Mental Pivot

Notes and observations from a lifelong pursuit of learning.


Book Notes: “Tiny Habits” by BJ Fogg

Summary

Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything by BJ Fogg (2020) is book about the transformative power of small actions. The author asserts early in the book: “If you want to create long-term change, it’s best to start small.” His reasons for this approach: it’s faster, it requires less motivation and thereby easier, and it’s less prone to failure.

The most important insight in the book is the Fogg Behavior Model (I first learned about it in the book Indistractable by Nir Eyal). The Fogg Behavior Model is expressed as a short formula: Behavior = Motivation, Ability, and Prompt. In its shortened form, it’s referred to as B=MAP. As explained by Fogg, in order for a behavior (B) to occur, MAP— that is motivation, ability and a prompt—must all converge at the same time.

The later chapters of the book expand upon the individual parts of the formula (MAP) through a number of real world examples and anecdotes. One key observation is that motivation and ability are inversely related. If motivation is low (and likely to remain low), the individual needs a correspondingly high ability to successfully perform a given behavior. Similarly, in the event that motivation and ability are both low, one would have to actively work to increase one or the other (M or A) in order to initiate a behavior. Naturally there are interesting implications to explore through the lense of Fogg’s model.

Fogg’s book is filled with useful, practical ideas. Books on habits and habit formation have proliferated the bestseller lists in recent years (Duhigg’s “Power of Habit” and Clear’s “Atomic Habits” being the most visible examples). BJ Fogg successfully adds his original insights to the conversation with this standout book.

Pros: The Fogg Behavior Model, B=MAP provides a novel explanation for behavior change.

Cons: Some of the real-life stories were overly long and tedious. The later chapters could have been trimmed.

Verdict: 8/10


Notes & Highlights

Introduction

  • “There is a painful gap between what people want and what they actually do.”
  • Don’t blame yourself for your failure to change. “We are not the problem. Our approach to change is. It’s a design flaw—not a personal flaw.”
  • Creating habits is easy IF you use the right system.
  • To create habits and change your behaviors:
1. Stop judging yourself.
2. Take your aspirations and break them down into tiny behaviors.
3. Embrace mistakes as discoveries and use them to move forward.
  • “Behavior Design” is Fogg’s system for thinking about human behavior and creating simple habits to improve your life.
  • “Information alone does not reliably change behavior.”
  • Three things can lead to lasting change:
    1. Have an epiphany.
    2. Change your environment.
    3. Change your habits in tiny ways.
  • The essence of Tiny Habits:
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.”
  • Why tiny is so powerful:
    1. Tiny is fast.
    2. Tiny can start now.
    3. Tiny is safe.
    4. Tiny can grow big.
    5. Tiny reduces dependence on willpower and motivation.
    6. Tiny is transformative.
  • The anatomy of a tiny habit:
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.

Chapter 1: The Elements of Behavior

  • “You can change your life by changing your behaviors.”
  • The Fogg Behavior Model: Behavior = Motivation + Ability + Prompt (B = MAP).
  • Motivation, Ability and a Prompt all converge at the same time to trigger a behavior.
  • Motivation is your desire to perform the behavior.
  • Ability is your capacity to perform the behavior.
  • Prompt is the cue that initiates the behavior.
  • “The more motivated you are to do a behavior, the more likely you are to do the behavior…when motivation is high, people not only take action when prompted, they can also do difficult things.”
  • “When motivation is middling, people will do a behavior only if it’s fairly easy.”
  • “The harder a behavior is to do, the less likely you are to do it.”
  • “The easier a behavior is to do, the more likely the behavior will become habit.” (Consider this point in the cultivations of both good and bad habits.)
  • “Motivation and ability work together like teammates. If one is weak, the other needs to be strong…”
  • Behaviors become easier to do over time via repetition. This means that your ability to perform that task increases (which will reduce the associated motivation required for the behavior).
  • “No behavior happens without a prompt.”
  • “You can disrupt a behavior you don’t want by removing the prompt.”
  • Specificity can be used to address “Ability” in the B=MAP equation. If something seems “hard” be sure to break the solution into its constituent parts and develop a system or specific plan of action to make the task easier.
  • When troubleshooting a behavior use the following steps:
1. Check to see if there’s prompt to do the behavior.
2. See if the person has the ability to do the behavior.
3. See if the person is motivated to do the behavior.

