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You make these small changes and it changes how you think about yourself. It changes yourself talk. It changes your relationship with emotions so you're more inclined to embrace positive emotions and not let the negative emotions get you down.
Some ways I'm getting chills because that is such to me. That is just I'm still fascinated with how that works.
Hello and welcome. I'm Shane Parrish, and you're listening to the Knowledge Project, a podcast dedicated to mastering the best of what other people have already figured out. This podcast on our website, F-stop blog help you better understand yourself and the world around you by exploring the methods, ideas and mental models from some of the most incredible people in the world. If you enjoy this podcast. We've created a premium version that brings you even more. You'll get ad free versions of the show, early access to episodes, transcripts and so much more.
If you want to learn more now, head on over to F-stop Blogs podcast or check the Schnitz for a link. Today I'm talking with B.J. Fogg, who founded the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University. In addition to his research, he also created the Tiny Habits Academy. This episode is, you guessed it all about how it how we make them, how we break them, how emotions and story impact them and what motivates us. It's time to listen and learn.
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So if you've got an app or website idea or you're just ready for a change of pace from your current agency, let the team at 80-20 show you how no code can accelerate your business. Check them out at 80-20. Don't think that eight zero two zero dot AI and C. So happy to have you on this show. Thank you for having me. How did you get interested in habits? How?
Well, probably goes back to my childhood. I grew up in a culture that was all about changing your behavior, optimizing your life and habits to do and habits not to do. I was raised Mormon in California and within that religion, you know, you can't smoke, you can't drink, and you're supposed to study the scriptures and pray and so on. So I think I grew up with a lot of attention around habits.
And then later, fast forward to being an adult, just really interested in helping people be happier and healthier. And I think that also got wired into me, whether it was that Mormon background or whether it's just born with that desire. And in studying human behavior and things came together, it's like, man, you know what? This thing about habits and creating habits can be way easier than people expect and just really dive in and do a bunch of practical research and testing and bam and help people.
You live on Hawaii, right? Part of the time in Maui, yes. What does it mean to be happy and healthy? Mm hmm.
Of course, it's different for different people. But for me, nature is a big piece of that for me.
And I didn't realize this. I didn't realize the pattern, how important connecting to nature is for me to be healthy and happy. And it's different for different people. But yes, I taught two classes. The only class I ever repeated at Stanford I was teaching a class was on behavior designed to help people connect to nature. But I didn't recognize how important that pattern was in my life. I had moved out of Silicon Valley in about 2001 because I just felt like it was dehumanizing me.
And so even though I still had teaching and research is temporary, we kind of escaped about two hours north where I where we moved to live next to a river. And the whole reason we moved out was to be by the river and get out of what I felt like in Silicon Valley was just greed and exploitation and just not real relationships. If you couldn't help somebody financially, it just seemed like they weren't interested in. So that. And then one day I was sitting in our home and it's in Healdsburg, California, and I looked around the living room and every single piece of every painting, every anything in the room had to do with nature.
I had plants, I had rocks, I had feathers. The carpet was leaves. And I looked around and said, OK, who's the Claire? You're kind of obsessed with nature. So for me, that's really important. And here in Maui, I surf every morning. I get in the ocean every day. And that's really important for me to start my day and also to end my day getting in the water just for me, I've just found that really, really helps.
For me, it's really nature is the foundation of being happy and healthy. And frankly, my spirituality, that's what it is. I'm sure it's that's not true for everybody. That's really interesting to me.
I would like to hear more on the differences between sort of being on the island environment and sort of being on campus.
Very different. On the good news side of things is with my lab, my research lab at Stanford, we meet once a week year round and we have long done that through video conferencing. It was on Hangouts and then we shifted to Zoom a few years ago. So that doesn't change anything at all. It doesn't matter where I am, the lab and how we interact with that. And CELAC stays the same. One thing it has in common is I feel very at home when I'm on Stanford's campus and I feel very at home when I'm here in Maui or close to nature.
