- There are two ways to change your behavior (that work):
- Change your environment
- Change your habits in tiny ways
- Always start small.
- Habits should be tiny. Then they don't create any pressure. They will naturally lead to huge changes.
- Only try to change / add / remove 1-3 behaviors to begin with.
- Motivation and willpower is unreliable for making (long-term) change.
- Celebrate your successes. This is incredibly important.
- People change best by feeling good, not by feeling bad.
- The three variables that drive human behavior:
- Prompt is very important: No prompt, no behavior.
- Removing prompts isn't the only way to disrupt behavior - but it's one of the easiest.
- It's often not a motivation problem. So don't start there - which we usually do. "If you don't do x then!..."
- Getting extremely motivated can help you overcome a difficult task. But it's a spike - it doesn't last.
- Aspirations and outcomes are great for directions, but they are nothing more than a compass. They are a great place to start, though. What do you want?
- If a habit doesn't work for you, revise or cut it.
- Two ways to make a behavior tiny
- Starter Step: One small move toward the desired behavior. If you want to run, it could be to put on your running shoes.
- Scaling Back: Take the behavior you want and shrink it. Flossing all teeth → Flossing only one tooth.
- People suddenly making a big change is the exception, not the rule. Small is successful and sustainable. But not as interesting as big changes — that's why you don't hear much about it. Big bold moves do not work as well as small stealthy ones.
- The most reliable way to drive behavior is to make it easy to do the desired behavior.
- Three approaches to making a behavior easier to do
- Increase your skills
- Usually done when riding a motivation wave. It's learning or practicing in order to level up.
- Get tools and resources
- "Getting the right tools to make a behavior easier could mean anything from getting a better set of kitchen knives to finding more comfortable walking shoes"
- Make the behavior tiny
- Using either Starter Step or Scaling Back.
- Increase your skills
- Meanwhile habits: I will do x while I Y
- No behavior happens without a prompt
- Action Prompts are also called anchors. They are much more powerful than Person prompts and Context Prompts.
- Anchors are habits you use to remind you of other habits — your prompt, so to say.
- Anchors should be precise
- The new habit should be in the same location as the anchor
- Your anchor and new habit should be matching in frequency — they should ben done equally many times (so many not: after I pee, I will go run..)
- Emotions create habit.
- Not repetition. Not frequency. Emotions.
- This is why we celebrate our victories. So every time you perform the habit you want, celebrate.
- You don't have to keep celebrating when your habit is automatic. But you may need to do it occasionally — like watering a flower.
- Rewarding yourself days after performing the habit (going for a run and then getting a massage a few days later, for example) does not make your brain correlate the behavior with the reward. Your reward (celebration) has to come right after the behavior.
- It's important to lower expectations.
- A good way to wire in a new habit is to repeat the behavior sequence a few times. First the anchor, then the habit — and immediately celebrate. Repeat this 7-10 times.
- A faster way to get a new habit in is to celebrate three times.
- When you remember to do the habit
- When you're doing the habit
- Immediately after doing the habit
- Know which new habits will have meaning to you. Know what you really what from what you think you should do.
- You can make your life easier by thoughtfully design your environment to accommodate new habits.
- Guidelines for redesigning your environment
- Invest time in this!
- Make environmental adjustments as you begin your new habit — redesigning as necessary (to make the habit easier)
- Question tradition — who says your vitamins should be in the kitchen?
- Invest in the gear you need
- Success brings momentum: "when you feel successful at something, even if it's tiny, your confidence grows quickly, and your motivation increases to do that habit again and perform related behaviors." — success momentum.
- With tiny habits, you're shooting for a bunch of tiny successes done quickly
- Learn how many new habits to do at once and when to add more.
- Most people start with three super easy habits. Then add three new habits each month.
- It's good to mix up the general theme. One exercise habit, one food-related habit, and one productivity habit. For example.
- If you're trying to get into something new, immerse yourself in it. Go to events that gather people, products, and services related to it.
- The Ability Chain Model (to break bad habits)
- Increase the time required
- Increase the money required
- Increase the physical effort required
- Increase the mental effort required
- Make the habit conflict with important routines
- But remember, we change best by feeling good. So making your life miserable is not a good way to break a bad habit.
🔦📒 Highlights & Notes
Tiny is mighty.
At least when it comes to change.
It's our approach to making changes that is faulty - not us.
In order to design successful habits and change your behaviors, you should do three things.
Stop judging yourself.
Take your aspirations and break them down into tiny behaviors.
Embrace mistakes as discoveries and use them to move forward.
There is never enough time. The pressure of time makes us much less likely to start changing what we want to change. Instead of feeling bad about it, start adopting tiny - 30 second - habits.
The author helped business create products that we would use every day. Then he started focusing on the personal behavior. He started by experimenting on himself.
Before I go on, let me set the record straight: information alone does not reliably change behavior. This is a common mistake people make, even well-meaning professionals. The assumption is this: If we give people the right information, it will change their attitudes, which in turn will change their behaviors. I call this the “Information-Action Fallacy.”
In my research on habit formation, dating back to 2009, I’ve found that there are only three things we can do that will create lasting change: Have an epiphany, change our environment, or change our habits in tiny ways. Creating a true epiphany for ourselves (or others) is difficult and probably impossible. We should rule out that option unless we have magical powers (I don’t). But here’s the good news: The other two options can lead to lasting change if we follow the right program, and Tiny Habits gives us a new way to tap the power of environment and baby steps.
We can change our behavior by changing our environment or by changing our habits in tiny ways.
Creating positive habits is the place to start, and creating tiny positive habits is the path to developing much bigger ones. Once you know how Tiny Habits works—and why it works—you can make big one-time changes. You can disrupt unwanted habits. You can work up to bucket-list behaviors like running a marathon.
We always start small. If you don't start small, you can't go big.
The essence of Tiny Habits is this: Take a behavior you want, make it tiny, find where it fits naturally in your life, and nurture its growth. If you want to create long-term change, it’s best to start small
With the Tiny Habits method, you focus on small actions that you can do in less than thirty seconds. You will quickly wire in new habits, and then they will grow naturally. Starting tiny means you can begin creating a big change without worrying about the time involved
Habits should be tiny. Then they don't create any pressure. They will naturally lead to huge changes.
