Tiny Surprises for Happiness and Health: (Full Transcript)

B.J. Fogg is a behavior scientist and author. He is the founder and director of the Stanford Behavior Design Lab. Wikipedia

Here is the full text of Fogg’s talk titled “Tiny Surprises for Happiness and Health” at TEDxMaui.

B.J. Fogg – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT

Today I want to share with you my favorite habit. I’m a behavior scientist, and in my research I’ve never set out to find my favorite habit.

But I guess it’s sort of like a geologist who’s studying a landscape, in a new way. And as he’s doing the research, he stumbles across a gem, and that’s hard to ignore. And that’s what it’s like with me, as I am doing my research – here’s this gem, it’s my favorite habit; and I’m going to share it with you today, in a way that might surprise you.

I’ve been studying human behavior for about 20 years, and in 2011, I started sharing a new way to bring behaviors into your life, a method that I call Tiny Habits. And along the way as I was sharing it, I’m a researcher, so of course I’m doing research, on how to teach it better, and what works and what doesn’t, in terms of creating habits.

And, the bigger questions, you look at the data and you see some of the bigger research questions getting answered.

For example: What is it that makes a behavior become automatic? In other words, become a habit. The short answer on that is emotions create habits.

Another big research question: What is the relative importance of simplicity and motivation, when it comes to behavior change? The short answer on that is, when it comes to long term change, simplicity is the more reliable factor. So those are some of the big research questions, and I look at the data and you try to make sense of it.

And at this point, I have about a quarter million data points around habits and what works and what doesn’t. And every week, I’m getting about, at least, 2000 new data points. But the data itself, doesn’t tell the story of what’s happening in somebody’s life. You try to interpret the data, you try to make sense of it, you see patterns.

But when I go to a conference and people who’ve done Tiny Habits, come up and talk to me, I see into their lives. And then I’ll get emails where people will write me and explain what’s going on.

Ten minutes before I got on the plane to come here to Maui, I looked at my inbox and I had this kind of email, from a young father, and I’ll call him Kevin.

Kevin, as he explained his story, hadn’t been paid for 5 months in his job, so he’s needing to look for a new job. His wife left him, 4 months earlier, and his 3 boys. So he is there with his 3 boys. And he said he was in the dark of broken nights, a pretty bad space. And somehow he came across my Tiny Habits Method, and started learning the method.

And one of the habits he chose was this gem, what I’m calling my favorite habit. And as he started doing it, he found that naturally, he did it first thing in the morning, and then he found that he started doing other positive things. He explained that after doing this one little thing in the morning, that I’m going to tell you about soon, he then — he then started doing a 7 minute work out.

And then at 6:30 in the morning, when his 3 boys got up hitting the ground running, as he said, he was ready to help them. And so doing this little behavior then led to these positive outcomes. And he thanked me. And he said, “Finding the right tiny behavior helps you defeat giant sized self-sabotage.” Wow!

So, what I want to share with you today, this my favorite habit, has influences from Hawaii. A few years ago, it was my birthday; my partner and I were sitting out on our patio in California, enjoying the evening, on my birthday, outside.

And our neighbor, Charlotte, her Hawaiian name is Halaki, came walking out playing the ukulele. And she was walking towards us, and she was our best friend. And as she got closer I could hear that she was singing “Happy Birthday.” She was about 75 years old at the time and she came up, finished the song, it was charming, and then she took the ukulele and she handed it to me and said, “I’m giving you this gift, Happy Birthday.” Oh my gosh!

And then I was blown away when she explained this next thing.

Charlotte grew up in Hawaii. Her mom was a schoolteacher. I knew that, but what I didn’t know was this ukulele, it was an old Martin, with strum marks into the board, was her mother’s ukulele that she used as she taught kids in Hawaii.

So this treasured possession she was giving to me. Wow! She also gave me a card, a birthday card, and the front of the card said, “Everyday is a gift.” And it had a picture of a sailboat on it, on this water.

So, blown away, I took the card that evening, put it on the fridge, where we would see it all the time. So as we would walk through the house, we would see “Everyday is a gift.” It was on our minds thanks to Charlotte, thanks to Halaki.

Well, what we didn’t know, it was about 3 months later when Charlotte came and said, “Hey, will you come to a doctor’s appointment with me.”

I’m like, “What’s up?”

She said, “I think something’s up.”

What we didn’t know is, she knew she had a terminal illness. She wanted us to come to the doctor, to be there with her. We went to the doctor and learned, that indeed, it was serious and that she would pass soon. And she did.

So then as we walked through the kitchen, months later, that card’s still up. “Everyday is a gift”, had a lot of meaning in our lives. And we started saying naturally, my partner and I to each other, to optimize that gift: “Everyday is a gift.” We started saying, “It’s going to be a great day.”

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