Tiny Habits Taking Seed

2012-03-11-DSC02582I believe in habits. I believe in certain techniques that you do to prepare yourself, and I think that’s important.”- Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks quarterback, quoted in the Seattle Times, January 17, 2014

All week I’ve been practicing three new tiny habits, working them into my day so they become seamless and automatic. For the fifth day in a row, here’s what I’ve been doing.

  • After I wake up, as soon as my feet hit the floor, I say, “it’s going to be a good day.”
  • After I pour my morning beverage, I do a 30-second chest stretch.
  • After I sit down at my desk, I focus on my top priority for the day.

The idea of tiny habits comes from a guy named BJ Fogg. He’s a professor at Stanford who also spends a lot of time in private industry working on projects that involve human behavior and habits (Hello!: Facebook and Twitter). He’s got a theory about habits that has some surprising aspects.

According to BJ, the three components of a habit are motivation, ability and trigger.

Motivation is the desire to do it, of course. But the interesting thing I’ve learned from BJ is that motivation doesn’t need to be high. In fact, if you need to rely heavily on motivation to do something (at least to get started on it), you may be more susceptible to failing since it’s impossible to always be motivated. Motivation and willpower both ebb and flow a lot over the course of a day, a week and a month. If you doubt that, check out any gym this week and then again at the end of February–big change in motivation across a wide swath of humanity.

Ability is just that- the skill to do the thing. You need to know how to do the thing you’re trying to incorporate as a habit. It can be rudimentary at first, and then you can improve at it over time (that’s what training is). Motivation and Ability are correlated – the harder the thing is to do, the more motivation you’ll need, and vice-versa. So you start with something easy and fairly effortless so you can do it with low or no motivation.

Trigger is the thing that cues you–consciously or unconsciously–to do the new habit. And here, BJ has a pretty cool insight. For the best success, the new habit needs to be nestled right up against a habit that you already do (and preferably enjoy) on a daily or regular basis. I ran into my friend Jeanine the other day and found out that she’s intuitively doing exactly what BJ recommends. She wants to increase her core strength, so she started doing plank regularly. Curious, I said, “oh, when do you do it?” and she said, “right after I run”. Perfect. “After” is the best trigger.

To establish and reinforce the habit you’re trying to make, you need a dollop of Celebration. Actually, two dollops: 1) when you anticipate doing the new habit– “right after I finish pouring this cup of tea, I’m going to do my chest stretch – yay me!”, and 2) as soon as you’ve done it — “did my chest stretch–boy am I awesome!”

I can hear you saying, Okay, Rache, but what’s the big deal about doing one chest stretch? Well, once those tiny habit seeds are planted, you can grow them. From 2 push ups after flushing the toilet to 5, and then 8 and then 10. From a couple of deep breaths to five, then 10, then 20 minutes of meditation. From a moment of focus at my desk to writing a blog post. You get it–baby steps lead to a marathon. The vital thing is that you are creating an automatic pattern for yourself so that you can begin to do something without a lot of forethought, second-guessing, resistance or even motivation. Once you’ve got that seed planted–that’s just what you do.