With Tiny Habits, I advise people to start with three very small behaviors or even just one
Start small - only 1-3 behaviors.
No matter how much you want to cultivate a healthy habit, you won’t be able to do it reliably if you start big. When you go big, the new habit probably won’t stick. In many people’s lives, tiny isn’t just the best option, it might be the only option.
Going for big habits right away doesn't work.
Because these behaviors are so small and the program so flexible, emotional risk is eliminated. There is no real failure in Tiny Habits. There are little stumbles, but if you get up again, that’s not failure—that’s a habit in the making.
The changes will be so small that you'll barely feel the 'failures'
Over the last twenty years, I’ve found that the only consistent, sustainable way to grow big is to start small
Start small to go big
A change myth was holding Amy back—the pervasive idea that you’ve got to go big or go home. We live in an aspiration-driven culture that is rooted in instant gratification. We find it difficult to enact or even accept incremental progress. Which is exactly what you need to cultivate meaningful long-term change. People get frustrated and demoralized when things don’t happen quickly. It’s natural. It’s normal. But it’s another way we’re set up to fail.
We want big changes but don't want to work for them - we crave instant gratification.
One tiny action, one small bite, might feel insignificant at first, but it allows you to gain the momentum you need to ramp up to bigger challenges and faster progress. The next thing you know, you’ve eaten the whole whale.
Start small, gain momentum - and suddenly, you've gone big.
As you know, motivation and willpower get a lot of airtime. People are always looking for ways to ramp them up and sustain them over time. The problem is that both motivation and willpower are shape-shifters by nature, which makes them unreliable.
Motivation and willpower is unreliable for making (long-term) change.
When something is tiny, it’s easy to do—which means you don’t need to rely on the unreliable nature of motivation.
With Tiny Habits, you also learn how to feel good in your life. The ability to pat yourself on the back instead of beat yourself up grows solid, life-changing roots.
With the Tiny Habits method, you celebrate successes no matter how small they are. This is how we take advantage of our neurochemistry and quickly turn deliberate actions into automatic habits. Feeling successful helps us wire in new habits, and it motivates us to do more
With Tiny Habits, we celebrate successes. This reinforces behavior- which makes the changes stick.
The Anatomy of Tiny Habits
1. ANCHOR MOMENT
An existing routine (like brushing your teeth) or an event that happens (like a phone ringing). The Anchor Moment reminds you to do the new Tiny Behavior.
2. NEW TINY BEHAVIOR
A simple version of the new habit you want, such as flossing one tooth or doing two push-ups. You do the Tiny Behavior immediately after the Anchor Moment.
3. INSTANT CELEBRATION
Something you do to create positive emotions, such as saying, “I did a good job!” You celebrate immediately after doing the new Tiny Behavior.
Anchor (attach) to an existing habit, perform he behavior, celebrate it.
What I discovered is that all of these behaviors emerge from the same components. Their relationship drives our every action and reaction—they are the basic ingredients of human behavior.
If there’s one concept from my book I hope you embrace, it’s this: People change best by feeling good, not by feeling bad
People change best by feeling good, not by feeling bad.
The Elements of Behavior
Here’s a related insight that might begin to transform your life (it transformed mine): The easier behavior is to do, the more likely the behavior will become habit.
This applies to habits we consider “good” and “bad.” It doesn’t matter. Behavior is behavior. It all works the same way.
You don’t start with motivation when you troubleshoot.
You follow these steps instead. Try each step in order. If you don’t get results, move to the next step.
Check to see if there’s a prompt to do the behavior.
See if the person has the ability to do the behavior.
See if the person is motivated to do the behavior.
If you’re reading this book, there’s a good chance you have some things you want to change but haven’t yet. So what has booby-trapped your attempts at change?
The Motivation Monkey.
The Motivation Monkey tricks us into setting unreasonable goals. He can sometimes help us reach amazing heights, but he will often abandon us when we need him most.
Be careful of setting too big goals. The book 'Finish' says this too.
You can change your life by changing your behaviors. You know that. But what you may not know is that only three variables drive those behaviors.
Motivation, Ability, and Prompt are the three variables.
A behavior happens when the three elements of MAP—Motivation, Ability, and Prompt—come together at the same moment. Motivation is your desire to do the behavior. Ability is your capacity to do the behavior. And Prompt is your cue to do the behavior.
B=MAP APPLIES TO ALL HUMAN BEHAVIOR
Behaviors are like bicycles. They can look different, but the core mechanisms are the same. Wheels. Brakes. Pedals.
That being said, just because the building blocks of behavior are the same doesn’t mean that those behaviors feel the same, look the same, or act the same. Adding to the disconnect, the emotions people have about pleasurable behaviors differ drastically from the ones they have about behaviors they deem challenging. Sometimes it feels more like the difference between a unicycle and a road bike. At first, some people can’t see how the two categories of behavior are even related. This concept is important for anyone trying to change any behavior.
Just because behavior works the same way under the hood, it doesn't mean it doesn't feel and look differently
Here’s a key insight: Behaviors that ultimately become habits will reliably fall above the Action Line.
That's when you both want to do it and you can do it.
- The more motivated you are to do a behavior, the more likely you are to do the behavior
- The harder a behavior is to do, the less likely you are to do it
You need serious motivation to do something difficult.
- Motivation and ability work together like teammates
In general, the more you do a behavior, the easier it gets.
- No behavior happens without a prompt
If you don’t have a prompt, your levels of motivation and ability don’t matter. Either you are prompted to act or you’re not. No prompt, no behavior. Simple yet powerful.
No prompt, no behavior.
If you don’t hear the phone ring, you don’t answer it.
Example of no prompt; no behavior
You can disrupt a behavior you don’t want by removing the prompt. This isn’t always easy, but removing the prompt is your best first move to stop a behavior from happening.
Stop bad behavior by removing prompts
If that hadn’t worked, there were other dials I could have adjusted—but prompts are the low-hanging fruit of Behavior Design.
Removing prompts isn't the only way to disrupt behavior - but it's one of the easiest
In many cases, you’ll find your lack of doing a behavior is not a motivation issue at all. You can solve for the behavior by finding a good prompt or by making the behavior easier to do.
