My guest this week is, Dr. BJ Fogg, founder of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University and researcher who teaches industry innovators how human behavior really works. Dr. Fogg leads a Behavior Design Boot Camp and has authored a New York Times bestseller, Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything.
In this episode, Dr. Fogg and I discuss how his ‘Tiny Habits’ method can help children and adults implement small habits in order to create lasting change. The Tiny Habits method is simple and powerful having helped many make positive transformations in fitness, health, work, and family relationships. Dr. Fogg guides the audience to take their very first tiny step forward in implementing new habits into their daily routine with success. Parents struggling to help their children with behavioral issues can greatly benefit from learning this method and practicing it with their families. To learn more about Tiny Habits and Dr. BJ Fogg click here.
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Tiny Habits Method
- Incorporating the smallest of habits into your day
- Flossing one tooth or pouring a glass of water
- There is no expectation to go further but if you do it’s like an extra pat on the back, another success
- You will naturally begin to achieve further success at the task
- Taking the smallest first step allows the second step to be so much easier and more achievable
- These small victories create positive reinforcement in your own identity, making a positive identity shift
Recipe for Success
- Once you know what the tiny habit you would like to implement it you need to find out how to design it into your day
- Example: Once I start the coffee maker, I will tidy ONE thing in my living room
- Try it and adjust it based on routines you already do
- By designing where the tiny habit fits into your day, you make a place and reminder for it based on your already existing habits
- Example 2: After I feed the dog, I will pour a glass of water
- For kids
- Start it small, like watering a plant and nurture it by anchoring it with an emotional experience of acknowledgment and celebration for the child
- In BJ’s book, he lists 100 ways to make sure to affirm and celebrate the smallest of successes
Helpful Habitual Sayings
- When feeling frustrated with others
- Practice thinking, “Everybody is doing the best they can. Nobody tries to mess up.”
- When feeling frustrated with yourself
- Instead of beating yourself up… practice thinking, “You learn things when you learn things.”
- When feeling frustrated for not thinking you did well as a parent
- Practice thinking, “I am doing the best that I can. I am not trying to screw up. I am doing what I can do.”
- Get into the tiny habit of taking three deep cleansing breaths whenever you are frustrated or feeling angry
Where to learn more about Dr. BJ Fogg…
Episode Intro … 00:00:30
Tiny Habits Method … 00:08:30
Recipe for Success … 00:27:40
Helpful Habitual Sayings … 00:35:50
Episode Wrap Up … 00:46:08
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Hi everyone, welcome to the show, I am Dr. Nicole, and on today’s episode, we’re talking about the science of behavior change, but in a different way than you probably heard before. The fields of developmental disabilities and mental health both tend to be really focused on the idea of behavior change, but most of what we’ve heard and been taught may not be very accurate or helpful. We tend to think about motivation as being the key factor with behavior change, and there’s a lot of emphasis put on that when working with kids, but the focus on motivation can actually make behavior change more difficult and it can cause us and our kids to feel badly when we inevitably fail more often than we succeed. So today we’re going to talk with the amazing, BJ Fogg, a specialist in behavior design and author of the new book ‘Tiny Habits‘ about how to actually change behavior in a positive and successful way by focusing on creating tiny habits. Let me tell you a bit about him.
BJ founded the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University, where he teaches and conducts research. In addition to his research, he teaches industry innovators how human behavior really works. He created the Tiny Habits Academy to help people around the world. He lives in Northern California and Maui. BJ also has a New York Times best-selling book, ‘Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything’. It’s one of my new most favorite books, I couldn’t put it down, read it in one weekend. I’m thrilled to share him and his work with all of you today. Welcome to the show, BJ!
Dr. Nicole, thank you for inviting me!
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So let’s start out with how you became interested in behavior change in the first place. How did this become a passion of yours? Was it work-related?
Wait, isn’t everybody passionate about their individual — But I think the story starts early for me. I grew up in a religion, in a household that was really about — there were a lot of behavior constraints and a lot of emphasis on optimizing your behavior, and then added to that, my mom’s a musician, she sang in the Mormon tabernacle choir and continued to do musical things, so of course she wanted me and my siblings to practice piano and get up early and read the scriptures and pray twice a day, from that really, really early age. It was just part of what I grew up with, and then it was later in college that I became fascinated with the power of language and how language can influence people. And then went to Stanford to do two graduate degrees, became an experimental psychologist, a behavior scientist and started studying it in a more systematic, scientific way.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Cool. So you tell some stories in the book about how your research intersects with your everyday life as a human being, with some things that you were noticing about yourself that led to — “Oh, why can’t I change these things” or “Why can’t I get into better habits or routines? So I have to imagine that at some point, those things intersected and you were like, “Let’s make this practical for people. How do we actually change our behavior?”
