How Tiny Habits Lead to BIG Success
We have previously discussed how improving your skills and/or getting the right tools can make a new habit (such as keeping a nicotine alternative product on you at all times) easier & more consistent. But when neither of those approaches work, there’s one last option: scale the desired behavior WAY back. Make it so small and so simple it would be ridiculous not to do it.
In his book Tiny Habits, BJ Fogg offers two approaches for simplifying any desired behavior, including quitting nicotine.
APPROACH #1: THE STARTER STEP
Let’s say, for example, you have decided that you need to get to bed earlier so that you can get a full eight hours of sleep each night (especially during nicotine withdrawal in the early stages of your quit journey). You calculate that your new bed time should be 9:30 p.m. which seems dreadfully early to you.
Following the instructions of our previous post, you’ve already invested in the right tools for a good night of sleep (bed sheets, pillow, earplugs) and have also “skilled up” on good sleeping habits by listening to some podcasts and watching YouTube videos. But when 9:30 rolls around, you just don’t want to go to bed and you have a hard time talking yourself into it.
Enter: the starter step. Ask yourself, What is the first critical step in performing the desired behavior?
In this example, the first step to being asleep by 9:30 p.m. is probably to be in bed by 9:30. You don’t have to be asleep by then; you just need to be in your bed. You could do any number of things after that, like read a book, write in your Quit Journal, or catch up on emails on your phone.
That’s it! That’s the starter step. And if you do just that, consider it a success. Tell yourself: I don’t have to be sound asleep by 9:30. I just need to be in my bed by then.
It doesn’t matter what you decide to be the first critical step in performing the behavior. What does matter is shifting your perspective so that the desired behavior doesn’t seem so [hard, scary, exhausting, complicated - insert appropriate adjective for you here].
At some point, the starter step will seem less intimidating, and you might even feel motivated enough to take the next step. For our sleeping example, this could be putting on calming music and turning out the lights. But if you don’t do those things, that’s OK! At least you’re in bed.
Starter steps help your habit grow, because doing that one small first step usually propels you forward into completing additional steps in the habit. BUT - it’s important not to raise the bar prematurely. Keeping the bar low keeps the habit alive. Remember, we’re designing for consistency, because that’s what roots the behavior and turns it into a habit. Doing the starter step is success. Anything beyond that is just icing on the cake.
APPROACH #2: SCALE IT BACK
The other way to make a behavior small and simple is to scale it back, which means taking the behavior you want and shrinking it. The idea is to make the behavior so ridiculously small that it takes virtually no motivation to do it.
Want to start getting more sleep at night? Head to bed one minute early tonight.
Would you like to walk a mile every day? Start by just walking to the mailbox.
Trying to quit nicotine cold turkey? See if you can go without it for an hour today.
Want to make flossing a habit? Start by flossing just one tooth.
Trying to do 20 pushups every day? Start with one wall pushup.
And don’t forget that completing the scaled back version (however small or seemingly insignificant) is success!
Eventually, with the passing of time, you’ll naturally be ready to increase your tiny habit a tiny bit. But again - don’t raise the bar prematurely. Celebrate your successes, no matter how tiny, and only do more when you have the motivation to do so.
Where To Start?
Now that you know the three ways to make a behavior easier, how do you know which method to use? Look at your motivation levels to decide:
- If your motivation is high: use it to your advantage to acquire the skills, tools and resources needed to get better at it, and thus make it easier.
- If your motivation to complete the behavior is low: scale it back by making it small and simple. Make it so small and simple that you need hardly any motivation to complete it.
There is no magic pill for getting rid of a nicotine addiction, but holding yourself accountable to your Golden Behaviors (and doing them with consistency) is crucial to kicking the habit. Whenever you feel like skipping out on the goals you’ve set for yourself, return to the above two bullet points and do what you need to do to make sure you don’t break the streak! (Maybe even write them down in your quit journal!)