It's often not a motivation problem. So don't start there - which we usually do. "If you don't do x then!..."
From now on, I want you to look at your behavior the way a scientist looks at what’s growing in a petri dish—with curiosity and objective distance. This is going to be a different mindset than the ones in many of the change books you might have read. I’m not dwelling on willpower or rigidly prescribing something that is going to set you up for feeling bad. I want you to treat your life as your own personal “change lab”—a place to experiment with the person you want to be. A place where you not only feel safe but also feel like anything is possible.
Change your look on your behavior. It's not good or bad. Don't judge it. You can experiment and push it further towards where you want it to go.
Motivation—Focus on Matching
What is motivation?
Motivation is a desire to do a specific behavior (eat spinach tonight) or a general class of behaviors (eat vegetables and other healthy foods each night).
Big spikes of motivation are awesome for doing really hard things—once.
Rescuing your child.
Quitting your job.
Throwing away all the junk food in your house.
Sprinting through the airport to catch a flight.
Attending your first AA meeting.
Writing a letter to the editor.
Keeping all ten of your New Year’s resolutions . . . for a day.
Getting extremely motivated can help you overcome a difficult task. But it's a spike - it doesn't last.
Aspirations are abstract desires, like wanting your kids to succeed in school. Outcomes are more measurable, like getting straight As second semester. Both of these are great places to start the process of Behavior Design.
But aspirations and outcomes are not behaviors.
They're (aspirations and outcomes are) great for knowing where to go towards, but they aren't anything more than a compass.
The first step in Behavior Design is to get clear on your aspirations (or outcomes). What do you want? What is your dream? What result do you want to achieve?
Write down your aspirations or outcomes and consider whatever you write as something you will probably revise.
Can also do outcomes, but they are more intimidating and less flexible then aspirations
You get down to specifics in step 2. You select one of your aspirations, then come up with a bunch of specific behaviors that can help you achieve your aspiration.
You are not making any decisions or commitments in this step. You are exploring your options. The more behaviors you list, the better. You can tap into your creativity or maybe ask friends for their ideas.
Step 2 in behavior design is brainstorming behaviors that help you achieve a specific aspiration.
Be creative and don't reject things. Act as if anything was possible
To generate lots of behavior options, you can use the following categories during your own Magic Wanding sessions.
What behaviors would you do one time?
What new habits would you create?
What habit would you stop?
Questions to ask during step 2
No matter what kind of change you want to make, matching yourself with the right behaviors is the key to changing your life for good. In Behavior Design we have a name for the best matches: Golden Behaviors.
A Golden Behavior has three criteria.
The behavior is effective in realizing your aspiration (impact)
You want to do the behavior (motivation)
You can do the behavior (ability)
Step 3 - behavior matching
Motivation is often unreliable when it comes to home improvement. And it’s also unreliable with diets, exercise routines, creative projects, filing taxes, opening businesses, searching for jobs, planning conferences—self-improvement of all types. The Motivation Monkey’s traps are stealthy and numerous. They catch you whether you’re facing a big project or attempting to change your habits.
Motivation is unreliable
Here’s the unfortunate thing—most people believe motivation is the true engine of behavior change. Words like “rewards” and “incentives” get thrown around with such regularity that most people think you can create whatever habits you want if you find the right carrot to dangle in front of yourself. This kind of thinking is understandable, but it also happens to be wrong.
Yes, motivation is one of three elements that drives behavior. The problem is that motivation is often fickle, and this chapter digs deeper into the challenges it presents.
Motivation is just 1/3 of the elements that drive behavior. And it's fickle.
In my own work, I focus on three sources of motivation: yourself (what you already want), a benefit or punishment you would receive by doing the action (the carrot and stick), and your context (e.g., all your friends are doing it)
The three sources of motivation
I created a little guy called the PAC Person.
The sources are turned into PAC:
There also could be more than one source of motivation for doing a behavior. I look at these different motivations as forces pushing you toward or away from an action. Maybe it’s the desire to be accepted by a group, or maybe it’s the fear of physical pain. Maybe your motivations are moving you toward an action, or maybe they are moving you away. But motivations are always there, pushing you up and down—above the Action Line or below—depending on their strength at any given moment.
There can be more than one source of motivation
Sometimes the complexity of our motivations amounts to a psychological tug-of-war
We can have competing motivations: for example, wanting to work but also to rest.
Our friends may have also had conflicting motivations, which are opposing drives related to the same behavior. Conflicting motivations can be a source of psychic pain—“I want to eliminate refined sugar from my diet but, man, I want that chocolate cupcake.”
Even more problematic is the fact that we’re blind to at least some of our motivation much of the time
We don't always know why we have a motivation
In Behavior Design, we’ve named this temporary surge in motivation the Motivation Wave
Temporary spike in motivation = motivation wave
So why do we get thrashed by the Motivation Wave even though we know we’re being overly optimistic? When you are prompted to act in a way that seems like a good idea, even a necessary one, you feel something. Whether you feel desire, excitement, or fear, it doesn’t matter—whatever is motivating the behavior will be quickly rationalized by your brain. It suddenly feels totally logical to do this thing that might be costly, time-consuming, physically demanding, or disruptive to our everyday lives. We start from emotion, then find the rationale to act
Why we do foolish things based on motivation.
Love the last sentence. We have an emotion and then we find the rationale to act. We conjure a reason to act on an emotion.
You also need to recognize that motivation changes on a smaller scale. It fluctuates day to day, even minute to minute, and you probably already know some of your own predictable motivation shifts. When was the last time you bought a Santa hat on December 26?
Motivation is always changing.
But here are some more subtle and predictable shifts: Willpower decreases from morning to evening. Complex decisions get harder by late in the day. Motivation for self-improvement can vanish on Friday nights. These shifts are among the reasons why you cannot take full control of your motivation.
That said, there’s a special situation in which motivation can be enduring. Consider a grandmother who is always motivated to spend quality time with her grandkids. Or the teenager who always wants to look good to her friends. These enduring motivations I call aspirations, and that’s exactly what I will explain next.
Motivation that endures
We all want to be healthy. We all want to have more patience with our kids. We all want to feel fulfilled by our work. And our desire to achieve these aspirations is enduring. (Or at least it doesn’t change quickly.)