In fact, it was just a few days ago. You know how your Apple Photos will bring up all the photos of you? And it brought up some photos about 10 years ago, and I’m like, “Oh my gosh that was such a hard time in my life. And it was a kind of a — Yes, I’m smiling in the pictures, but I know what’s going on beyond that. And there was a time, even though as a behavior scientist and studying behavior and all that, just struggles in my own life — some of them were my own habits, but some of them were just “Life happens”. There was the death of my nephew and bankruptcies going on with my siblings and just so much pressure. And there was just sort of — Not hitting rock bottom necessarily, but there was this point of like, “I need change. I need to figure out how to change.” And the old ways that were taught of how to do habits and how to change just really aren’t working for me. And I knew all the theories and models and to be honest, Dr. Nicole, they never quite dived in me. Yeah, like I’m reading the papers and the theories, but that doesn’t feel like it works. Didn’t work for me.
So I looked at my own research, I developed a model around behavior, it’s called the Fogg behavior model. I looked at that model, and it was like, “Oh, if you make something really, really easy to do, then you don’t need a lot of motivation to do it.” So if I make a new habit really, really, simple, then I won’t need lots of motivation and wow. All I need is something to remind me to do it. So it was putting the pieces together in my model and understanding that if you make something really tiny, really simple then you can do it reliably. Even if your motivation is low or if you’re distracted or if you’re tired or if you’re sick, if your kid is having an emergency, you can still do really simple tiny things. And then I started hacking my own behavior and creating this system that I now call Tiny Habits for about a year, and it was like, wow! It is pretty easy to create habits. Who knew! And then I started teaching it just for kicks. Not as a scientist, but just reached out to my friends on social media and said, “Hey, I got this new thing!” And that program grew and kept going and kept going and I started teaching 200-300 people a week and measuring the results week by week and optimizing it. So that’s how the Tiny Habits method went from my own struggles to then sharing it informally, now to a much bigger outreach through the book and through the certified coaches of Tiny Habits, where anyone in the world can now learn the method. And the 5-day program online is free. The book isn’t that expensive, so now I’m just so glad that the method is out and everybody can tap into it.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah. I think that’s so valuable because most of us spend our entire lives feeling badly about what we consider a lack of maybe willpower or some kind of personal weakness around not being able to change the things in our lives that we feel like we really want to change, right? Whether that’s related to health goals or work goals or relationship goals or how we’re parenting our children. We sort of have a sense of what would be helpful or what we should be doing, and yet there’s a disconnect of being able to do it and we blame ourselves.
Yeah, and you know I grew up in a culture of — at least my interpretation as a kid and a teenager and a young man, that was how I saw things. It was like yes, you just do it. And you can make yourself do these things and if you don’t do them then it’s like a character flaw. And I am not alone. I learned later, sharing the Tiny Habits method, that that’s how people feel. They feel like, “Hey if I’m not losing weight or getting up early or eating on my game plan or exercising everyday or meditating 30 minutes, then something’s wrong with me.” And so very early in the book, as you saw, and it’s a theme throughout my work is the fact that you haven’t been able to change in the way that you hope for is not a character flaw. And it’s not your fault, and it’s not a lack of willpower or discipline. You just haven’t been given the best way to create habits yet and here it is! And it’s not a summary of the old ways. The book, in fact you’ll see I reference very few things from the past. It’s all about here’s the future of how we change our behavior.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I think it’s so valuable when we think about our children, because especially thinking about the kinds of children that I treat on a daily basis, kids who have been diagnosed with various types of what we call behavioral disorders or emotional or mental health kinds of issues, and what we’re taught and how we think about that in the traditional way is if we just layout the goal and give enough of the right kinds of motivators, then kids should be able to change. And what I find is so many children, especially as they get older — usually, I work with a lot of teens and young adults, are so emotionally beaten down by this sense of “I haven’t been able to do the right things, I haven’t been able to change, my parents have had me in therapy forever, I’ve gone through all these specialized school programs or behavioral programs, and I’m not doing well. There’s something really wrong with me.” And parents begin to view that too with kids. Like look, I’m putting all the motivators out here, what’s the deal, why aren’t you changing? And I think that that can be a really damaging thing that we fall into with children.
Yes. And so there’s a sentence that I think is in every chapter of the book, and it’s you change best by feeling good, not by feeling bad. And it was only going to be in one chapter, but some early readers — I was getting feedback, they resonated with it. You know what? I just need to hold that thread throughout the whole book and show in every facet of this method that you change best by feeling good, not by feeling bad. There are so many techniques out there that we’ve been shown or led to believe we must do. Okay, I’m just going to be controversial here right now and some listeners are going to say, “Oh, he’s totally wrong.’ But hang on for a minute or two and you’ll see that I’m not totally wrong.