Chapter 2: Motivation—Focus on Matching

  • Motivation is unreliable. You cannot depend on motivation alone (or even as the primary driver) for behavior change.
  • The three sources of motivation:
    1. Person: Yourself (e.g. what you want)
    2. Action: External benefit or punishment
    3. Context (e.g. all your friends are doing it)
  • Motivation Wave: Idea in Behavior Design in which surges in motivation can result in difficult tasks being accomplished. However, Motivation Waves are not sustainable over the long term (best for initiation or one-time behaviors).
  • Motivation Fluctuation: Motivational changes on a day-to-day basis. Examples: Willpower decreasing from morning too evening. Complex decisions are harder at night. Focus and concentration are fleeting on Friday afternoon/evening.
  • “Motivating toward and abstraction doesn’t yield results.”
  • Specificity is critical if you want results. Aspiration towards a vague goal is nice but not effective. Examples: “I want to be healthier.” “I want to feel fulfilled.”
  • “Motivation is not the winning ticket for long-term change.”
  • You should have big dreams, moonshots, vision boards BUT you should have a vivid idea or picture of what you want and work to figure out how to get there.
  • “Aspirations are abstract desires, like wanting your kids to succeed in school. Outcomes are measurable, like getting straight A’s…But aspirations and outcomes are not behaviors.”
  • “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.”
  • Magic Wanding: Method in which the individual specifies an aspiration or outcome (e.g. “Reduce my stress”) and then brainstorms the various behaviors to get to that state (this will yield a “Swarm of Behaviors”). Examples might include: Moving to Maui, getting a dog, getting a pay raise, walking every day, meditating, etc.
  • Use the following categories during your Magic Wanding sessions:
    1. What behaviors would you do one time?
    2. What new habits would you create?
    3. What habit would you stop?
  • Many different behaviors (and combinations of behaviors) can lead to an aspiration.
  • Behavior Matching: Identifying the optimal behaviors from your Magic Wanding session and implementing it. You want to match yourself with a specific behavior. The best matches are called “Golden Behaviors.”
  • Characteristics of Golden Behaviors:
– The behavior is effective in realizing your aspiration (impact).– You want to do the behavior (motivation).– You can do the behavior (ability).
  • Focus Mapping: A technique that uses a four-quadrant diagram to identify Golden Behaviors from your Swarm of Behaviors.

