Tiny Habits That Stick

woman holding thumbs up

How many times have you set a goal for yourself – and then wasn’t able to stick with the plan?

You’re not alone. We’ve all been there - feeling so defeated. And, with each succeeding “failure”, you stop trying.

Part of the reason we have a tough time achieving our goals, is that we’re often encouraged by “experts” to make “Big Bodacious Goals.”

I, too, used to think that making BIG goals were the best. But my mindset changed, decades ago, while conducting research with women who had successfully lost weight and kept it off for years.

I kept waiting to hear the stories of the plans they made, of the programs they followed.

Yet nearly every woman that had successfully lost weight – and kept it off, shared stories of how they did so by making tiny, doable changes…that overtime, added up to a big deal.

They didn’t make any MAJOR changes. I wrote about their stories in an old book of mine, “Dr. Jo’s No Big Deal Diet”. The title came from several of the women saying, “Oh, it’s no big deal, all I did was…”

What No Big Deal Changes Can YOU Make?

I’m always encouraging my audience members to make small changes (rather than major overhauls) to increase your odds of success.

But, don’t take it from me. Back in 2020, BJ Fogg, the founder and director of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University, wrote the book, Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything.

"It’s our approach to self-improvement that needs to change." ~BJ Fogg, Author of Tiny Habits

In BJ Fogg’s article, he notes that though people make a lot of resolutions every January, there’s a painful gap between what people want and what they actually do. So true!

Through his research with more than 40,000 people, he’s discovered a formula for any successful shift in behavior. One that recommends only tiny adjustments. Here’s his three-step process.

Step 1: Pick a behavior you WANT to do

Yes, something that YOU really want to do. Not something that someone wants you do – or one that you feel pressured, obligated to do. Got it?

Step 2: Pick a behavior that you are ABLE to do

In other words, don’t say you’re going to “try” to fit in seven or eight hours of sleep when you barely sleep four hours now. That’s not very reasonable, is it?

This is where he suggests making the change simple and small, such as:

  • Setting an alarm to get to bed no later than 11:30 so you can get five hours of sleep
  • Stop eating at 10PM, instead of midnight
  • Cutting back to two sodas a day instead of three
  • Do one minute of an abs workout
  • Practice your hobby for 15 minutes every day

Notice that none of these suggestions are perfect. That was intentional. It’s about starting where you’re at and aiming to make just one tiny do-able, realistic change.

Jeremy Dean, author of Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don't...and How to Make Any Change Stick, too, suggests that when making a good habit the most important thing is to make it small and do-able. 

When we naturally try to suppress a habit, "ironically this can make them become stronger and all the more likely to be performed. Replacing bad habits with good ones is a better way to go."

 So, if you're trying to cut out all that butter, replace it with some herbs. Think you're drinking too much coffee, how about replacing those last few cups with some herbal tea?

Love to snack...but don't always make the best choices? Keep some healthier snacks like filling nuts and dried fruit at your desk. You get the idea...

Step 3: Identify a way to trigger the behavior

Once you’ve decided what new behavior you want to add, connect it to another behavior that you have already firmly established.

Will you do this new habit first thing in the morning? After brushing your teeth? Immediately following lunch? Right before you shower? Get it?

A couple of years ago I set a goal to hold a one-minute plank every day. No, not a 15-minute abs workout. Just one minute! And, I've kept it up.

I do my daily plank right before my nightly stretching routine…which BTW, consists of only three different stretches that I’ve done now for more than 20 years.

Tiny habits really ARE easier to maintain. You can always grow from there.

I’d like to now offer my own fourth step that I believe is absolutely critical for long term success of any changes we make. And, besides four is my favorite number :)

Dr. Jo's Step 4: Note the positive and forgive yourself if you fall short

While my abs could use a whole lot more work, a one-minute plank was MY tiny habit. And, while I don’t do it every single day, I’ve managed to fit it into my day about three or four times a week.

So, yes, I “could” do more. And, perhaps I “should” do more.

But, I work hard to prevent my brain from going down that “could have, should have” scolding path. Because where does self-scolding get you?

Not more motivated…that’s for sure. It only makes you feel defeated – and you give it all up. Isn’t some progress better than none?

I look at the positive instead. Because some weeks I do them every day. In fact, somedays I DO more than one set.

And, I’ve been able to successfully keep this up for a couple of years now. And, my abs are stronger than they were before. Yes, that's all that's important - moving in the right direction.

Remember that each time you repeat the new habit, the habit gets stronger, until eventually you will perform it automatically.

Let Me Ask You: What if you started that tiny habit 20 years ago? How would things be different today?

I know...life is crazy. It's hard to change things in a big way.

What tiny “no big deal” habit can you start – and succeed at? Don't wait for the new year. And, Monday isn't a magical day to start.

Start right now.

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