You don’t have to set goals to change behavior. You don’t have to track behavior to change behavior, you don’t have to keep yourself motivated to change behavior. You don’t have to have an accountability partner. Sometimes those things work. Sometimes they don’t. Here are the two overriding principles and I call them maxims: 1: Help yourself do what you already want to do. So if you’re working with your child, help your child do what he or she already wants to do. That’s critical. If you don’t do that, it won’t work in the long run. 2: Help yourself feel successful. Or help your child feel successful. So everything, every technique you use should map to both of those. So if setting a goal helps somebody feel successful, terrific. But for so many people, setting a goal, they’re afraid of it because they’ve done it before and they know that by actually writing down that I’m going to lose 20 pounds or I’m going to finish this book by the 15th of the month, they know in the past that this set them up to feel terrible, not successful. Accountability partners, tracking, tracking daily — I did it today or not. If that helps you feel successful, do it. If it doesn’t, it’s not the right technique for you with this behavior. So really, any product or program or technique should be mapped against — is it helping? Talking about kids, is it helping my child do what he or she already wants to do? If so, great. And is it helping them feel successful? And if so, great. And if it’s not — reject it.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So good. I’m so glad you said that. I’m all about controversy when it comes to these things because I really think that most of what’s done in traditional behavioral treatment for these kinds of kids is really ineffective and actually can be really problematic and create additional problems. So we need new models for this, and as I was reading the book, I was thinking obviously about myself in my own life but also about my children and about all of the kids and the families that I work with because it is so applicable. So let’s dive into — you talked a bit about what makes this Tiny Habits model different from other approaches. You talked about the two key principles. And I would say help children do what they already do: Some parents are probably going, “Wow, wait a second, all my kid wants to do sit around and play video games and eat Cheetos!” And what I would say is that’s not actually true. Kids want to be successful, they want to do the right things, they want their teachers to think good things about them, they want to do the things around the house that they know help us feel good. They’re struggling with how to do that, right?
Yeah, well let me impact the video game thing just a little bit. And again, this will be controversial. When you look at somebody who really loves to play video games, and you think what’s that video game doing for them? It’s showing them they’re succeeding. The games are designed like moment by moment, the sounds, the visuals, the levels, the points, the titles — what it’s doing is it’s helping them feel successful, which is why that is wired in as such a compelling habit or activity. If there were something else in their world that was giving them more feelings of success, they would be doing that other thing. But video games are the thing. Now video game designers are great at this, so yes, it’s very hard to compete with video games, but acknowledge that “Hey, my child is feeling successful, they see they’re scaling up, they’re getting — in the multiplayer games, they’re getting social affirmation,” and so on. And you can take this same principle of helping them feel successful and have them feel successful in other domains in their life as well.
I remember a friend of mine, back when I grew up from Fresno, California. And he was a great trumpet player as a 9th grader. He decided to switch to a saxophone before he went to high school. And he told me this story years later. I knew he came back to high school three months later and he killed it. He was better than any other saxophone player, and everybody was like, “Where did this kid come from! He used to be a trumpet player!” What happened was in the summer, he picked up the sax and he would play in one room of his house, and his mom would sit in the other room and he practiced like six hours a day. At the end of every song, she would clap for him. Throughout the entire summer. So he keeps playing six hours a day and he comes back and he is an amazing jazz saxophonist. And I look at it now in retrospect and say, “Good for his mom. Good for Loraine.” She sat there and clapped. She was reading sunset magazine or something but she would clap for her son, all along the way. I love that.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Ah, so awesome and what you just said there, and on the pact as far as the video game piece. Profound and so perspective-shifting, I know for so many people listening. I mean it just hit me even in a new way hearing you say that. So thank you for commenting on that. I want to have you give some examples of what you mean by Tiny Habits because some people are probably thinking, well how tiny are we talking about? So let’s give some examples to kind of anchor this for people and then let’s start to talk about how we as parents can use Tiny Habits with kids.
