Success! Sustaining tiny habits

by | Dec 18, 2012 | Blog | 0 comments

Celebrating success is fun!

Last year at this time I participated in BJ Fogg’s groundbreaking Tiny Habits program.

Today, two of the three habits I adopted are ingrained in my daily routine. The third habit requires the involvement of others, which makes it more complicated to do as I’ll explain later. (Its success rate is higher than before the Tiny Habits program, but not 100%.)

And we Tiny Habit activists are growing in numbers. Over the past 12 months, at least half a dozen of my colleagues, clients and acquaintances as well as many others have successfully participated in the Tiny Habits program, the brainchild of the research psychologist, behavior designer and innovator BJ Fogg.

Thanks to BJ’s Tiny Habits and his persuasion boot camp plus other work, I’ve also learned and applied techniques that make behavior change so much simpler for me and others to achieve.

Specifically, I’ve experienced the value of:

  1. Taking baby steps.
  2. “Crispifying” behaviors.
  3. Practicing.

First, take tiny steps. Small steps that you trigger in the right sequence can lead to big, sustainable change.

For example, let’s say you want to improve your staff meetings. A tiny step would be introducing an agenda that includes the purpose, intended outcomes and topics. Once you and your colleagues adjust to that, you can make more enhancements, such as  meeting ground rules, different formats, rotating responsibilities for agenda development, etc.

The principle of baby steps applies for complex strategic initiatives too. Break macro tasks into micro asks of others.

Second, crisply define what behaviors or actions you want for yourself and others. Be precise and concrete—that is, crispy as BJ teaches.

For example, if you want someone to provide you feedback on a requirements definition document, do say: “Use track changes to provide me your comments on the document’s content by 5 pm PT on December 21.” Don’t say: “Give me your reactions to the document by the end of the week.”

Third, practice, practice, practice even though you’re not a professional athlete, actor or musician.

By rehearsing tasks, you improve your performance and your results. Plus, by becoming more comfortable with the rote aspects of these tasks—especially preparing for presentations and meetings—you’re able to free your brain for more complex tasks.

The new book Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better by Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway and Katie Yezzi has been a breakthrough for me. (The book is number four on my list of 12 best business books in 2012.)

Until this year, I had resisted practicing. To me, it’s more fun to do something new than spend time on the familiar. (Could it also be my father speaking the truth and telling me that my piano playing got worse with every piano lesson and lesson?)

And it’s definitely not fun to conspire with my husband to cajole our big dog Gustav to come out from under the dining room table after dinner and open his mouth for teeth brushing, which was my third tiny habit from last December. Yet, we continue practicing…

The practicing has led to a tiny breakthrough. Gustav needed—and deserved— a non-edible reward to recognize and thank him for his patience in sitting still for tooth brushing. So now when we put the toothbrush down, we next clap and praise him. He responds by wagging his tail.

Victory! As I learned from BJ but haven’t consistently practiced, we need immediate praise when we do a new habit. Forget about the once-a-year recognition. The immediate praise provides a positive emotion, which makes us accept the new habit as automatic.

Will you join me in the new year to practice taking baby steps to achieve great results?


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