And then there's other places where I just don't feel at home. Like I say, I go to Chicago and I keynote at an event. I go to a hotel and I'm there.
But and events nice. But I don't feel at home. I don't and I really can't wait to leave and get back to, I guess, a place that's just a little more more me and more comforting.
More energizing. I guess it has to do with both of those things.
I think that's a really good way to put it. I want to dive into behavior change a little bit. We tend to think that if we give people the right information, it'll cause behavior change. But I don't think that's true. Can you walk me through?
I know we've all thought that. We've all hoped that for a long time. And it is important and in tiny habits. I point this out and I've pointed it out for a while, that information alone does not reliably lead to sustained behavior change.
Now, information can be part of the puzzle, but that alone doesn't seem to. Do the trick for most people, so seeing statistics, seeing data won't necessarily change somebody's behavior in the long term. And back in the day when the quantified self movement was more visible and busier and more exciting. That was one of the things. I mean, I really, really liked the people involved. And I really like to see technology be created to help people be healthier and more productive and happier and so on.
But I couldn't get super enthusiastic about the overall idea of quantified self because I knew that just giving somebody data about their sleep or about how many calories or about whatever wasn't going to add up to be a thing that would create lasting change in most people's lives. Now, I imagine there are a few unusual people that all they need is data and everything else collects together. Yeah. Now there is one qualification chain for this that where it does help information.
And let me drill down on where it doesn't work, if it's information about why you should do something in a domain we already understand pretty well, like nutrition or sleep or stress reduction, more information about why you should reduce your stress seems not to lead to lasting change. So that's not a good equation.
And then just statistics and things like that without any. And here's the key information about how to.
That's good. OK, so when we talk about information, that can be lots of things, but if it's information about here's the behavior to do and here's how you do it, then that is a great approach. But that's a specific kind of information. So specifying the behavior and making it easier for people to do.
Now, notice in those two things that maps to my behavior model, which is because like this behavior happens when three things come together at the same moment, motivation, ability and prompt. So if you give information that specifies the behavior, well, that's the B in the behavior model and then gives people more ability than you've had. I think the most important things in changing behavior, be specific and make it really easy to do so when I teach my bootcamps.
That's for industry innovators who are creating products and services to change behavior and health, their financial stability or stress. I do teach them to explain to their colleagues information alone does not change behavior. And if people have like, oh, we're going to do this information campaign, we're going to educate people to push back on that and say, no, no, no.
The information alone is not reliable.
And in changing behavior long term, however, if there's already budget for some sort of a campaign or learning or whatever, then take that budget and use it to help people get really specific about their behaviors and explain how to do so, rather than try to motivate people through some information campaign, match them with the best behaviors and then make those are really easy to do and then you're on your way.
When I was talking with Daniel Kahneman on the podcast, he said there is two ways to sort of like make behaviors easier.
In a way, you have a carrot and stick kind of approach where you sort of add force or you remove force. In your experience, is there a better approach?
Yeah, I have a different model for that. I mean, I totally get that and I like that, but I have a different model of how to think about how to make something easier to do. And in my model, and I call it the pack person model. There are three approaches. Number one is you train the person so that person gets more capable. You skill them up.
Now, that doesn't always work because a lot of people don't want to be scaled up. They don't want to be trained. But you consider that option first. If we're trying to help people, say, cook more vegetables or eat more vegetables for dinner. Well trained them, skill them up, teach them how to acquire them, how to cook them and so on. So that's one option is you change the person, you make them more capable, and then that way the behavior becomes easier to do.
Number two, and the next thing to consider and there's a sequence and all of my work, it's all a system, there's a sequence. And how you think can solve these problems.
Number two, has to do with redesigning the environment or the context to make it easier to do. And so you put tools or resources into somebody's context. I notice this is different than killing somebody up. You're not changing the person. You're changing their environment. Or if you're designing for your own behavior, you change your own environment. So you get the gear you need to wash the vegetables, the gear, you need to chop things up and so on.