Yeah. I’ll first give the habits, then we can get more into this thing I call a recipe. Like where does it fit in your life? It could be as simple as pouring a glass of water, it could be flossing one tooth. It could be taking three calming breaths. It could be tidying up the remote control on the coffee table. It could be simply opening a book to where you might start reading. Those are the sizes of the habits we’re talking about here. And notice they’re so small, they’re so easy that even if you’re in a rush — you can put the remote back on the coffee table in that way. If you’re stressed and thinking about other things, you can still fill a glass of water. It’s not drink the glass. It’s just fill the glass. So you make it so tiny that you can do it even on your worst days and in your most stressful moments.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I’ll share a couple of examples since I read the book and have started really delving into this with some of my patients. And a high schooler who now with all the online instruction, she’s got pretty significant ADHD, gets pretty overwhelmed. Opening her Google Classroom on the computer just brings a flood of anxiety, overwhelm — so she’s gotten weeks and weeks behind with her work. So when we sat down a couple of weeks ago, it was like, we’re going to Tiny Habits this. So we talked about one of the routines she has in the morning is she always gets up and eats something for breakfast and she does that at the table in the kitchen and her computer is usually right near there. So we talked about just as a starting point, what it will look like if after she put her breakfast dishes in the dishwasher, she just went and opened up the computer. That’s it. Didn’t sit down to do work on the computer, just opened the computer and she’s like — “Well, that’s really dumb Dr. Nicole. I’m not going to get my work done that way.” So we talked about how that then evolves, but even just that, it felt doable to her and for a whole week, she was able to do that. I put my breakfast dishes away and I go and I open my computer, and not feeling overwhelmed, and then we evolved it from there. But that’s a tangible example that I’ve had just recently with someone.
That’s a great example. Even as parents, adults, there are projects that seem so overwhelming that we don’t get started. So if you can design the first step of the project, and another technique, actually I shared this a couple of weeks ago with some of my students, and they loved it — is at the end of a work session, say at the end of a study session, the last thing you do, the habit you create that’s so tiny is write down, when I come back, what’s the next thing I’m going to do on this project. So that means when you come back, you’re not flooded with “I have so much to do, I don’t know where to start.” You just look at what you wrote down, and that’s what you do. So that helps you not feel overwhelmed. And I think of it like an unwrap, rather than going, that’s the pill to get going. And you make it really, really, really easy. In fact, I’ll give a specific example. It may not be that relevant to everybody. As I was writing my dissertation, and this was before I discovered Tiny Habits. But I was working a life of trying to optimize things.
I learned that a dissertation is a very big project, some people will get lost in it for years, and so what I learned is no matter what, every day I’m going to write one sentence, even if it’s totally terrible. Even if I get home at 1 o’clock at night from a party, I still sit down and write a sentence, even including “I don’t know what goes here” or “Good night I’m going to bed”. And then at the end of the session, I would actually write down three very small things for when I came back. So whenever I got back to the dissertation, which I did every day, I would just look at those three little, little, little tasks and do one of them. So it got me back into the momentum. And as you know and as people listening know, that once you take that first step, it’s so much easier to take the next one. So you design that step in advance. In fact, I would leave things undone in my dissertation. Like oh, I have to go and format the heading, so I have to go check for — so simple things that I knew I could knock off in 30 seconds, I would purposely leave them undone. So for the next session I’d go and boom, format the headings! And I’d have the momentum. So by design, I would leave loose ends that were very simple so I could then get back into the swing of things.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Boy, that would have been so helpful when I was working on my dissertation. It’s interesting, I’m thinking about all those kinds of hacks that I figured out for processes like that too, but now having a formula for it with what you’ve put together makes it easier. And what you just shared about before you move away from something, building the habit, the tiny habit of writing down the thing you’re going to do first when you come back. So many parents listening have kids who one of their really significant struggles is that task initiation. So that really helps with that right there, that they’ve already got it written down, a very doable kind of, as you said, entry ramp way of getting back into that, which then cuts down on their resistance to coming back and working on something because they feel like they’re going to be successful right from the outset.
Yeah. And then another technique that I’m happy to share, this works so well for me and others is using a timer. So I’m holding a timer up, Dr. Nicole, you can see it. So if you are resisting a big project, even if you have that start or stop ready to go, set the time for whatever you feel like. 3 minutes if you really hate the project, 7 minutes if it’s like “Meh”, and then just — so the habit is just set the timer and agree with yourself, once this goes off in 7 minutes, and if I want to stop, I can stop. And guess what happens? Once you get going, the timer goes off and you go — Good for me, I’m going to do extra credit now, I’m going to keep going. And that dynamic and — I don’t talk about it too much in the book. I mean yeah, I talked a lot about helping yourself feel successful, but by setting the bar so low, all I have to do is pour the glass of water. If I drink it, extra credit, I’m an A+ student. All I had to do was floss one tooth. But if I floss all of them, hooray! Good for me, I’m going above and beyond.
