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.
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.