Changing Your Behavior in Baby Steps

B. J. Fogg is founder and director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University. He researches ways to help people change habits with support from online services and mobile devices.

Fogg’s 3 Tiny Habits program is based on a single strategy: Spend a week adopting 3 new habits. And make sure that each habit is a “baby step”—a single, concrete behavior that you can do within 30 seconds. Examples are:

  • Floss one tooth
  • Practice one short chord sequence on your guitar
  • After your morning coffee, go for a 30-second walk

The idea is that baby steps can cascade into larger changes in behavior. After flossing one tooth, for example, you might find it easier to floss all your teeth.

Shortly after New Year’s Day 2012, Fogg spoke to a reporter from KQED about this. I found it fascinating. Some highlights from his speaking during the interview:

What a mistake—the whole idea around New Year’s resolutions. People aren’t picking specific behaviors, they’re picking abstractions.

The strength of a habit is defined, at least the way I see it, is how much of a decision was that behavior. So if you’re deciding ‘yeah, I’m going to go to the gym today’ it’s a pretty good indication it’s not a habit. Habits are things you do without deciding.

You declare victory. Like I am so awesome, I just flossed one tooth. And I know it sounds ridiculous. But I believe that when you reinforce yourself like that, your brain will say yeah, awesome, let’s do that.

If you really took the techniques for training dogs and applied it to yourself, you would have much better success. Now, I’m sure people are upset with me for saying that because people want to think we’re different from other animals. When it comes to behavior, we’re a lot more alike than people want to believe.

For more info and to sign up for the 3 Tiny Habits program, go here.

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