Chapter 3: Ability—Easy Does It

  • Fogg discusses simplicity as a strategic advantage for Instagram’s domination of the photo-sharing space. The key insight is that, when viewed through the lease of the Behavior Model, simplicity is directed towards the goal of maximizing A (Ability) in the equation B=MAP. Instagram made sharing photos “easy as pie” with a mere 3-click process (and removed all other features from their original app, Brbn, that got in the way of this end goal). As a result, the B (Behavior) was encouraged since the users were given easy ability to share.
  • “Instagram’s competitors had features that people wanted, [but] none of them cracked the code on photo sharing.”
  • “Most people operate under the assumption that they’ve got to go big or go home.” This fails most of the time. Tiny and consistent will yield higher success rate.
  • “Burst and bust” cycle is when you have intermittent periods of high motivation and productivity (burst) followed by fallow periods of inactivity (bust). Tiny habits attempts to circumvent this cycle.
  • Starting tiny is one way to mitigate the unpredictability of motivation. Tiny improves the “A” in the equation B=MAP. (Example: Starting off with 100 pushups is hard. Starting with single pushups is easier.)
  • “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.”
  • “Simplicity changes behavior.”
  • Ability is the most reliable variable in the B=MAP model.
  • Remember: Behaviors become easier to do when repeated.
  • Engaging in positive behaviors also results in improved confidence and motivation.
  • Start with this question when looking at the Ability variable for a given behavior: “What is making this behavior hard to do?”
    1. Is there enough time to do the behavior?
    2. Is there enough money to do the behavior?
    3. Am I physically capable of doing the behavior?
    4. Does the behavior require a lot of creative or mental energy?
    5. Does the behavior fit into my routine or do I need to adjust my schedule or routine?
  • Fogg calls these the “Ability Factors:” Time, money, physical effort, mental effort, routine. The weakest factor in this “chain” is a potential weak-link that will need to be addressed/fixed.
  • Identify the weak links in your Ability Chain to determine which problem to solve.
  • Second question to ask when you want to encourage a behavior: ”How can I make this behavior easier to do?”
  • Three ways to make behaviors easier:
    1. Increase your skills.
    2. Get tools and resources.
    3. Make the behavior tiny.
  • How to make things “tiny”:
  • 1. “Starter Step”: This is a very small move toward the desired behavior. If you want to walk 3 miles, a Starter Step might be putting your shoes on. For reading a book it might be the act of opening the book.
  • 2. “Scaling Back”: Take a behavior you want and shrink it. For instance, the author wanted to floss all his teeth. He scaled this objective back by aiming to floss a single tooth. Instead of reading a book, plan to read one page.

Chapter 4: Prompts—The Power of After

  • “No behavior happens without a prompt.”
  • Life is filled with a combination of unwanted and unsolicited prompts as well as intentional, planned prompts.
  • Most people operate on autopilot and are easily influenced by the myriad of invisible prompts both online and offline.
  • Don’t leave prompts to chance. Design the prompts for the behaviors you want.
  • “For some habits, it’s all about finding out where a new habit fits into your day.”
  • Three types of prompts in our lives:
    1. Person prompts
    2. Context prompts
    3. Action prompts
  • The Person Prompt: This prompt relies on internal signals to trigger a behavior. For instance, bodily urges and functions are kinds of Person Prompts (example: grumbling stomach).
  • The Context Prompt: Things in your environment that trigger action. Examples include: sticky notes, app notifications, a ringing phone, a verbal reminder from a friend, an email or text to yourself. A calendar entry with an automated alert is a kind of context prompt.
  • Management of your prompt landscape can be challenging. Too many context prompts can create cognitive overload.
  • Removal and deletion of unneeded prompts is an important part of managing your prompt landscape. Examples: Removing yourself from an email list, disabling app notifications, putting your phone on “do not disturb mode, being more judicious about what gets included on your to-do list.
  • Offline prompts have been around for a long time but online prompts are newer and therefore harder for us to deal with (as we are all still figuring out how to digest information in the Information Age).
  • Action Prompts: A behavior you already do that can be used as a trigger for a new habit. Example: You already brush your teeth so you bundle a new habit (flossing) with it [note: some people describe this as “habit stacking”]
  • Fogg likes to call Action Prompts “anchors” because the existing habit is already stable and solid. An Action Prompt is tied to something already reliable.
  • Behaviors often happen as sequences of actions. You can “hack” the sequence by coding a new tiny habit into the existing sequence.
  • The Action Prompt “formula:” After I do [anchor habit], I will do [new habit].
  • Consider the following when matching a new habit with an appropriate anchor:
    1. Match the physical location (you want compatible actions for a given environment).
    2. Match the frequency (e.g. if you want a new habit to occur frequently you need to pair it with an anchor that is similarly frequent).
    3. Match the theme/purpose
  • This recipe will likely fail: “After I brush my teeth, I will sweep the garage.” The reason is that location, frequency and purpose are poorly matched.
  • This recipe will likely succeed: “After I drink water, I will water my plant.” The purpose/theme is linked. You drink, the plant drinks.
  • If your Action Prompt isn’t working experiment with it by making the anchor more specific (Fogg calls this a trailing edge anchor). For instance. Instead of anchoring to the activity of “brushing my teeth” use an even more specific endpoint: “put my toothbrush back into the charger.”