Enduring motivation = aspiration
But here’s the problem: People often believe that motivating themselves toward an aspiration will lead to lasting change. So people focus on aspirations. And they focus on motivation. And that combo doesn’t produce results.
Aspirations and the motivation to fulfill them is hard to put to practice.
Everyone wants to be healthy. But that aspiration doesn't exactly contain a step-by-step plan for becoming healthy.
you can’t rely on motivation alone to create lasting change because you probably can’t sustain it and you might not be able to manipulate or design for it reliably
Before we see how to outsmart the Motivation Monkey, let’s get one thing straight. I’m here to tell you that you should shoot the moon, daydream, or create a vision board. The more vividly you can picture what you want, the better. You usually have to know where you’re going in order to get there
You should set lofty goals
Here’s an easy way to differentiate behaviors from aspirations and outcomes: A behavior is something you can do right now or at another specific point in time. You can turn off your phone. You can eat a carrot. You can open a textbook and read five pages. These are actions that you can do at any given moment. In contrast, you can’t achieve an aspiration or outcome at any given moment. You cannot suddenly get better sleep. You cannot lose twelve pounds at dinner tonight. You can only achieve aspirations and outcomes over time if you execute the right specific behaviors.
Behaviors vs aspirations/outcomes
This is also why I focus on systems & actions rather than goals. Goals are good for directions, but nothing more than that. Focus on what you can do right now.
People use the word “goal” when they are talking about aspirations or outcomes. If someone says “goal,” you can’t be sure what they are talking about since the word is ambiguous. For that reason, “goal” is not part of the vocabulary in Behavior Design. Use either “aspiration” or “outcome” for precision.
"Goal" is ambiguous
Getting clear on your aspiration allows you to design efficiently for what you really want. You might assume your aspiration is to be more mindful. But when you think about this, you decide that what you really want is to reduce stress in your life. And reducing stress will be easier than being more mindful. You could take a daily walk outside, play a musical instrument for ten minutes, or cut back on watching TV news. In this step, revise your aspiration or outcome so it taps into what really matters to you.
Ask yourself if the aspirations you wrote down are those you really want. Make sure they matter to you.
Part of the first step of behavior design
After you revise your behavior wishes to be super specific (what I call “crispy”), move on to the next step in the Behavior Design process and get analytical and practical.
After brainstorming, make the behavior specific
Wrong way #1: Just guessing, no methodology
Wrong way #2: Inspiration from the Internet
Wrong way #3: Doing what worked for a friend
THE RIGHT WAY: MATCH YOURSELF WITH SPECIFIC BEHAVIORS
A focus map is basically a coordinate system where the x axis is whether you want to do some behavior and y is how effectively it is in helping you achieve your aspirations
We use it to find golden behaviors from the brainstormed behaviors - these will be in the upper right corner
X is both motivation and ability. You can't get yourself to do the thing if you can't actually do it.
Behavior Design recognizes this reality: A key to lasting change is matching yourself with behaviors that you want to do.
When you start with the easiest, most motivating thing, you can ladder up naturally to bigger behaviors
You should feel free to revise whenever a new habit ends up being not what you wanted
If a habit doesn't work for you, revise or cut it
In the Tiny Habits method, I teach people to think about their new habits as small seeds. If you plant a good seed in the right spot, it will grow without coaxing. Starting with behaviors that you can and want to do makes for a good seed. Choosing behaviors that set you up for success increases your confidence and mastery as you go, thus increasing your natural motivation to do bigger and bigger behaviors. But it all starts small and honest and specific.
Start small to go big
To review: Clarify your aspiration or outcome, generate a big set of behavior options, and match yourself with specific Golden Behaviors. That’s how you put Behavior Design into practice in your own life. And it’s also how you match yourself with the best habits for doing Tiny Habits.
Ability—Easy Does It
That’s why you should always start with this question: What is making this behavior hard to do?
What I’ve found in my research and years of experience is that your answer will involve at least one of five factors. I call them the Ability Factors. Here’s how they break down.
Do you have enough time to do the behavior?
Do you have enough money to do the behavior?
Are you physically capable of doing the behavior?
Does the behavior require a lot of creative or mental energy?
Does the behavior fit into your current routine or does it require you to make adjustments?
Your Ability Chain is only as strong as its weakest Ability Factor link.
This is exactly what it sounds like: one small move toward the desired behavior. If you want to make a habit out of walking three miles every day, your Starter Step might be putting your walking shoes on. That Starter Step becomes your Tiny Behavior and the only action you need to do at the start of your new habit. The objective here is to begin with a crucial step in the process of doing the desired behavior. Tell yourself: I don’t have to walk. I just have to make sure I put on my shoes each day.
Now we come to the second way to make a behavior tiny: Scaling Back. This means taking the behavior you want and shrinking it. As a result, your Tiny Habit will be a much smaller version of your desired behavior. Consider my flossing habit: I wanted to floss all my teeth but began with just one. I scaled it back.
But remember that you hear about people making big changes because this is the exception, not the rule
Most people operate under the assumption that they’ve got to go big or go home. They think that in order to kick a bad habit, destress, or make a pile of money they’ve got to do something radical. Go cold turkey. Sell their house and move to the beach. Put all their chips on the table. Go all in. Those who take these extreme measures and succeed are lionized
Narrative drama comes from bold action, not from the incremental progress that leads to sustainable success
While small might not be sexy, it is successful and sustainable. When it comes to most life changes that people want to make, big bold moves actually don’t work as well as small stealthy ones. Applying go big or go home to everything you do is a recipe for self-criticism and disappointment
We already know that the Motivation Monkey loves to help us make big moves, then slips away from us when the going gets tough. And doing big things can be painful. We often push ourselves beyond our physical, emotional, or mental capabilities. And while we might be able to keep up this effort for a while, humans don’t do things that are painful for very long. As you can imagine, this isn’t a good recipe for creating successful habits.
the most reliable way to drive behavior—fiddling with the ability dial and making things easy.
With Behavior Design, you have enormous potential. Whether the change you’re aiming for is big or small, tiny is where we start.