Tools and resources that would also include checklists, recipes, how to videos, anything that you'd put in your environment that would make it easier to including another person who walks you through the steps. That's bucket number two is can we redesign the environment or the context to make the behavior easier to do? In California, one of my garages is converted to a gym like a cross. FINCHEM Well, I changed my environment to make working out easier to do. And people can think of lots of examples of this.
The third and there's only three buckets here is you take the behavior and you scale it back. So you take whatever action that is, such as, oh, I want to work out an hour a day and you scale it back to, well, maybe I'm just going to work out for four minutes. So you're actually changing the action to make it tinier. So those are the three buckets. You can change the person to make it easier to do it by scaling them up.
You can change the environment by giving people tools and resources or yourself tools and resources. And then the third approach, if you need this, you take it and you just scale the behavior back to be super tiny. Rather than paying all your bills, you just pay one rather than flossing all your teeth. You just floss one tooth rather than eating five servings of healthy vegetables for dinner.
You just prepare one or maybe even eat one bite. I mean, in tiny habits, you shrink. It is tiny as you can go and still keep the behavior meaningful.
That's really interesting.
I want to dive into environment a little bit more normally when I hear examples of environmental change, it's it's sort of very physical and visual in the sense of I put a gym in my garage or I put my running shoes next to my door, or what does it mean in the context of a knowledge worker?
Like how do we set up an environment to make better decisions, to think better, too?
You are asking me such a good, hard question. I love this. I'm a person who creates models and frameworks and so on. And the one concept that I've not been able to nail is to do a theory or framework or model of environment, context or environment. I'm using those as synonyms. It's hard, but you're right, there's the physical aspects of it. But then there's like these digital environments, you know, what's on your screen and what's open and what's easily accessible.
And then environment and context can also be how you perceive the exact same landscape around you. So say I'm here in Maui and I'm like, oh, I could walk some places. I don't know where I'm walking.
And then I see a map of trails nearby and I look at the trails and I'm like, oh, just that insight that there are trails around me, then changes, I believe changes my context or my environment, because now I'm perceiving what's around me differently. So it's not that the actual landscape has changed, but my perception of the landscape has changed.
And right now, if we want to talk about coronavirus issues, people are perceiving people around them differently.
So it's not like your neighbors have changed. It's not like that doorknob or the elevator button has changed. But now we have a different perception about, oh, my gosh, what is that? I mean, what is that elevator button mean in terms of contagion? So I do think and this is why the question is such a good, hard one. That's one way we can change the environment, is change our perception of it, is that an information like information alone change the way it may be?
See, this is this is why it's a hard question maybe. Yes. You know, this is a model, you know, as I was trying to map it out.
So I've mapped out what is ability, what is motivation, what is behavior, all of those things. And then when it gets to context, it's such a hard thing to feel like you like I solve the puzzle elegantly for it.
So that is, you know, a kind of project that's in the back of my mind. And if there is a solve, you know, maybe I'll stumble across it someday. Maybe somebody's already solved it. And that would be awesome. There could be a map that's given to me of the hiking trails near where I live in south Maui. And then just looking at that map make oh, I'm thinking differently now about my environment. Oh, I now know how to go hiking more easily.
So it didn't actually maybe motivate me to hike, but it would help me do what I already want to do. And that's a really important concept. And it helped me by seeing possibilities, by seeing how to go hiking like that a lot.
Talk to me a little bit of motivation. What what is motivation like if we break that down?
Hmm? Well, I there's different frameworks and definitions of motivation.
And when I talk about motivation, it pretty much maps out how everyday people, at least in the Western culture I live in, talk about it. It's a it's a drive to do something or an aspiration in the moment in my work, looking at habits and behavior change. Yes, motivation is one of the three components of any behavior, motivation, ability and prompt. And if there's no motivation, you will not do the behavior by definition. And we have everyday experiences that show that if there's a behavior you don't want to do, even if it's super easy, you won't do it.