And then you do not raise the bar on yourself. I do talk about this in the book where part of the method is you keep the bar low. Simple, all you have to do is pour the glass. You will naturally do more, but when you do more, even years later, you go good for me! I’m knocking it out of the park, I’m drinking the glass of water. I’m doing 10 push-ups rather than 2. And that just changes — first of all, you can be super, super consistent when it’s tiny. And then you’re thinking of yourself as the kind of person who goes above and beyond. Not the kind of person who just does the minimum. I’m the kind of person who goes above and beyond. I flossed all my teeth. I only had to do one but I did all of them. And then that affects how you see yourself, your identity, and that affects so many other aspects of your life.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So profound for so many of the kids and young adults that I work with to shift their idea about themselves from somebody who always is screwing up, can’t make anything work, never hits the mark to, as you’re saying, somebody who not only can hit the mark but goes above and beyond. Somebody who is achieving and being successful. And even the little things like we’re talking about with these tiny habits, that’s what leads to that profound shift in how they see themselves.
Yeah, exactly. So what we’re doing here — I mean yes, Tiny Habits and it sounds small and cute and easy, and it is, but we’re doing something very important. We are helping people shift their identity from one of “Oh I can’t change / I lack willpower / I’m always the one behind / I’m always the one that’s just barely making it” to “I can change / I’m the one who does more than what’s required / Yeah, I can step up to bigger challenges”. So that is — we’re not doing it through a pep talk. We’re doing it by having people observe their own behavior and going, “I did it. Oh and in fact I did more than what I designed for.” So they’re seeing evidence in their own life that they can change. So it’s not about persuading your kids or if you’re doing it for yourself. You set yourself up to succeed and also go above and beyond. And all you have to do is go “Wow. I did more than what I designed for” and it’s right there. The evidence is right there.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, and it strikes me, not only as not about giving ourselves or our kids a pep talk, but it’s also not about trying to get compliance or get achievement through threatening of punishment or negative kinds of things, right? Because that goes back to your maxim about we need to feel successful and feel good.
Yeah, you know — let me talk about my partner, even this morning. So a longer story here, but my partner finally connected with an exercise he loves, which is rowing on the rowing machine. I would have never guessed that. So I didn’t nag him to exercise or whatever, it was like supporting him with whatever he wants. One day, it’s a rowing machine. It’s like great, we’ll buy a rowing machine, we’ll make sure we have one in Maui, we’ll make sure we have one in California. He did yoga yesterday and he was feeling tired this morning, he said, “Ah I don’t think I’m going to the gym.” I said, “That’s great, listen to your body! Just do what your body says, and if you need a rest day, you’re doing exactly the right thing.” So I’m helping him feel successful, but it is the right thing. And he will be so eager tomorrow to get back to rowing, I guarantee it.
Now the rowing led to lifting weights. He’s in his mid-70s, so this is not like a college student. Led to lifting weights and then led to yoga. And it’s like, I couldn’t have nagged him or given him a pep talk into those things. He discovered those things he liked doing, he felt successful. I supported him, I helped him do those things and I also called out — “Man, your arms are getting firmer.” Like he comes in from a workout, “How did it go?” And he goes “I got my heart rate up to 150!” And I really, genuinely affirm that for him. And so I wouldn’t have expected the yoga thing, but now he’s doing yoga. And it’s like, “How beneficial is that for him?” Incredible and you know why? He now thinks of himself as, “I’m the kind of person who works out, I’m the kind of person that can take on these physical kinds of challenges.” He’s always been a physical person in terms of working, like tasks and building and cleaning and all of that, but not training his body. And now he is and I am so proud of him, and I just basically, at this point just get out of his way, and just say, “You go!”
And when there’s a moment like this morning, just say, “Yeah, listen to your body. Do what feels right,” and not making him feel like, “Oh, I’m not succeeding” No, you are succeeding, by tuning in and doing the right thing.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Love it. So let’s talk — You mentioned sort of this recipe for the Tiny Habits. Let’s touch on, for our listeners, what is this recipe? Because now I think we’ve convinced people that yes, tiny is the way to go, building success, doing these tiny habits — what’s the recipe for how we put this together?
The recipe is like a format. I almost called it a format or an equation, but recipe, I think is better. So once you know what the tiny behavior is, maybe it’s tidy up one thing, then you find where it fits naturally in your day. So that’s what the recipe is like. You’re designing it into your day. So it could be “After I start the coffeemaker, I will tidy one thing in my living room.” For flossing, floss one tooth. Where does that fit? After you brush! After I brush my teeth, I will floss one tooth. For pouring a glass of water, that may come right after, say, you start the dishwasher. After I start the dishwasher, I will pour a glass of water. And it’s going to be different for different people, that’s why I called it a recipe and not an equation, so you try a recipe and you adjust it. So the key and the hack in Tiny Habits is not only to make the new habit really, really, really small, but then you’ve used an existing routine, something you already do to be your reminder. What does it come after? Blushing reminds you to floss. Starting the coffeemaker reminds you to tidy something. Starting the dishwasher reminds you to pour a glass of water. So you don’t have post-its, you don’t have alarms, you instead use your own routines, things you already do to be your reminder to do the new habits you want.
