The most common reasons that my clients give for failing to write are 1) lack of time and 2) procrastination. The Tiny Habits method solves both problems.
This method is the brainchild of B. J. Fogg, a psychologist at Stanford University. B. J. offers a free online course about habit change that I highly recommend. I’ll introduce his ideas here and suggest ways for writers to use them.
TRIGGER, BEHAVIOR, CELEBRATION
There’s an old saying: If you want to learn something new, then take it in “baby steps.” This is the crux of B. J.’s method. There are three key elements:
1. Trigger. This is a stimulus that cues a behavior. For example, you set an alarm (trigger) to cue a specific behavior—getting out of bed in the morning. The best triggers are things that happen every day for you.
2. Behavior. This is the new habit that you want to adopt. For B. J., the key is to make this behavior “stupid small”—something that’s easy to do and takes 30 seconds or less.
Let’s say that you want to develop a daily habit of flossing your teeth. For many people, the trigger for this behavior is the act of brushing their teeth.
If we set an intention to floss all our teeth after brushing, however, that’s not likely to happen. The behavior is too big. Instead, says B. J., make it your intention to floss only one tooth.
Sound silly? It did to me at first. But here’s the thing: Success with a tiny behavior change naturally expands. If you consistently floss one tooth every time that you brush, then you’ll find yourself flossing more teeth over time.
3. Celebration. Every time you successfully perform your tiny habit, congratulate yourself. Your reward doesn’t have to be dramatic. It just needs to be consistent and authentic. One option is to say something to yourself such as:
- I am awesome.
- I did it.
- This is working.
You might ask about the role of motivation and willpower in this method. The answer is: Little, if any. What matters most is good behavior design: trigger, tiny habit, and celebration.
HOW TO STATE YOUR TINY HABIT
To choose your tiny habit, describe it with a specific syntax:
After I… I will….
“After I” describes your trigger. “I will” describes your tiny habit. (What’s unstated—and still important—is remembering to celebrate.)
In the introduction to his Tiny Habits course, B. J. gives these examples:
- After I pour my morning coffee, I will text my mom.
- After I start the dishwasher, I will read one sentence from a book.
- After I walk in my door from work, I will get out my workout clothes.
- After I hear any phone ring, I will exhale and relax for two seconds.
- After I put my head on the pillow, I will think of one good thing from my day.
TINY HABITS FOR DAILY WRITING
Consider the following possibilities for developing a daily writing habit, no matter how busy or lazy you claim to be:
- After I get to my desk in the morning, I will write one sentence.
- After I pour my morning coffee, I will dictate one sentence.
- After I start the dishwasher, I will open Microsoft Word.
- After I sit down on the train, I will open my notebook.
- After I close a book, I will write one comment on what I’ve just read.
Experiment and find out what works for you.