How to make healthy life changes from tiny habits

Aug 13, 2016

When it comes to making a change in our life, such as reducing stress or losing weight, it can seem difficult. But if we broke it down into small steps that eventually turned that change into an everyday routine, it might not seem so scary.

This week on “Take Care,” Dr. B.J. Fogg tells us about this new theory he calls “Tiny Habits:” a model he’s created for human behavior change, guided by research and design. Fogg is a psychologist and innovator who directs the persuasive tech lab at Stanford University, is the author of “Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do,” and has been selected by Fortune Magazine as one of the “10 Gurus You Should Know.”

Fogg says behavior design allows you to create a model and a set of methods before a change is made, so you can see how it’s going to be done. The model allows you to see how your new behavior will work, and the methods are used to demonstrate how you can go about that change and reach your desired outcome.

The first step is defining the specific behaviors and actions that will lead you to your aspirations, says Fogg.

“When it comes to…lasting change it’s really more of a design challenge than a motivation challenge, and that’s a big shift in traditional thinking,” Fogg said. “There’s a systematic way to match yourself with the right behavior that will lead to less stress or losing weight or so on.”

For example, when people get excited to lose weight it can provide motivation, but that motivation can sway throughout the journey, says Fogg. But if you realize this beforehand, you can design steps that will get you through those low periods of motivation and allow you to stick to your weight loss plan and achieve your goal, according to Fogg.

Although something like losing weight can be a long-term process, Fogg says by creating short-term steps it can ease you into the behavior and make it seem simpler to reach your weight loss aspirations. By this he means starting with behaviors you’re more willing to do and working your way up to the more difficult behaviors you’re less willing to do.

In the case of losing weight, this could be walking a mile every day, then jogging a mile every day, and eventually running a mile every day. By starting with smaller actions it can allow you to see where a new habit can fit naturally into your life, according to Fogg.

“The more you succeed, the more capable you get at succeeding in the future. So you don’t start with the hardest behaviors first, you start with the ones you want to do and you can do and you persist,” Fogg said. “Be patient and trust the process.”

Fogg compares starting a new habit to growing a plant—start them small, keep them nurtured, and they will grow naturally over time.

“It’s much easier and it’s much more reliable to start habits that are small and get them firmly rooted in the ground by feeling successful,” Fogg said.

To get started on creating tiny habits, Fogg offers a systematic approach that can be found online and used as a guide.

“It’s the most successful way to change your life,” Fogg said.