And it’s a design process. You don’t always get it right the first time. You may find that starting the dishwasher leading to pouring a glass of water sounded good but oh, I don’t start the dishwasher every day. I only start it every other day, and I want the water to be an everyday habit, so let me look for something else. Oh, it’s after I feed the dog, okay, let me try that now. After I feed the dog, I pour a glass of water. Oh good, that works. But if it doesn’t work, it’s like where else does this fit in my day?
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And I think that what’s so helpful about that is just thinking about that one starting point for kids, especially who get so overwhelmed with things like “I’m going to start the coffee pot and then I’m going to tidy up one thing in the living room”, it occurred to me that one of the big complaints that parents have behaviorally about kids is “They don’t keep their stuff picked up / their room is always a disaster, and I tell them to go clean their room and 8 hours later it’s not done”, it’s really overwhelming thing for most kids to think about. So this idea of building a habit of one thing to start with.
Just one thing. And that habit, if your child feels successful, and tidying that one thing, the habit will wire in and the habit will grow. Think of habits as plants, and you start them small and the plant will grow. But the plant can also propagate other plants, that’s exactly how habits work. You start it really tiny, you find the right spot, just like a new plant, where does this fit naturally? And then you nurture it. We’ll talk about how you do that. But then it grows and it multiplies. So the tidying habit will get bigger. And don’t be surprised when your child tidies more than one thing. And pretty soon it’s, “I don’t have anything left to tidy. Everything is tidy.” I know that sounds like a miracle, but it can happen. And yeah, we leave things out, so that’s why it’s so good to have it daily and early.
I do it in the morning. I have an early habit of tidying things up. I wish I could do it in the evening, but evening habits are a lot harder to form than morning habits. It’s the truth. So in the morning, tidy, tidy, tidy and I now just do ten. I just start counting, one, two — and you think I wouldn’t have ten things, but I do. I left my reading glasses here, a glass of water on the counter there, the remote’s out of place, I also — long story, our TV is not set up. We have to set it up every evening and then put it back, store it back, by design, but the point is it’s like a plant. Start it small, find where it fits and then you nurture it by a feeling, by an emotion, by an emotion of success. And this can be somebody else cheering you on, but in the Tiny Habits method, you cheer yourself on and we call it a celebration. You say, “Good for me / way to go / that’s how you do it / Yay BJ! / Man that looks good back in that spot!” Whatever helps you feel successful, that feeling that I call shine, an emotion, and positive feeling of success. That’s what helps wire in the habit and that’s what helps motivate you to continue.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And so for parents, it’s great, I would think, to participate in that celebration or sort of anchoring that emotional experience, right? As you said, with your friend back in high school where mom would clap after each song, for parents to participate in the acknowledgment and the celebrating of that for a child, I would think is important.
If you can, if you’re there and you can. I mean you know this, right? And so, once people hear this, they’re like, “Well, yeah that’s how it works!” Notice how traditional habit formation doesn’t talk about this at all. It’s about repetition. So once you see it in the way that I map it out, it will correspond with your everyday life. You’ve seen how this works. So part of what I do in Tiny Habits is help give you lenses to see what you already know in some ways, but now you can see clearly, then you can add to that. Not accidentally but deliberately. There are habits where we can celebrate other people. I mean let’s even rewind to a baby learning to walk. What are parents doing as that baby’s taking the first steps? Bam! They’re celebrating the child, right?
And the baby is feeling that emotion and that’s what helps the wiring and the walking habit. There are sometimes that we do habits alone and we don’t have somebody around to cheer for us, and that in Tiny Habits, that’s when we bring in celebration and you basically cheer for yourself. There are over 100 ways to do this. In the book, I list 100 ways and there are more. What you need to do is find what works for you. And sometimes, it’s just like, you just go, “Way to go! /Awesome” or it’s a fist bump. So helping your child is — how shall I say this? Giving them permission to feel good and happy and successful about even the smallest of things. Giving them permission, just saying, “Bam! You tidied one thing! How do you feel about that? What’s your positive feeling about — look how good that looks right there!” So there may be a little bit of guidance and coaching so they can then on their own go, “Oh, I tidied this one thing / I put away the drinking glass. Good for me!” And so we haven’t set these standards that are so big that they’re always feeling like they’re insufficient. So it’s really like a sufficiency approach and one that allows for this going above and beyond.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And I would add to that for parents to give themselves permission to feel good about tiny things, and to notice and celebrate the little things that their kids are doing that are successful because it’s so easy a parent, especially if your child has challenges, to see all the things they aren’t doing, to look at a small success and go, “Well, that’s not going to get us anywhere.” But to give ourselves to go, “No, that’s awesome and I support my child’s development and success with that in that way, and that is to be celebrated and to let ourselves feel okay about that.
