Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg (Book Review)

If you fail to be more productive, lose weight, exercise regularly, or keeping a resolution to last more than a week, it is not your fault, stop blaming yourself, it is a design flaw.

From Tiny Habits written by BJ Fogg, habits are formed by an equation, regardless of being a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ habit, they are two sides of the same coin. The equation is based on the Fogg Behaviour Model, which states that:

B= Behavior
M= Motivation, A= Ability, P= Prompt

For instance, when you hear your phone rings, you will reach into your pocket, take it out and answer the call. The prompt (P) here is the phone ringing, the ability (A) is your action taking the phone out and answering the call, the motivation (M) might be a phone call from your boss, from your crush or even just from your mom. Those are the factors that trigger a behaviour to happen, even by lacking any one of them, the behaviour will not happen.

The Motivation factor and the Ability factor are related by the ‘Action Line’- where you will do the behavior or not- that can be represented in a graph.


Using the graph is fairly simple. For example, reading a book within a week is hard to do and you might have relatively low motivation to do so since you have not been reading for a long time, the point will at the ‘fail’ region. On the other hand, just taking out the book every day is an easy thing to do, it does not require high motivation to take out the book, so it will fall at the ‘succeed’ region.

After understanding the concept of how a behaviour works, we can proceed to design our behaviour for them to work. It is by tweaking one of the factors- MAP. However, it is not plausible to touch on the Motivation factor because motivation is unreliable and can be frustrating at times.

Motivation can fluctuate depends on your mood and even the day of the week. It is easily influenced by external factors and distractions. Imagine yourself having a shitty weekend, your Monday will most probably be shitty also. Or if you have a wonderful weekend, your Monday will most probably suck lesser than you could have imagined. There are other factors too, which is why motivation is unreliable.

In another case, if you happen to pass-by a dessert shop after a long work-out on the weekend. But, you are trying to cut down on sugar for a healthier life. This will result in two different motivations playing tug-of-war in your head, one is the motivation to just walk away from the temptation, another one is convincing your body to take in the sugary goodness as a ‘reward’ after the fulfilling work-out. Often times, we tend to give in to the temptation and forget about having a healthier lifestyle. Therefore, motivation is not a factor your should be tweaking, leave it up to the ‘flow’ of your life.

There are seven steps in a behaviour design based on the Fogg Behaviour Model.

Step 1: Clarify your aspirations. 

Define the ‘big picture’ or the end goal of what you want to achieve such as lose weight, stop scrolling phone after bedtime, run a marathon.

Step 2: Explore Behaviour Options.

This is the time to be creative. List out a range of habits that you think can help to execute the behaviour, you can do this with your friends or someone else. The brainstorming session helps to generate as many ideas as possible. Be realistic when creating them, consider what you can and want to do, do not come out with absurd habits.

Fogg Maxim #1: Help people do what they already want to do. 

If you push yourself to do something that you do not like (which in turn does not make you feel good), you will most probably not do it again. However, if you push yourself to do something that you want which makes you feel good after doing it, you will most probably do it again in the future. That is essentially how every human functions, simple as that.

Step 3: Match with Specific Behaviour 

By having the first maxim in hand, we can match the behaviours in the following graph.

new doc 2020-01-31 15.27.27_1

Sorry for the low quality photo.

Firstly, arrange the set of habits that you have created according to the impact factor (y-axis). If the habit is highly effective, put it on top, and vice versa.

Secondly, arrange it according to your willingness and capability to do (x-axis). If the habit is what you can and want to do, put it to the right, and vice versa.

The habits in the first quadrant (top-right) will be your golden behaviours, they are the ones that are most likely to make your initial aspiration come true.

Step 4: Start Tiny

After identifying the behaviours, we can start doing them.

For example, if you want to be fit in a few months time, it is impossible for a couch potato to turn into a regular gym-goer in a blink of an eye. Let’s say we compare doing 20 push-ups per day and doing 2 per day. Doing 2 push-ups per day is easier to be done compared to 20, so you are most likely to do them consistently. Never look down on this tiny but consistent effort because in a week’s time you are clocking in 14 push-ups and slowly building your muscles to accommodate more strenuous work in the future.