This is one of the hacks in the Tiny Habits method: Make the behavior so tiny that you don’t need much motivation. Doing two push-ups against a wall is easy to accomplish so you’re much more likely to keep it as a habit.
When you are designing a new habit, you are really designing for consistency. And for that result, you’ll find that simplicity is the key. Or as I like to teach my students: Simplicity changes behavior.
If you want to do a habit consistently, you’ve got to adjust the most reliable thing in the B=MAP model—ability. That’s where we have the most power to stack the deck in our favor. If a behavior is hard, make it easier to do. You’ll see that over time your motivation will vary, but your ability will improve the more you do your new habit. And that increase in ability helps your habit grow.
And when I say “hard to do,” keep in mind that I don’t just mean very hard. I mean any amount of hard to do that would keep you from doing the behavior.
By keeping the behavior tiny, I helped this habit root itself into my routine. Here’s how to think about it: Imagine a big plant with small roots. When a powerful wind kicks up, the big plant might topple over because it’s not held firmly in place. And that’s how habit formation works. If you start with a big behavior that’s hard to do, the design is unstable; it’s like a large plant with shallow roots. When a storm comes into your life, your big habit is at risk. However, a habit that is easy to do can weather a storm like flexible sprouts, and it can then grow deeper and stronger roots.
Which leads us to the second critical question we should ask about any behavior or habit we want to cultivate: How can I make this behavior easier to do? I call this the Breakthrough Question, and it turns out that there are only three answers.
The Three Approaches to Making a Behavior Easier to Do
- INCREASE YOUR SKILLS
Usually done when riding a motivation wave. It's learning or practicing in order to level up
- GET TOOLS AND RESOURCES
Something as small as unwashed lettuce or mismatched Tupperware lids can be the difference between bringing a salad to work and grabbing a burger. If a behavior frustrates you, it will not become a habit. Getting the right tools to make a behavior easier could mean anything from getting a better set of kitchen knives to finding more comfortable walking shoes
- MAKE THE BEHAVIOR TINY
Making a behavior radically tiny is the cornerstone of the Tiny Habits method for a reason—it’s a foolproof way to make something easier to do, which means it’s often a good place to start regardless of your motivation levels.
They fall into two categories: Starter Step and Scaling Back.
The methods of making things tiny is in two categories: starter step and scaling back
However, I want to share an important part of the Tiny Habits mindset: Do not raise the bar prematurely. Don’t rush to make the behavior bigger. It’s always okay to not walk after putting on your shoes if that’s all you want to do for the day. By keeping the bar low, you keep the habit alive. You’ll ensure that you’re always capable of doing the behavior no matter how your motivation fluctuates.
The Starter Step is a kind of mental jujitsu—it has a surprising impact for such a small move because the momentum it creates often propels you to the next steps with less friction. The key is not to raise the bar. Doing the Starter Step is success. Every time you do it, you are keeping that habit alive and cultivating the possibility of growth.
As with the Starter Step, the scaled-back version is your Tiny Habit—it’s your baseline behavior, the only thing you have to do every day to cultivate the walking habit that will eventually grow to full size.
Making your behavior easy to do not only helps it take root so it can grow big, but it also helps you hang on to it as a habit when the going gets tough. Think of it this way: You can keep many tiny plants alive by giving them a few drops of water a day. It’s the same with habits
We’re not aiming for perfection here, only consistency. Keeping the habit alive means keeping it rooted in your routine no matter how tiny it is.
A note on one-time behaviors
Starter steps work on any tasks - make it tiny to 'hack' your brain into doing harder things
Prompts—The Power of After
Prompts are the invisible drivers of our lives.
We experience hundreds of prompts each day, yet we barely notice most of them. More often than not, we simply act. The stoplight turns green—you hit the gas
This prompt is anything in your environment that cues you to take action: sticky notes, app notifications, your phone ringing, a colleague reminding you to join a meeting.
You can learn to design these Context Prompts effectively
When I teach industry innovators, I ask them to share their most effective Context Prompts. Some are common and obvious. Others are surprising. Here are a few of them.
Put your ring on the wrong finger.
Send yourself a text message.
Write on your bathroom mirror with a dry-erase marker.
Rearrange furniture so something is oddly out of place.
Set an alarm on your voice assistant.
Put a reminder note inside the fridge.
Ask your child to remind you.
Stick a Post-it on the screen of your mobile phone.
Match the theme/purpose
Finally—and this element is less vital than the previous two—the best Anchors will have the same theme or purpose as the new habit. If you view coffee and its jolt of caffeine as a way to be more productive, then this might be a good Anchor for a new habit of launching your to-do app. However, if your morning coffee is more about relaxation and “me time,” then a to-do app is not a good thematic fit. You might create this recipe instead: “After I pour my coffee, I will open my journal.”
This waiting period creates an opportunity: After I turn on the shower (and while I wait), I will . . .
I call this type of habit a Meanwhile Habit.
Whether natural or designed, a prompt says, “Do this behavior now.”
But this is the crucial nugget: No behavior happens without a prompt.
On the flip side, if there is no prompt, there is no behavior even if you have high levels of motivation and ability. Maybe you wanted to use the meditation app that you downloaded last week, but since there was no prompt, you forgot.
Don’t leave prompts to chance!
But all too often the prompts people think will work are poorly designed. If you’re the person who hits the snooze button six times before getting up, you know what I’m talking about. (On some phone alarms, the snooze button is bigger and easier to hit than the off button. Oddly enough, it seems we’ve been set up to hit snooze by design.)
When designing prompts for ourselves, it doesn’t work to put one more Post-it on a computer screen already filled with other Post-its. And writing a reminder on your hand might not look very professional when you’re in a business meeting. In any case, there is more to the story about which prompts work and which ones don’t. Otherwise we would all be Habit Ninjas.
However, if your survival is not dependent on your behavior, then the Person Prompt isn’t a good solution because our memories are notoriously faulty. Sure, there are a few times when you’ve magically remembered your mom’s birthday, but there are probably more times you forgot if you were relying on the Person Prompt.
