Think Smaller Than Small
"The number one mistake people make," says Fogg, "is not going tiny enough." If you're trying to make a change in your life, you need to add something to your routine that is smaller than small, smaller than tiny, something that is minuscule, that takes almost no effort and also almost no time. This eliminates not only running as new habit (my original goal: to go running every morning for five days), but it also eliminates running around the block or even running down the driveway.
"Just put on your running shoes," Fogg tells me. "That's it. Put them on in the morning every day for five days. You're done."
"Okay," I say, trying to sound chipper and optimistic despite the voice in my head going, "Uh??? Are you kidding?"
Fogg brings up other examples from other Habiteers: Push-ups? You don't do 10 push-ups. You do one. Flossing? You don't floss your teeth. You floss one tooth.
Flogg is working on scientific evidence as to whether these wee actions result in longer, more complex behaviors. But having tracked 10,000 tiny habits (he emails with each Habiteer in the program daily), he does have some ideas as to how they work. "For example, let's say you chose to floss one tooth as your tiny habit. The first few days, this one tooth does take a little bit of effort. But as you floss more and more, it requires less and less and less effort because you know exactly where the floss is, you know how to tear it off, you know how to wrap it around your finger," says Fogg. "It hurts less too, because your gums are used to it." So over time, flossing more teeth becomes just as easy as flossing one tooth used to be.
Find Yourself a Crisp Anchor
When developing the Tiny Habits idea, Fogg had a classic eureka moment. "I was opening my sock drawer, and I got some socks out, and the word 'after' just struck me.” He realized that he knew what he always would do after he took out his sock: close the drawer. He'd been trained over a lifetime to close that drawer. There would never be a time he wouldn't close it. What if he attached a new tiny habit to this chain of events in his brain?
Closing the drawer—is what Fogg now calls your anchor. You execute your new tiny habit after an old tiny one. For example, putting on my running shoes. I'm not supposed to just wake up and put on the shoes. I'm supposed to put them on after I've pushed the "on" button for the coffee machine, which I do every morning, like one of the cute sad robots left behind after the decimation of the planet, still picking up trash.
How does this turn out? At the grim hour of 5:38 a.m. (I have two kids and a full-time job—this is my only time), I stumble through the dark, hit the button, then sit down on the floor and smash on my running shoes while the coffee machine wheezes and gurgles to life. Then? I do not go running. I do not go outside. I go out of the kitchen and enter the bedroom and shove my husband over and get back into bed (my running shoes still on) and sleep until 7 a.m., when my toddler son exercises his favorite tiny habit of blowing on my shut eye.
"Success!" says Fogg when we talk on the phone later. The reason, he explains, why I was able to put on those shoes is that my anchor was very "crisp" and "precise." Apparently, saying that you will play a chord on your ukulele after dinner or before breakfast or as soon as you wake up doesn't work. Those anchors are too vague. You need to play the chord on you ukulele after you put your plate in the dishwasher or as soon as I take my head off the pillow.
"Um..." I say. "I'm still not running."
"You're not trying to run," says Fogg.
"Right," I say (long, stubborn pause). "I'm just putting on my running shoes."
As I hang up, I wonder if I should have mentioned that I failed at my other two tiny habits. Fogg's program requires you to pick three, after all. I was supposed to say thanks for my family being healthy after getting into bed. I was also supposed to do three pliés after I filled up a glass of water, which on some days I failed to fill up. Both were limp anchors in retrospect, not crisp at all. I revised my gratitude to after I turned off the tacky rooster lamp that sits on my bedside table and revised my plies to after I turned the key in the door to get into my house.
Next: Force yourself to celebrate