You can also consider the five factors which affect the Ability factor when doing the habit, namely:

i) Time (Do you have enough time to do the behaviour?)
ii) Money (Do you have enough money to do the behaviour?)
iii) Physical effort (Are you physically capable of doing the behaviour?)
iv) Mental effort (Does the behaviour requires a lot of creative or mental energy?)
v) Routine (Does this behaviour fit into your current routine or does it require you to make adjustments?)

Step 5: Find a Good Prompt.

Prompt is synonymous to a switch, functioning as ‘on’ and ‘off’ only, a binary factor. However if the prompt is ‘off’, the behaviour would not work. Therefore, it is imperative to find a suitable prompt for yourself.

There are three types of prompts:

i) Person:- Ask someone to remind you to do the behaviour. (often unreliable)

ii) Context:- Using reminders or Post-Its to give you a visual reminder. (works for some)

iii) Action:- Building a new habit on an existing habit. (the most effective among all)

After I pee in the morning (ANCHOR), I will do 2 push-ups (NEW HABIT)

Step 6: Celebrate Success. 

Fogg Maxim #2: Help people feel successful.

Emotion creates habits. Humans are creatures of feelings, rather than tackling what you should be doing first, try aiming for what you want to do first. Having success on what you want to do cultivates feelings of success and confidence. Then, slowly build on the momentum of confidence in order to tackle the should part.

Considering Step 5, after you have done the new habit, immediately celebrate about it, or else it will lose meaning to what you have done. The immediacy actually hacks our built-in system for encoding new habits. Your celebration might be just a fist bump or a light ‘yes!’ exclamation, find your own celebration and celebrate after doing the new habit.

You also can try the celebration blitz if you want to learn how to celebrate nonchalantly in your everyday life. Celebration blitz is tidying a spot in your room or office, after each cleaning action, celebrate with your own celebration until you get comfortable with it. Everyone needs some sort of celebration after achieving something, rather than trash talking yourself into misery.

Step 7: Troubleshoot, Iterate and Expand.

5 skills are needed to expand your habit bank:

i) Behaviour Crafting: Selecting and adjusting the habits you want in life.

ii) Self-insight: Knowing which habits have meaning to you.

iii) Process: Knowing when to push beyond tiny.

iv) Context: Redesigning your environment to make the habits easier.

v) Mindset: Embracing a new identity.

This last step is to make tiny into transformative. As mentioned above, building on confidence after each successful tiny habit is akin to building momentum. If you are able to catch on that momentum train, you can make new habits in no time.

Emphasizing once again on emotions creates habits, it might take you a week to cultivate the new habit or even just three days to do it because the habits are dependant on your emotions. Rehearse the habits seven to ten times in order to drum it into your head if you want that habit to really stay, early. (Same concept as practising an instrument or playing a game).

Developing a new habit, despite how tiny it may seem, is a skill. Practise the skills of change consistently and you will bear the fruits of your sowing. Practise makes perfect.

Fogg’s Behaviour Model can also be used to untangle bad habits. (Not using the words ‘stopping’ or ‘not doing’ a bad habit because a bad habit is more like knots upon knots upon knots, by using force to ‘stop’ the habit will just make the knot even more complicated.)

By the same token, using the B=MAP equation, we can significantly untangle our bad habits.

For example, losing weight by not eating ice cream, you can get rid of the ice cream in the house, this will prevent you from binge eating a pint of ice cream while watching Netflix. This is how you discard the prompt.

Another instance is not scrolling social media after bedtime, you can put your phone in your car or leave it in another room when you want to sleep. This will take more effort to scroll your phone after bedtime because it takes more physical effort to reach for the phone. This is how you disrupt the ability.

You can also try to swap habits.

However, if you are able to cultivate more ‘good’ or ‘desired’ habits, you will eventually eliminate those ‘bad’ or ‘undesired’ habits as you do not have time to carry out or even bother about the ‘bad’ habits.

All in all, BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits is a solid 10/10, a must-read. It is one of the books which actually have significant meaning in life.

Craving for more? Down below:
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My First KL Urban Sketching Experience
2-Hour Visit to Melaka
Binge Watching: An Addiction
Kafka on The Shore by Haruki Murakami (Book Review)
Great Teacher Onizuka GTO (Anime Review)
One Percent Rule

Published by zeckrombryan

Hope. Joy. Feelings cloaked as words.

7 thoughts on “Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg (Book Review)

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