We have a lot of 'person' prompts. Bodily urges, for example. But if our survival isn't dependent on the behavior, person prompt isn't a good solution
Relying on yourself to remember to do a new behavior every day is unlikely to lead to meaningful change
When you set up too many Context Prompts, they can actually have the opposite effect—you become desensitized and fail to heed the prompt. You end up not hearing notification dings and not seeing sticky notes. It’s like living next to train tracks—at first the noise of a train is deafening, then . . . what train?
The third type of prompts—and my favorite—are what I call Action Prompts.
They're his favorite for a reason
An Action Prompt is a behavior you already do that can remind you to do a new habit you want to cultivate
These actions are already embedded in your life so seamlessly and naturally that you don’t have to think about them. And because of that, they make fantastic prompts. It’s an elegant design solution because it’s so natural. You already have an entire ecosystem of routines humming along nicely—you just have to tap into it.
Action Prompts are so much more useful than Person Prompts and Context Prompts that I’ve given them a pet name: Anchors
Also what James Clear calls them
When talking about Tiny Habits, I use the term Anchor to describe something in your life that is already stable and solid
If there is a habit you want, find the right Anchor within your current routine to serve as your prompt, your reminder. I selected the term “anchor” because you are attaching your new habit to something solid and reliable.
You’ll notice that all these examples are precise events. A fuzzy Anchor (“after dinner” or “whenever I feel stress”) doesn’t work. Make them precise. One good way to think about Anchors is to call them Anchor Moments, which implies a precise moment in time.
Anchors should be precise
Match the physical location
New habit should be in same location as anchor
Match the frequency
You do the new habit as many times as the anchor - so match their frequency
a specific moment I call the Trailing Edge. You look for the last action you do in a behavior
We all have these tiny pockets of time: after we stop for a red light, after we get in line at the grocery store, after we start watering the plants on the porch. We have a choice. We could use these moments to be annoyed or distracted, or we could use these waiting periods as Anchors for new habits.
I call these habits Pearl Habits because they use prompts that start out as irritants then turn into something beautiful.
He used a clicking sound to as anchor for a habit of relaxing his face and next, making the annoying sound a good habit
People change best by feeling good, not by feeling bad
Emotions Create Habits
When I teach people about human behavior, I boil it down to three words to make the point crystal clear: Emotions create habits. Not repetition. Not frequency. Not fairy dust. Emotions.
When you are designing for habit formation—for yourself or for someone else—you are really designing for emotions.
Consider how Instagram, for better or worse, taps into this dynamic. Once you take a picture, the app makes it easy to apply filters. As you try out different filters, you see your photo transform before your eyes like magic, and your photo isn’t merely a photo anymore. You feel like you are sharing a unique artistic creation. You might even be surprised or impressed by your skills. When that happens, your brain releases dopamine, and you seek opportunities to use Instagram again because it feels good.
When you find a celebration that works for you, and you do it immediately after a new behavior, your brain repatterns to make that behavior more automatic in the future. But once you’ve created a habit, celebration is now optional. You don’t need to keep celebrating the same habit forever. That said, some people keep going with the celebration part of their habits because it feels good and has lots of positive side effects.
Another important thing to remember is that celebration is habit fertilizer. Each individual celebration strengthens the roots of a specific habit, but the accumulation of celebrations over time is what fertilizes the entire habit garden. By cultivating feelings of success and confidence, we make the soil more inviting and nourishing for all the other habit seeds we want to plant.
It’s time for someone to say it: You’ve got to lower your expectations.
When I say this, people sometimes gasp. Or they smirk. Or they think I’m joking.
But I’m serious.
Yes, in our hyperachieving, go-getter world, I’m telling you to lower the bar. Not because I don’t want you to achieve great things, but because I know that you need to start small in order to achieve them. But you can’t succeed with starting small if you’re looking down your nose at it.
After a habit becomes automatic, you no longer need to celebrate. But, dear reader, you may need a spritz of celebration here and there to keep your habits well hydrated. There are at least two scenarios where celebration can help keep your habit firmly rooted.
You haven’t done your habit for a while because you’ve gone on vacation or changed locations. Or life has simply gotten in the way.
You are rocking this habit and increasing its intensity. Perhaps your baseline habit was two push-ups, but one day you decide to go for twenty-five push-ups to see what happens.
When you celebrate effec0tively, you tap into the reward circuitry of your brain. By feeling good at the right moment, you cause your brain to recognize and encode the sequence of behaviors you just performed. In other words, you can hack your brain to create a habit by celebrating and self-reinforcing. In my research I found that this technique had never before been named, described, or studied. I realized that by studying and teaching celebration I was breaking new ground to help people change for the better.
positive feeling from humor can reinforce behavior.
There is a direct connection between what you feel when you do a behavior and the likelihood that you will repeat the behavior in the future
You can use many types of positive reinforcement to wire in a habit, but in my research and teaching, I’ve found that the real winner is creating a feeling of success.
The definition of a reward in behavior science is an experience directly tied to a behavior that makes that behavior more likely to happen again. The timing of the reward matters. Scientists learned decades ago that rewards need to happen either during the behavior or milliseconds afterward. Dopamine is released and processed by the brain very quickly. That means you’ve got to cue up those good feelings fast to form a habit.
So getting a massage a few days later is just an incentive, not a reward
To wire in a habit fast or help yourself remember, you need to rehearse the behavior sequence (the Anchor, then the new habit) and immediately celebrate. Repeat this sequence seven to ten times.
For the sake of simplicity, I tell people to celebrate immediately after they do a behavior they want to become a habit. But the truth is, you can become a Habit Ninja faster and more reliably by celebrating at three different times: the moment you remember to do the habit, when you’re doing the habit, and immediately after completing the habit. Each of these celebrations has a different effect.
If you learn just one thing from my entire book, I hope it’s this: Celebrate your tiny successes. This one small shift in your life can have a massive impact even when you feel there is no way up or out of your situation. Celebration can be your lifeline.
Growing Your Habits from Tiny to Transformative
SKILL SET #1—BEHAVIOR CRAFTING
Behavior Crafting is sort of an odd name, but it works. Behavior Crafting skills relate to selecting and adjusting the habits you want in your life.
SKILL SET #2—SELF-INSIGHT
Next comes understanding your preferences, strengths, and aspirations. In previous chapters, we’ve discussed the following skills related to Self-Insight. Clarify your aspirations or desired outcomes
Understand what motivates you—i.e., know the difference between what you really want and what you think you should do
Here is the next skill that will take you from tiny to transformative.
