Habits are most easily built when you start small. Learning to start small is easiest when you are… small. Tiny Habits® is a system created by BJ Fogg, PhD, head of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University. He’s been studying how people change behaviors for over 20 years, and now you can apply his research in your parenting.
Have you heard it takes 21 days to build a habit? Actually, one popular study showed it takes 66 days. Did you know that neither of those are correct for every habit? Each time a habit is built, the time it takes to form is based on three things:
- The person forming the habit
- The habit itself
- The context in which the habit is being built
If you hate doing something, it will take you longer to build the habit. If you love doing something, it will take less time. If it’s within your wheelhouse already, it will take less time. If it isn’t… more time. You get the idea.
The best part is, it doesn’t matter how long it takes. It just matters that you create, and help your children create, positive habits.
The power is in starting small. The real power is in starting tiny..
The Tiny Habits Method
I’ve been following Dr. Fogg, and his research, since 2010. I’ve used his system to create tiny habits in my life. Many of these habits have compounded into much larger habits. Some are still tiny. Some habits should grow, while others don’t need to.
Habits like running, writing, reading, and lifting weights can start tiny, and become huge, gradually. Other habits like a morning gratitude practice, flossing, and affirmations may only take a few minutes or less, so no need to increase.
While these small changes are simple, there is a method to it. If you want to teach your kids the easiest way to create lasting habits, you’ll need to understand the method.
It starts with The Fogg Behavior Model:
Used with permission by Dr. BJ Fogg | BehaviorModel.org
Let’s look at how this model breaks down…
B = M A P
Behavior happens when…Motivation, Ability, and Prompt converge at the same moment.
The recipe is looks like this:
After I _______, I will ______, and then celebrate.
That’s the recipe for a tiny habit. You can get recipe cards to fill out with your kids.
To make it simple, the ABCs of behavior design are:
- Anchor Moment – An existing habit that reminds you to do the new behavior (i.e. after I brush my teeth, I will…).
- New Tiny Behavior – A tiny version of the habit you want to create (i.e. I will do two pushups or floss one tooth).
- Instant Celebration – A small celebration to create a positive feeling internally — this must occur immediately (i.e. saying “yes!” or “awesome!”). Dr. Fogg calls this feeling “Shine.”
It’s a simple concept. You find something you already do (an established habit), attach a tiny habit, and build the habit over time. There are seven steps in the process…
7 Steps in Behavior Design
- Step 1: Clarify the Aspiration
- Step 2: Explore Behavior Options
- Step 3: Match with Specific Behaviors
- Step 4: Start Tiny
- Step 5: Find a Good Prompt
- Step 6: Celebrate Successes
- Step 7: Troubleshoot, Iterate, and Expand
1. Clarify the Aspiration
First, you must figure out what you’re trying to do. This is the habit you’re building.
2. Explore Behavior Options
Next, figure out what you already do, and what you’re likely to stick with.
3. Match With Specific Behaviors
Now, figure out which current behavior you can attach the new habit to.
4. Start Tiny
You’ll want to start extremely small. Something that only takes seconds.
5. Find a Good Prompt
Find a part of your existing routine that prompts the new habit.
6. Celebrate Successes
This is huge. It may sound silly at first, but you must celebrate in a small way to train your mind. This ensures the habits sticks. It’s a sort of mindhack. But the celebration must be immediate, or your brain won’t connect it to the new habit. Dr. Fogg explains how rewarding yourself with a massage after a week of working out consistently is great, but that’s an incentive. Your brain can’t connect the two, since they’re so far apart. Immediate celebration is directly connected to your new habit.
7. Troubleshoot, Iterate, and Expand
Think of building a new habit like budgeting. It doesn’t always work right away. If something isn’t working out, troubleshoot the habit to see why you’re forgetting to do it, or why it’s hard for you to get started. The habit could be too large, or you could be trying to prompt it at the wrong time. To iterate, simply keep performing the new habit. Once the tiny habit is established—if it makes sense with the given habit—it’s time to expand.
When you’re teaching your kids to build new habits, teach them to identify with the habit. This is just as important as starting small.
Identity-based habits are built when you shift your mindset to become a person of this new habit. Bring the “I’m the kind of person who…” into the scenario.
Once you identify with the new habit, you’ll train your brain to become the person you want to be.
Instead of trying to exercise, become a person who exercises regularly. Whether this is true today or not, you must become a person who never misses a workout, or who never misses two days in a row. If you always think of yourself as “becoming” a fit person, it will be hard to get there. You have to identify as that person now.
Here are some examples:
- Instead of, “I want to write a book,” say, “I’m the kind of person who writes daily”
- Instead of, “I want to be in shape,” say, “I’m the kind of person who exercises daily”
- Instead of, “I want to run faster,” say, “I’m the kind of person who runs five days a week”
It’s not about brainwashing yourself to believe something that isn’t true. It’s about actually becoming the kind of person who does the new habit. This is similar to affirmations insofar as you’re often stating something that isn’t true… yet.
Teaching Tiny Habits to Kids
We’re never taught how to build new habits. Though children are often expected to build habits on their own.
Related: 47 Things You Weren’t Taught in School (That Our Kids Need to Know)
If they learn how to build these habits, it will be an easy practice they can take into adulthood.
Make it fun for your kids. Teach them the basic idea of creating habits, and start creating habits with them.
My kids love working out, and it’s easy for kids to build their fitness quickly. You can start with the pushup habit. It’s an easy one. Attach it to something they already do, like brushing their teeth. If they struggle to remember to brush their teeth daily, do it with them. Brush your teeth together, and then do two pushups. Once they get used to that, do three pushups. In a few months, you could have a routine of brushing your teen, and doing 20 pushups. You’re teaching your kids how to build positive habits the whole time.
You can also tie this into cleaning up:
“When mom or dad give the 15-minute warning for dinnertime, I will put away my toys.”
Don’t try to create 10 habits the first day. Start with one. Add more habits gradually.
If you implement it in a fun way, your kids will see this as a game. If they continue to see it that way for the rest of their life, building habits will be a breeze.
To learn more about this method and Dr. Fogg’s research on habits, I highly recommend picking up a copy of his new book:
Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything
The world’s leading expert on habit formation shows how you can have a happier, healthier life: by starting small.
When it comes to change, TINY IS MIGHTY. Start with two pushups a day, not a two-hour workout; or five deep breaths each morning rather than an hour of meditation. In TINY HABITS, B.J. Fogg brings his experience coaching more than 40,000 people to help you lose weight, de-stress, sleep better, or achieve any goal of your choice. You just need Fogg’s behavior formula: make it easy, make it fit your life, and make it rewarding. Whenever you get in your car, take one yoga breath. Smile. Whenever you get in bed, turn off your phone. Give yourself a high five.
Change can be easy—once it starts, it grows. Let B.J. Fogg show you exactly how.
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