Changing….One Tiny Habit at a Time

Changing….One Tiny Habit at a Time


  1. J. Fogg, PhD, a Stanford expert in behavioral change, developed the “Tiny Habit” method of changing behavior.  He has dedicated two decades of research to helping people make changes that “stick.”  He is well aware that big goals tend to fail, and many of us give up after feeling like failures.  His research has showed that our ability to make changes depends on:
  • Motivation
  • Ability
  • Stimulus (Triggers)

Here is an example that demonstrates this.  We are (most of us) motivated and able to get out of bed in the morning.  Having an alarm set to go off gives us the stimulus, or trigger.  We get up because we are motivated, able, and have a trigger.

Another example of our ability to make change might be making charitable donations.  We may be motivated, but not able to give much, and perhaps we haven’t been asked or triggered to donate.  So it isn’t happening.  Yet, if we were asked to give $5 per month to a specific charity, and we were reminded annually to sign up, we are more likely to say yes.  We have the motivation, the ability, and the stimulus.

Dr. Fogg designed a way to take the above information and apply it to “tiny habit” changes in our life to improve our health and wellbeing.  The key is to identify a tiny thing you are motivated to change, like to start flossing.

Make the goal tiny = floss one tooth in the morning

Create the ability = put floss by the toothbrush

Create a trigger = agree that every morning after you brush your teeth, you will floss one tooth (not two)

Set your own goal up this way:

  • 1) Think small, very small.  When I was trying to avoid heartburn from coffee, I set up a tiny habit to drink a glass of water before having coffee.
  • 2) Find an anchor.  Identify all the things you do on a daily basis, such as combing your hair, starting the coffee pot, turning on the dishwasher, getting the mail.
  • 3) Frame your tiny habit in terms of “after I ___________I will.”   “After I pour a cup of coffee but before I drink it, I will pour and drink a cup of water.”
  • 4) Finally, celebrate!  Yes, celebrate. After I drink the water, I will say, “Yay, you did it.”  This is the secret sauce!
    1. Our brains do not distinguish between sizes of accomplishment.  Whether we celebrate for a small achievement or a large one, the brain is happy and rewarded.
    2. Just by praising yourself out loud, you create a little pathway of happiness in the brain that rewards what you’ve just done and encourages you to repeat it.

Tiny Habits success tends to grow and ripple.  But start very small and stay small as long as needed.  If you get derailed, go small again…and always with ample praise.

To learn more about Dr. Fogg and his work with Tiny Habits, go to