The skill of knowing which new habits will have meaning to you
SKILL SET #3—PROCESS
As the days go by, your habits change, you change, and the world around you changes. Process Skills are focused on adjusting to the dynamic nature of life in order to strengthen and grow your habits.
Here are the skills you’ve already learned:
How to troubleshoot
How to revise your approach if a habit isn’t working
How to rehearse your habits
This new Process Skill relates directly to growing your habit over time.
The skill of knowing when to push yourself beyond tiny and ramp up the difficulty of the habit
SKILL SET #4—CONTEXT
Context pertains to what surrounds us. (I use “context” and “environment” as synonyms.)
I want to go deeper into this Context Skill, which I describe in this way:
The skill of redesigning your environment to make your habits easier to do
You’ll get better and better at finding ways to redesign your environment to support your good habits. Once you start looking at the world this way, you will see how miniscule obstacles can get in the way of your good habits. When you consciously and thoughtfully design your environment to accommodate new habits, you make your whole life easier.
Here are some further guidelines for redesigning your environment:
When you design new habits, invest time in redesigning your environment so they’re easier to do.
As you begin doing your new habit, make the environmental adjustments as you go along, redesigning as needed to make your habit easier to do.
Question tradition. Who says you have to keep your vitamins in the kitchen or floss in the bathroom? Maybe your vitamins need to be next to your computer. Or maybe flossing works best when you keep floss next to your TV remote. You’re a Habit Ninja, not a conformist. Find what works for you.
Invest in the gear you need. Suppose you want to bike seven miles to school even when it is raining and cold. Design out these demotivators by buying what you need to make biking in the rain and cold less painful.
SKILL SET #5—MINDSET
The fifth and final category focuses on what I call Mindset Skills. These are about your approach and attitude to change as well as your perception and interpretation of the world around you.
As it turns out, you’ve already learned some valuable Mindset Skills.
Approaching change with an attitude of openness, flexibility, and curiosity
Being able to lower your expectations
Feeling good about your successes—no matter how small—by celebrating
Being patient and trusting the process of change
While celebration is the most important Mindset Skill, this next one ranks right up there with it.
The skill of embracing a new identity
You’ve heard this before, and my research confirms that it’s true: Success leads to success. But here’s something that may surprise you. The size of the success doesn’t seem to matter very much. When you feel successful at something, even if it’s tiny, your confidence grows quickly, and your motivation increases to do that habit again and perform related behaviors. I call this success momentum. Surprisingly enough, this gets created by the frequency of your successes, not by the size. So with Tiny Habits you are shooting for a bunch of tiny successes done quickly
The big takeaway: Start where you want to on your path to change. Allow yourself to feel successful. Then trust the process.
Many people believe that forming good habits and transforming your life is a mysterious or magical process. It’s not. As you know by now, there is a system to change. And underlying the system is a set of skills.
You want to learn the following set of skills
Knowing how many new habits to do at once and when to add more
Focus on what interests you. Some people enjoy cultivating lots of little easy habits. Other people like to tackle habits that are a bit more challenging. What seems most interesting and exciting to you? That’s what you should do. If you’re feeling lost, here’s the default: Start with three super easy habits—that’s what most Habiteers begin with—and add three new habits each month.
Embrace variety. The more variety you begin with, the faster you’ll learn this and other Skills of Change. Select some new habits that begin as Starter Steps—putting on your walking shoes. Select other habits that are scaled-back versions—flossing just one tooth. It’s also good to mix up the general theme—an exercise habit, a food-related habit, a productivity habit. Variety helps you learn more quickly what works best for you.
Stay flexible. If you want to create a list of the habits you want to eventually do, don’t get too rigid with your list. Your preferences and needs will change. Today you might put practicing handstands each morning on your list, but in six weeks you might not care about handstands. Be flexible as you progress and leave room for something new.
The new habit affirms a piece of the identity that you want to cultivate. If you want to be a person who is loving and appreciative, the habit of saying thank you after your husband makes you dinner is inherently meaningful and will likely propel you toward transformation.
The new habit helps you reach an important aspiration. If the line from your new habit to your aspiration is clear, your habit will have meaning. A habit of putting on your running shoes may seem small and insignificant, but if your aspiration is to run a 5K, it’s decidedly not.
The new habit has a big impact despite being tiny. Sarika’s turning on the stove burner was small, yet it triggered a cascade of changes.
Find the smallest, easiest change you can make that will have the biggest meaning to you.
You can practice this skill by answering one question: What is the tiniest habit I could create that would have the most meaning? Write down a few answers even if you don’t intend to create any of those habits right now. The more answers you come up with, the more you are practicing this skill.
As you do a new habit consistently, you will naturally reach for more. At that point, you can learn to find the edge of your comfort and see how it feels to go just a little beyond. Knowing your comfort edge helps you do a bigger version of your habit without feeling pain or frustration, which will weaken the habit.
Don’t pressure yourself to do more than the tiniest version of your habit. If you’re sick, tired, or just not in the mood, scale back to tiny. You can always raise the bar when you want to do more, and—surprisingly—you can lower it to tiny when you need to. Flexibility is part of this skill.
Don’t restrict yourself from going bigger if you want to do more. Let your motivation guide you on how much and how hard.
If you do too much, make sure you celebrate extra hard. Pushing yourself too much to expand a habit can create pain or frustration, which will weaken the habit. If that happens (and it will), you can offset the negative feelings by amping up your celebration.
Use emotional flags to help you find your edge. Frustration, pain, and especially avoidance are signs that something is going on with your habit—that you’ve probably increased the difficulty too much, too fast. On the flipside, if you become bored with your habit, you might need to ramp things up.
There are two questions that will guide you to change your environment and reduce the friction between the world around you and your good habits. The first is How can I make this new habit easier to do?
Okay, time to troubleshoot and ask the next question: What is making this new habit hard to do?
Identity shifts are change boosters because they help us cultivate constellations of behavior—not just one or two habits here and there. This is important because most aspirations require more than one type of habit change. It’s a set of new habits that will get you where you want to be—especially in the areas of fitness, sleep, and stress.