Yeah, let me give you — I think, three habits that I’ve developed over time that address this kind of thing. When somebody is frustrating me, this could be I’m waiting in line and they’re talking with the checkout person or somebody is not going forward at the stoplight — notice it’s a recipe: After I feel frustrated, I will say, “Everybody is doing the best they can. Nobody tries to screw up.” I just say that to myself, and that just really helps me get less frustrated and have more empathy. So it’s just two sentences: “Everybody is doing the best they can. Nobody tries to screw up.” Another phrase I use for myself, when it’s like “Duh, BJ. How come you didn’t know this before / do this before?” I say, “You learn things when you learn things.” Because sometimes, things are like, well, of course, I should have been…” So rather than beat myself up, I’m just like, “You learn things when you learn things.” I don’t feel bad that I didn’t know that before. So there are these ways in these moments of frustration or when you’re feeling like you didn’t do a great job, where you can reframe it around others, “Everybody is doing the best they can. Nobody tries to screw up.” Or yourself, and even for yourself, parents, if you feel like, “Ah, I didn’t really do the best thing for my child,” it’s like, “Hey — I’m doing the best that I can. I’m not trying to screw up. That’s okay. I’m doing what I can do.”
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So beneficial and just some really tangible things for people to hold on to, and one of the things that you said earlier, you were giving some examples of the Tiny Habits, you were talking about a Tiny Habit could just be taking three deep breaths, I’m thinking about how that could be such a powerful habit for many parents, particularly if you are in a challenging season with your child for whatever reason and feel overwhelmed or frustrated or maybe even angry about things yourself a lot, just to figure out where you can anchor that habit for yourself of just taking three deep, cleansing breaths, even.
Yeah. So what people find with this method is, first of all, it liberates them from all these old expectations. This burden gets lifted. I get these emails and sometimes people would come up to me like — I’m not giving talks right now because of the Coronavirus, but when I was, people would come up all teary like, “Oh my gosh, you’ve listed this huge burden from me.” So it releases that, but it also gives me a way to move forward and feel good about every tiny success. And that unlocks something. And it’s hard to describe what that unlocks, part of it is identity, part of it is capability because change and habit formation is a skill and part of it is a shift in motivation where they were so fearful. And when the fear goes away, you can then step up into bigger things. So I think it’s a combination of a shift in identity, a shift in ability, and a shift in motivation which is getting rid of the fear that allows your hope to emerge and with more hope, you can step up and do harder things and you’re more resilient. You can get through the tough times better.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
It just occurred to me as you were saying that about getting rid of the fear of that — so many kids, even some of the very severely impaired kids that I work with have so much anxiety and a lot of where that stems from is around a fear of, “I don’t think I can do it perfectly, then it’s safer and better just not to try at all.” This, as you’re talking about this, it’s just occurring to me what a powerful shift using these Tiny Habits can be for those kinds of kids to be able to view that success can be just with these small pieces and to get over the fear of, “I’m not going to be able to do that 100% right, so I am just going to resist and not do it at all.” That can just lead to a profound shift.
Nicole, you brought something back to me. I haven’t talked about this before. Years ago, my partner and I took improv. Why? I don’t know, just for kicks. And there’s a place in San Francisco BATS Improv. It teaches improv, and what you do there in the training for improvisation, where you get up on the stage in front of people and you don’t have a script. A part of their training is to have you purposely mess up. You get up there and you mess up on purpose and you embrace it. So they train you to underachieve or to mess up. And I think that then, the think you helped me connect to the Tiny Habits method, messing up is not a failure. So I may be seeing a resonance from improv training where it’s like, guess what? And maybe, I haven’t done this — it would be a great experiment to do and something to try, is allow your kids to purposely — “Don’t do this the way you intend.” And guess what? The earth didn’t stop moving, the sun didn’t go away, nobody shouted at you. So the fact that you’re not going to be perfect is okay. So I do have a Tiny Habits coach, somebody who is trained and certified and worked for me who is an improv expert. So I should reach out to her and she’ll probably say, “Duh BJ, of course.” That’s why I as an improv person relate so much is because you’re practicing behavior, you’re practicing these skills. And one of the skills is you prepare yourself to not be perfect. In the change process, nobody is perfect in change. So you’ve got to be able to deal with the twists and turns and the fact that, “Oh, it didn’t go as I intended, but that’s okay.”
