Yes, starting Monday, Dec. 19 through Friday, Dec. 23— during the very busy holiday season, I began acting differently. And several days later—over the holiday weekend and into this week—these habits have stuck and are now part of my daily routine.
No magic, special equipment or complexity involved. Instead, I carefully followed the methods of the director of the Stanford Persuasive Tech Lab, which BJ explained to us volunteer participants via email.
Along with his simple directions, BJ mentioned that he’s continually striving to improve his teaching techniques, especially to help others learn the skills of creating new habits. His goal is to teach “people who design solutions for others. These innovators might work in health startups, nonprofits, ecommerce ventures, government agencies, and more.”
By the way, BJ describes a “tiny habit” as a behavior that:
- You do at least once a day.
- It takes you less than 30 seconds to do.
- It requires little effort.
“Simplicity changes behavior. — The most important three words you’ll read today,” BJ wrote at the start of the program. That’s why for our own success and learning, he wanted us to keep our new “tiny habits” very simple. And it could be something personal if that would help us get the hang of creating new habits.
He also requested that we do two other things. Make sure we did our new “tiny habit” on a schedule—after an existing habit that we always do every day. This helped us anchor the new habit in our routine. The current habit becomes a trigger event for the new. (He also encouraged us to build in reminders or cues if we needed them to help remember to do the new “tiny habit.”)
Last but not least, BJ also said we should say “Victory!” to ourselves each time we did the new habit. This would make us feel good about our “tiny habit.” And by reinforcing ourselves and the behavior, we’d feel a strong positive emotion. And the stronger the positive emotion, the faster the new “tiny habit” becomes automatic.
(Conversely, BJ advised that if we felt any pain when we did our new habit, we had to make our “tiny habit” simpler. Otherwise, our brain would find ways to keep us from avoiding the behavior in the future.)
Having taken David Rock’s Results Coaching System™, the neuroscience-based, process-focused, and outcome driven program earlier this year, I know the importance of making the habit-building experience positive. I also know that it’s easier to create new habits than to break old habits, because the brain is a connection machine ready to rewire when you show effort. (As an aside, focus your energy on building new good habits. You’ll then improve your chances for improving your performance because your good habits will take root and your bad habits should atrophy without use.)
While embedding three new, priceless “tiny habits” into my routine thanks to BJ’s “Tiny Habits” program, I also experienced these valuable insights:
- Taking time to set myself up for success is instrumental to my success. For example, I had been struggling to integrate two of my new “tiny habits” into my daily routine for a number of years—flossing my own teeth daily and brushing Gustav the dog’s teeth daily. And I was failing; my behavior was not consistent. With this program, I realized I had never taken time to think about additional actions I could take to make the habits easy to remember and to do so. I set up cues for myself and success!
- Being accountable also helps me succeed. Knowing that BJ would ask me each day whether I had done my three “tiny habits” helped me stay on the straight and narrow path to new, improved behavior.
- Having external support and encouragement strengthens my commitment. Halfway through the week, I realized I kept forgetting to congratulate myself for performing my new habits. I did recognize that I was appreciating BJ’s “atta-girls.” I also basked in the compliments nursing home residents and visitors gave me when they noticed and commented on Gustav’s “big, very white teeth.” (My desk is getting tidier—the focus of my third “tiny new habit”—but I’m not ready to show it off yet.)
As a change coach and consultant, I will apply these insights and the other learnings from BJ’s program into my work. Like BJ and David, I’m intent in introducing continual improvement to help my clients enhance their performance and results. And let’s face it, many change initiatives could benefit from more support, accountability and time devoted to planning for their success.
So as the new year begins, you can help me be on the lookout for trigger events that will spark you and your organization to recognize that you can’t stick with the status quo any longer and you need to take some action, including developing new habits to improve your productivity and efficiency. For example, you and your team’s calls to action may be ignored, you may be getting complaints about your service levels or you may be experiencing near misses.
In these situations, you’ll need to do something. So how about getting on the path with me for clear, credible change that sticks? This could be a habit that helps you, without me becoming a habit—unlike those change consultants who burrow in their clients’ offices for months at a stretch. (Not me!)
How about it? Are you willing to try something tiny in 2012 that works?