Finish the sentence “I’m the kind of person who” with the identity—or identities—you’d like to embrace.
Go to events that gather people, products, and services related to your emerging identity. When I decided I wanted to get into fermented foods, I went to the local Fermentation Festival. I met enthusiasts who were more experienced than I was. I learned about new products. I attended a workshop where an expert showed us how to make sauerkraut. I bought gear to ferment foods. I came home with a much stronger identity about being the kind of person who eats—and even makes—fermented foods.
Learn the lingo. Know who the experts are. Watch movies related to the area of change you’re interested in. As I learned to surf, I looked up the lingo that described waves and started using it. I paid attention to big surfing events and watched videos of the most proficient people in the sport. I learned to understand the tide shifts and identify local landmarks that showed whether the tide was high or low. There is a volcanic formation in the ocean off of Maui that locals call the “dragon.” You can tell what’s going on with the tide by looking at the dragon. If his neck is exposed, it’s low tide. If only his head shows, then the tide is high.
Wearing T-shirts is a common way to declare your identity. Nike sends out T-shirts that say RUNNER. I wear T-shirts that have surfboards or show surf scenes. Because I surf more than one hundred times a year, I don’t feel like a poser; wearing that identity feels natural.
Update your social media page. Put a new profile picture up that conveys your emerging identity. (And see how people respond.) Revise your online bio. Post stuff related to your new identity.
Teach others or be a role model to galvanize your new identity. A social role is powerful.
Untangling Bad Habits: A Systematic Solution
Uphill Habits are those that require ongoing attention to maintain but are easy to stop—getting out of bed when your alarm goes off, going to the gym, or meditating daily.
Downhill Habits are easy to maintain but difficult to stop—hitting snooze, swearing, watching YouTube.
Freefall Habits are those habits like substance abuse that can be extremely difficult to stop unless you have a safety net of professional help.
I champion a different approach in Phase #1. Don’t focus first on weight loss or whatever is causing you pain. Create habits that relate to some other domain instead—tidiness, relationships, creativity, or anything that doesn’t relate to your body weight.
It’s much better to first build your skills and gain mastery over the change process itself. In Phase #1 you should create habits that build on your strengths. That’s how you succeed quickly, and that’s how you best learn the Skills of Change—by adding key skills and insights for the road ahead.
When you see a bunch of specific habits to untangle, don’t stop there. And don’t get overwhelmed. Keep going. Pick one tangle and design it out of your life. But which specific habits should you tackle first?
The answer is so important, I’ll say it three times in different ways: Pick the easiest one. Pick the one you are most sure you can do. Pick the one that feels like no big deal.
Ways to avoid prompts include:
Don’t go places where you will be prompted
Don’t be with people who will prompt you
Don’t let people put prompts in your surroundings
Avoid media that prompts you
Many people start with trying to influence motivation when they want to stop a habit. In most cases, this is a mistake. Why? Because adjusting motivation levels for Downhill Habits can be difficult (and almost impossible for Freefall Habits). That’s why you don’t want to mess around with motivation if you can solve the problem by focusing on prompt or ability. You try to adjust motivation only if these previous steps didn’t resolve your bad habit.
Here are a range of examples that show how a behavior can reduce the motivation for a habit.
Going to bed earlier can reduce your motivation to hit the snooze button
Putting on a nicotine patch can reduce your motivation for smoking
Eating healthy food before going to a party can reduce your drive to eat bad food at the party
Getting acupuncture once a week can reduce your motivation to use painkillers
The second approach is to add a demotivator, but I do not advocate taking this path. It might work in some cases, but I think that it often does more harm than good.
Here are some examples of behaviors that could decrease your overall level of motivation by adding a demotivator.
Promise on Facebook that you will never drink again
Pledge to give $1,000 to a corrupt politician if you ever smoke again
Visualize how miserable your life would be if you continued playing video games all night
If the approaches we’ve discussed so far don’t stop your specific habit, don’t give up. You have more options. The next step in the masterplan is to scale back your ambitions, and you can do that in the following ways.
Set a shorter time period for stopping habit (stop smoking for three days instead of forever)
Do an unwanted habit for a shorter duration (watch TV for thirty minutes instead of four hours)
Do fewer instances of the unwanted habit (checking social media once a day rather than ten times)
Do the unwanted habit with less intensity (pace your drinking rather than downing shots)
When you create a host of positive changes, you move closer to the person you want to become. If you feel successful in these changes, you will naturally view yourself differently and begin to embrace a new identity
When it comes to stopping a bad habit, a common mistake is trying to motivate yourself toward an abstraction, such as “stop stressing out at work” or “stop eating junk food.” Those both sound specific, but they are not. They are abstract labels for a tangle of habits, what I call the General Habit. If you focus only on the General Habit, you probably won’t make much progress, just like if you focus on the entire knot at once, you can’t untangle it. You need to focus on specific tangles in order to make progress. That means finding specific habits to focus on
If you can’t remove the prompt for your bad habit, then try avoiding the prompt
Ignoring a prompt is probably not the best solution in the long term. However, if you find yourself particularly strong-willed and up to the task, make sure you celebrate your achievement when you successfully ignore the prompt and forgo the unwanted habit.
my Ability Chain model: time, money, physical effort, mental effort, and routine. We used this chain to help us make a new habit easier to do, but now we’re going to weaken or break the chain to make your habit harder to do. Let’s consider each of these five links and how you can redesign them.
We change best by feeling good, not by feeling bad, so make sure your attempts at demotivating behavior don’t morph into guilt trips.
Swapping out a bad behavior for a good behavior is a common approach, and many so-called experts will tell you to start here. But it’s not entirely true that the only way to stop a habit is to replace it. Many habits can be stopped by skillfully using the steps we’ve just walked through. But there are some habits where swapping may indeed undo whatever Gordian knot you’re working on. If you’ve explored the earlier masterplan phases first and nothing has worked—well, welcome to swapping land. You’ve arrived here systematically, which means you’re focusing on the right thing and that the time and effort you invest is much more likely to pay off.
Troubleshooting Guideline: If you forget to do the new habit, then physically or mentally rehearse the swap multiple times and celebrate in order to connect the old prompt to the new habit.