Even when prompted. The way I break motivation down to models for this one is an analytical model and once a design model.
And let me pass out the difference there. When you see a model of any type, especially when it comes to social science or psychology, some models can be used for analysis, a lens through which you look at something and understand it better. And some models can be used for design. The person model that I talked about, ability is like skill up the person, change the environment or scale the behavior back. That is a model that can be used for design because you can walk through the steps and then design solutions.
Then there are other models, including ones I've created, that are only good for analysis. So I've mapped out the different ways behaviors can change. Think of that as like the periodic table of elements. But for behaviors and my first publication on this, I had 35 different behavior types. I simplified it since then to 15 people can find this behavior grid dog. There's fifteen ways behaviors can change. And that's nice. You know, it's like, oh, here's where habit is in this grid.
That's one of the fifteen. Here's we're stopping habit lives. Here's where one time is a new behavior is. There's fifteen ways now that's a nice framework, but you can't use it for a design. Very well. It's an analytical tool. So when it comes to motivation then I've got one that's more about analysis and then the person that's more about designing the analytical framework I have for motivation.
As I say, there are three core motivators.
One is pleasure and pain. So it's what you're sensing in the moment. And that's a core motivator for everybody. Pleasure and pain. Two things. The next, it has to do with anticipation. It's hope and fear. And it's the idea that if I do, X, Y will happen and if Y is a good thing, like, oh, if I take vitamin C, I won't get sick. That's hope. Whereas fear is, oh, if I touch this elevator button and get a virus, I'll get sick.
And that's fear. So that's two sides of the same coin. And then the third core motivator is a social one, which has to do with wanting to belong or the fear of being rejected.
And that, I think, is a good analytical framework. But it's not that useful for design.
If you wanted to map out what motivates human beings. Well, pleasure, pain, hope and fear and social acceptance and social rejection, that's, I think, quite comprehensive.
But from a design perspective, like if you had to find a way, let's say you wanted people to drink more filtered water, for example, and if you wanted to get people to do that, you would say, well, you know, people have to have some motivation to do this, to drink this kind of water. So what are our options? No one in the pack person model, you align it with what the person already wants to do.
So with an ongoing aspiration, it might be they want to be healthier. That might be they want to avoid contaminants. It might be that they want to stop drinking soda. Any of those you could align with them. Now, drink this filtered water, it will help you be healthier and so on. So you look at what do people already want to do? That's one option. The next one is to and in the next I don't love it has to do with the action.
You attach some sort of benefit or punishment to the action. Some people call this characteristic. But yes, you can do that. I don't think it's the best way to design for motivation, but it's out there. It's an option for that bucket number two. Bucket number three, again, has to do with the context of the environment. And in that case, the motivation comes from what's going on around you.
So if you're in the midst of a global pandemic, well, there's lots of motivation to do certain behaviours. If you are going to a nightclub, what happens in the nightclub motivates you to do other things. So it's really that motivation is a function of what our context, what surrounds us, including our perception of what surrounds us.
And that kind of motivation tends to be fleeting because we move from context to context, environment to environment. And in one context, we might be motivated to do X and in a different one, we might be motivated to do Y or things will change over time.
You know, things that are happening in the news. Oh my gosh, we're really concerned about stocks or really concerned about coronavirus. And fast forward a year from now. Those probably won't be top of the news and people will be less motivated around those things. So that third type of motivation is a contextual one. And it has to do with a concept that I call the motivation wave. So things will happen around us that will increase our motivation to do stuff.
But the reason that I, along with colleagues, thank you, David Sobel, for naming this for me, call it a wave is it will go up, but then it's going to come down.
