Tiny Habits – What are They?

What Are Tiny Habits

My experience with tiny habits manifests at 10:45 AM everyday.

Tiny Habits Wrecking Ball
That’s when  a visual reminder pops up on my computer screen. When I see it, I get up and walk to my car. Monday through Friday for the last 36 days, that’s been my routine. It’s a tiny habit. It’s a concept  from BJ Fogg, The Director of Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University. Fogg’s theory is pretty simple really. It’s based on how habits are formed

Fogg believes that the behaviors that make up tiny habits consist of three things:




Our desire or intention to accomplish something. It’s important but overrated.  In the face of temptation and challenge, willpower fades. People have good intentions. People are often motivated, but  there isn’t a reminder and it’s not easy motivation can fail.

Motivation comes from three places

  • Pain/Pleasure
  • Fear/Hope
  • Social Acceptance/Rejection


The key to establishing new behaviors is our ability to consistently act. The more you remove obstacles from your path the more ability you have to engage in a behavior. We are always evaluating the cost of our behavior.

Our ability to act is affected by:

  • Effort – Is it easy or hard to do?
  • Time – Does it take less than or more than 30 seconds to do?
  • Cost- Is it affordable?
  • Mental Drag – How much thought does it require to engage in this behavior?
  • Repeatability – How easy is it do this behavior again?
  • Socially Acceptability – does it fall within normal expectations for normal behavior?



Triggers are “cues”  that tell you to do something right now. Fogg designates three types of triggers

  • Spark –  something that ignites a core motivator (pleasure/pain, fear/hope, acceptance/rejection)

o   A photo of a new outfit you want to fit in

  • Facilitator – helps make a new behavior easier to do. Works well when motivation is adequate

o   When the dinner dishes are in the sink. I’ll load the dishwasher. The behavior of loading the dishwasher is made easier by people moving the dishes to the sink.

  • Signal – are reminders that work best when there is motivation and ability.

o   An outlook alarm that signals it’s time to get up and walk to the car.


The Tiny Habits Recipe

After I [existing habit], I will [new tiny behavior]

The way it works is that you take something you already do and link a new behavior to it.

For me the something I was already doing was going to lunch at 11AM. The alarm in Outlook was going off at 10:45 AM to remind me lunch was coming up. I just added walking to my car as the new behavior I wanted to employ to an existing signal in the environment.

Why would I want to link my Outlook alarm to walking to my car? Because I had a larger problem. I was motivated to go to the gym five days per week, but I lacked the ability to get myself there.  I had to reduce the resistance. Walking to my car was easy. It took less than 30 seconds. I could do it every day and it wasn’t cognitively difficult.

Every day that I walked to my car and got in, I congratulated myself for following through. I told myself that I should be proud that I cared enough to walk to my car. It sounds a little corny, but it worked.

However, I still had a problem; I had to get to the gym. I used getting into the car at lunch time as a facilitating trigger to drive to the gym.  I told myself I didn’t have to work out, I just had to drive to the gym before I went anywhere else for lunch.

What I discovered was that once I was in the parking lot of the gym, the resistance to working out was reduced enough for my motivation to carry me.

For a tiny habit to work it must be

  • Easy
  • Done Daily
  • Take < 30 seconds
  • Anchored to an existing habit or behavior.

The more you increase your ability to do the behavior the more likely you are to do it. The way you increase your ability is to reduce the cost of doing it.

Celebrate with a tangible expression of accomplishing the habit. It serves as a reinforcer to the behavior. And it’s pleasurable, meaning you’ll be more likely to engage it.


Am I in the Habit of working out yet?

It’s been 36 days and I have to admit that going to work out during my lunch break is getting easier, but I still have a long way to go. There are days where I remind myself to just get in the car. Once I’m in the car I tell myself to just drive to the gym. It may sound a little simplistic, but maybe that’s why it’s working.

So if you’re looking to add a new habit to your life stop trying to swing for the fence. Stop trying to make a big change. Take my advice, “The way to make big changes is to go small…tiny, in fact.”

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