Chapter 5: Emotions Create Habits

  • Learn to recognize your successes and feel good about what you’ve accomplished.
  • Celebration is an important way to reinforce good behaviors and encourage new behaviors.
  • Celebration will put you in a positive and abundance oriented mindset. This will position you well for continue progress and more positive behaviors.
  • “Positive experiences reinforce [positive] habits.”
  • “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.”
  • Too many people rely on the myth that repetition and frequency creates habits.
  • “Emotions create habits.”
  • The Spectrum of Automaticity: A simple model that explains the difference between decisions and habits. Decisions are not automatic (one end of spectrum). Strong habits are fully automatic (other end of the spectrum). Distinction is not binary. Some behaviors may be mostly automated but require a small bit of deliberate input.
  • Differentiate between incentives and rewards. “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…rewards need to happen either during the behavior or milliseconds afterward.” Incentives are not as strongly bound to the behavior (example: sales bonus or a massage at the end of the month for meeting a goal).
  • Note that celebrations are only needed to establish a habit. You can omit this step once the habit becomes automatic.
  • Celebrations should be immediate (per Fogg’s definition of a reward). A celebration can be as simple as a fist-pump or a smile.
  • “Shine” is the term Fogg uses for the immediate feeling of success upon completing a positive behavior.

Chapter 6: Growing Your Habits from Tiny to Transformative

  • Habits scale in two ways:
    1. Habits can grow. (e.g. you meditate for 30 minutes instead of 1 minute).
    2. Habits can multiply. Habits can affect other behaviors both in you and in other people.
  • “When people feel successful, even with small things, their overall level of motivation goes up dramatically, and with higher levels of motivations, people can do harder behaviors.”
  • “Start where you want to on your path to change. Allow yourself to feel successful. Then trust the process.”
  • Change is a skill.
  • The five categories of “Skills of Change:”
    1. Behavior Crafting: Knowing how many new habits to do at once and when to add more.
    2. Self-Insight: The skill of knowing which new habits will have meaning to you.
    3. Process: The skill of knowing when to push yourself beyond tiny and ramp up the difficulty of the habit.
    4. Context: The skill of redesigning your environment to make your habits easier to do.
    5. Mindset: The skill of embracing a new identity.

Chapter 7: 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.”
  • Fogg argues that the metaphor of “breaking a bad habit” is misleading because you cannot apply force in one effort to overcome a habit. Instead, he recommends seeing bad habits as a rope with a number of knots. You need to untangle the knots one at a time, in sequence and systematically.
  • The Behavior Change Masterplan
    Phase 1: Focus on creating new habits.
    Phase 2: Focus on stopping the old habit.
    Phase 3: If necessary, focus on swapping a new habit for the old one.
  • Tactics for stopping a bad behavior: Attack individual “Ability Factors” in the Ability Chain (see Chapter 3):
    1. Increase the time required (example: no ice cream in the freezer)
    2. Increase the money required (example: charge money/impose tax on unwanted behaviors. Easier to do for others than for yourself)
    3. Increase the physical effort required (example: put the TV in the closet or make difficult to turn on or find programming)
    4. Increase the mental effort required (example: use a difficult password for social media sites)
    5. Make the habit conflict with important routines (if early morning wakeup is desired, it will force you to avoid screens in the evening, late night snacking, etc.)

Chapter 8: How We Change Together

  • To support others in the change process keep these maxims in mind:
    1. Help people do what they already want to do.
    2. Help people feel successful.