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Creating tiny habits for the self

by Vivek Slaria Share via -

It is the New Year. Amit and Naina are a young upmarket couple, just back from their vacation in Goa. The sun, the sand and a whole lot of partying. They decide to start the New Year by gifting themselves health.

Motivated, they buy an upscale gym membership. Naina almost immediately decides that she needs a whole new gear for the regimen. A new pair of sneakers, gym clothes and accessories. After all, we are worth it, they said. So did the advertisement.

Day one was great. They met their personal trainer who designed a personal fitness plan for them. He also helped them warm up and get the basics right. This was good. The practice continued the second and the third day. The fourth day the muscles were a little sore. Naina also had a late night at work. She decided to get some rest. Amit went to the gym, determined to be fit. The early signs of good exercise were showing on his body and he felt happy.

Day five, then six, then seven. Next week the frequency of visiting the gym reduced to three days. There were late nights and early mornings at work. This is not bad, they thought, as long as we are able to continue. One day Amit had to travel outstation for a week. Naina did not feel like hitting the gym without him. She skipped gym for days. He returned, tired from the travel. They decided to take a day’s rest.

They never went to the gym again.

Willpower and motivaton, it seems, is vital for sustaining any change. However, it are finite resources (Roy Baumeister, Willpower). Once the initial wave passes, the routines relapse to the original.

So what is needed for a long term sustainable change?

Prof. B.J. Fogg is a teacher of behavioural sciences at Stanford University. He is obsessed with the science of behaviour and focusses on what he calls behaviour design. He finds a place in the ‘Top ten gurus you should know’ list by Fortune magazine.

In the behaviour model he has built, Fogg postulates that long term sustainable change can happen only when we eliminate the need for motivation.

With this theory he created tiny habits. Tiny steps that require no motivation. This way a change may be introduced that takes shape in due course.

The template for a good habit design, he states, is as follows:

After I_<write anchor>_ I will_<write action>_Celebrate_<write personal celebration>_.

A great idea right now would be to use this template. Try designing a tiny habits for yourself.

How can it be done?

The first step is to write an anchor. This is an existing routine after which you will perform the new action. Waking up (hopefully), brushing your teeth, closing the door to leave home, entering an elevator are some examples. A strong anchor is pivotal for the success of a habit.

The anchor needs to be extremely specific.  After I finish my lunch is not a good example. A better one may be after I finish the last bite of lunch.

Anchors also determine the frequency of a routine. If a routine is anchored on a once a day activity (waking up in the morning) it gets done once in a day. If it’s anchored on activities performed multiple times (getting up from the desk) the routine gets executed multiple times.

Once the anchor is executed, the design of habit shifts to what is to be done. This is the I Will part of the habit design template.

This is a tiny routine that you want to execute. Feel free to create any routine. At this stage it does not matter. A few that I really like are I will take a deep breath, I will drink a glass of water, I will stretch myself, I will give my wife a hug.

A rule of thumb is to keep it less than thirty seconds. It needs to be that TINY. There is a tendency to make the I Will difficult. Remember that what seems simple is more difficult. Exercise the challenge to keep it simple and less than thirty seconds. Possible?  

Celebrate. This is the last part of creating a tiny habit. These celebrations are tiny acts of personal joy. An example may be a small shout of ‘’awesome’’, a small pounding of the desk or one’s chest. A smile to self.

Celebration creates a craving mind causing an act to become a habit.  

Design your tiny habits right now. It doesn’t take more than five minutes. Use the template as under

After I_<write anchor>_ I will_<write action>_Celebrate_<write personal celebration>_.

A few examples may be-

After I open eyes in the morning, I will thank god for a fantastic day ahead and say ‘’awesome’’.

After I step out of my room in the morning I will drink a glass of lemon and water and smile.

After I enter a meeting room in the office, I will take a deep breath and say ‘’awesome’’.

The world is limitless. Let us take the first step. 

Vivek Slaria is a habits coach. Book time with him on for life and career coaching 

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