples of this. Here below the line, let’s say I want you to run a marathon, and you have no motivation to run a marathon. Both low motivation and it’s hard. When I say, “Run a marathon. Run a marathon,” you’re not going to do it, no matter how many times I make that call to action.
In contrast, if I say, “Oh, walk outside and walk back in,” maybe 30 seconds, simple to do, you’re above the line. Still you may not be very motivated, but because it’s so easy to do.
Let’s move up here. It’s hard to do. I’m asking you to do something very hard. In order to do something that’s difficult, you need high levels of motivation. In fact, I think that’s the purpose, that’s the only use of motivation in our lives, is to allow us to do hard things.
If we’re not doing hard things, we don’t need that much motivation. When our motivation lags, boom, can’t do it. Motivation is very slippery. If you set yourself up to do something hard, and you have to somehow sustain the motivation, the motivation is going to drop down. There’s going to be a point where you don’t do it. And habits are about repeating it, and you won’t create the habit.
So as I looked at this –as I looked at my behavior model, I thought, “Let’s go right here. Easy to do.” Stuff that’s so easy to do it doesn’t require much motivation at all. So whether your motivation is high, you’ll still do it. Whether it’s low, you’ll still do it. and so this is where the insight around, “Let’s make it really tiny. Really tiny like one, two push ups, one sip of water, and so on.”