Trying To Form A New Habit? Start Small, Says BJ Fogg

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BJ Fogg, author of "Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything." (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
BJ Fogg, author of "Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything." (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Taking on a new habit isn't easy, but habit formation expert BJ Fogg has some advice: start small. He joins us to discuss his new book, "Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything."

His Fogg Behavior Model dictates that (B)ehavior = (M)otivation + (A)bility + (P)rompt

Interview Highlights

How do tiny habits work?

"A behavior happens when three things come together at the same moment. There's motivation to do the behavior, there's the ability to do the behavior, and there's a prompt. And when those three things come together at the same moment, you do the behavior. If one of those elements is missing, you don't do the behavior. And so this model applies to one-time behavior, as it applies to stopping behaviors, and it also applies to behaviors we repeat, like habits."

"A habit basically is a behavior you do that gets wired into your brain. So you do it without thinking, without deliberating very much. And in 'Tiny Habits,' I try to set the record straight that the way a habit forms is not through repetition, but what forms a habit is the emotion you feel as you do the behavior or immediately after. The way that you hack your habits, the way that you wire them in very quickly is you cause yourself to feel successful as you do the behavior or immediately after, and it's that feeling that makes your brain take note and creates the habit."

How does it work in action?

"I felt kind of bad about not flossing my teeth, so I decided that I was going to pare it back to be just floss one tooth, find where it fits naturally in my life. So in this case, it's the prompt: What does it come after, what's going to prompt me? That's part of my model, prompt. You don't use alarms or Post-its — you find an existing routine to remind you. In flossing, it's kind of obvious: after I brush, I will floss one tooth. And so that is the tiny habit recipe."

"One of the things in the tiny habits method is you can always do more than one tooth. You can do more than two push-ups. You can do more than pour the glass of water. But if you do more, you count it as extra credit, and it's not a requirement for the next time. You don't raise the bar on yourself. So, for example, say you want to do push-ups daily and you might think, well, it'd be nice to do 10 or 20. Well, set the bar really low. Just one or two push-ups. If that's hard for you, just do wall push-ups, and that then becomes the habit you do every day. If you keep raising the bar, you're going to reach a point where you eventually fail."

What about breaking habits?

"It's a different process, just like planting a little maple tree and growing it is different than pulling it out of the earth. But you can use the tiny habits method to help you. So if we go back to motivation, ability and prompt — if you remove any one of those items, the behavior won't happen, including a bad habit. So I had the habit at restaurants of when bread or nacho chips would come, I would eat them. I mean, I love that stuff ... So I created a habit and it went like this: after I see somebody approaching me with bread or chips, I say, 'No bread, please.' Three words. What that did was two things at once: one, the prompt of having bread on the table saying, 'Eat me,' was not there and my ability to eat bread was vastly reduced. Sure, I could reach over to somebody else's table and grab it — that would be awkward."

This segment aired on January 8, 2020.

Paris Alston Host, Consider This
Paris Alston was WBUR's host of the Consider This podcast and a former producer for Radio Boston.


Tiziana Dearing Host, Radio Boston
Tiziana Dearing is the host of Radio Boston.



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