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Love it. And one more thing to ask you to comment on before we wrap up, and that is for people listening who are thinking, “Okay, great. I get it, I’m going to start with this tiny habit, I’m going to have my child tidy up one thing in their room each day, anchored to something. Okay, so when can I move on to them cleaning the whole room.” When do we up the ante? When do we move beyond the one thing?
Yeah, and the one thing, I would say tidy up the one thing you like the most. So you’ve got to frame it. Help people do what they want to. Nobody really wants to tidy — well I do, some people do. You eventually — things you don’t like doing, once you start, you do actually find you like it. But yeah, so frame it or position it — find the one thing you like the most and tidy it up, and you can leave all the rest. People will naturally do more, they will step up. And if they don’t, just have them do other — create other tiny habit recipes. So rather than trying to grow a big oak tree, grow a whole bunch of little grasses. And stay flexible. So think bamboo. Starts really small and maybe it’s just tiny grass and you have this great lawn, and some of those things will grow. And I say bamboo rather than oak because of the flexibility. And that’s what you want. Flexibility, resilience, the storms come, the wind comes. It doesn’t uproot it, it moves it a little bit, but it’s still there. So one way to think about impact when it comes to change is by doing lots and lots of tiny changes, and they will naturally grow. You can’t force them to grow. Allow them to grow naturally. What grows them, just like sunshine and water nurtures small plants, it’s that feeling of success that grows them.
So if you want something to grow, that’s how you nurture it. You help that person feel successful or you give that person skills or training or permission to feel successful. Okay, your room is still a mess, but man you tidied that video game remote? That looks great right there. Now you know exactly where to find it, don’t you? Awesome! That means you can get back to your video games faster, terrific!
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Ah, love it! And you give — I mean in the book, you have lots of really tangible examples of ways that people have implemented these things, including some really helpful examples of parents and kids. There’s a — it really resonated with me that towards the end, there’s a great vignette about dad and his young adult son and I could really relate to that with a lot of the young adult patients that I work with. You had a lovely example in the book about how a mom supported her daughter with some ADHD and learning disability kinds of pieces. So I want to point out to the people listening that this will change not only your life, it will change your kids’ lives. And you give lots of really tangible examples of how to do that.
Yeah. You know the stories in the book — we had lots of stories to draw from and I guess some books make composite stories, so they’re not, in my mind, totally true. I was like no, I’m a scientist. It all has to be 100% true. And so we went out, and there were a lot of stories. But if we picked them carefully to show, and I say “we” because I had people helping me. Writing a book like this is never just one person alone in a room. I had a helper who was like, “Okay, let’s reach out to people and have stories, let’s interview them”. And the story about the father and the son, that I think is the one you’re referring to. We changed the names. All the stories are absolutely true, we changed the names in some cases. That one is powerful. What’s not in the book, I don’t know why it’s not that clear in the book is one reason the father was so upset about his tense relationship with his son is because that’s what he had with his own father. And he swore he would not continue that pattern. So when it was happening again, it was all the more emotionally charged. And the breakthrough was he designed something so simple for his son, and I’ll just say this, I don’t think I spoil it — is just take out the coffee filter and put it on the counter. That’s it. And that led to a massive transformation in their relationship.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah. So powerful, so awesome. We could just talk for hours about this. It’s so amazing and so helpful, but I want to make sure that we let people know where they can find out more information about your work about Tiny Habits, about the book.
A few spots, probably. tinyhabits.com and from there, you can see where to get the book, there are resources that are free, and there’s a free five-day program we’ve been doing a series of online seminars, webinars related to Tiny Habits for Coronavirus challenges. And at this point, we have done 80 of those, my coaches. There are 80 and there’s more in the pipeline. So there’s a ton. And everybody is doing this for free, nobody gets paid for doing these. So there’s a ton of stuff there. The book is sort of the centerpiece. That’s where I worked for many years pulling that together. And then more generally about my work, bjfogg.com, but I think for most people, start with tinyhabits.com because you want to know how to change your life, your family’s life, and kids and that’s the best starting point right there.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, a lot of great resources on that website. The book itself contains so many great — I want to say handouts. But visuals — it’s a really easy read because it’s not just text on a page. When you get the book, you’ll see that there are lots of visuals, there are graphic examples, there are lists, you designed this book to be really usable for people and so I want to encourage people to get the book. It’s available everywhere, as well as check out the website, great resources there. And we’ll make sure that all of those links are in the show notes on our podcast website so people can easily click on those and access the information. BJ, I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to be here today and to do this interview with me. I know that it is just going to be so tremendously helpful for our listeners, so thank you.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And thanks to all of you for listening, we’ll catch you back here next week for our next episode of The Better Behavior Show.