And if you need people to do hard things, you've got to prompt them when there's a motivation wave, not after the wave has subsided. So if you need people to buy candy canes, well, ask them to buy candy canes in early December. Come December twenty six, they're going to be a lot less motivated by candy canes. Do you want people to buy your tax preparation software? There's a season for that. So the way it goes up and it goes down and that's how I think about contextual motivation.
It's something that we as individuals don't have a lot of control over, but it happens and understanding how to help people do hard behaviours, one of the ways to do that is to prompt them during a motivation wave. Then people will do hard behaviours and they'll do them reliably as long as the motivation wave stays high.
I have other ways of thinking about motivation, but those are two. One is analytical and one is more of a design framework.
I'd love to hear about the other ways you have to give it motivation.
Well, one of the ways is which I so I'm so excited about this and have been for a decade. So my motivation about hasn't subsided is how motivation interacts with ability. And so again, my behaviour model behavior happens when these three things come together at the same moment, motivation, ability and prompt and motivation and ability. Those two components have a relationship.
And if you look at the graphical version of my behaviour model, there's a curved line and that curved line shows that relationship.
And essentially and it took me saying I'm embarrassed to admit eight years to find the right word to describe the relationship. Here is the word, it's a content story relationship, so they can compensate for each other, so if motivation is low for any given behavior, then the ability must be high. In other words, it has to be easy to do. Otherwise, you won't do it if motivation is low and it's hard, you don't do it. But if you can take that other teammate ability and make it really strong, make it really easy to do, then you do it reliably.
That insight is what the tiny habits method is based on. Now, let's change the situation. Let's say your motivation is really high.
Well, that means you can do easy or hard things. So there is this relationship where they work sort of hand in hand, and that is really exciting because it's quite hard for anybody to design a way to increase your motivation to sustain it, keep it super high levels over time.
That's very hard to do so because that's a reality. Instead, you can say, well, if motivation is high, I can get myself to do hard things or I can get other people to do hard things. But when it drops lower, we need to scale that back and not have other people or myself do hard things than just to really tiny things. So you are adjusting the difficulty of the behavior according to the level of motivation in that moment.
Oh, that's fascinating.
Yeah, I mean, conceptually, I love in this way. It's like I'm so excited. What's the word for this? And it took me eight years. It's compensatory. They work like teammates. But you see this all around. You go into I'll just talk about Stanford fundraising. I've helped them some somebody really, really motivated and excited about Stanford. You don't ask them for a ten dollar donation. You ask them for a hard behavior.
You know, if they've done a startup and had good exit, you ask them for millions of dollars. Right. Because they're super motivated. But if they're not super motivated, you don't ask them for thousands of dollars. You asking for ten or 100. That, of course, works and, you know, different kinds of sales. Parents use this all the time and so on. So if you can understand the level of motivation in that moment, then you can adjust how difficult the behavior is.
And in some ways, what you want to do is get yourself or other people to do the hardest behavior you can do in that moment.
Given your level of motivation, how do we understand for ourselves or others where we are on this motivation, whether that is a heart?
Thank you for that hard question. That's hard. That's hard.
That's like the well, I'll tell you what alphabet Google came from that they solved it in one way. And that is the whole backbone of Google was exactly figuring that out and the way it works for Google and the what they figured out early, Larry and Sergey, is, wow, if somebody goes in and types, then how do I save more money into a search engine? I guess that's what they're motivated to do in that moment. And we're going to queue up things for them.
So we're going to deliver to them what people already want to do. So that's one of the things I talk about a lot. And I call it a maxim. Maxim number one is help people do what they already want to do. Notice how Google did that with search and then they sold ads on that search. OK, so they were able to say, hey, you got a solution to help people save money. We can find people who want to save money.
We're in a match up. We're going to charge you to get in front of those people. So in some ways, the ability to sense what that person wanted in the moment, not sense because they typed it into a search box, gave Google the ability to sell ads against that and then deliver whether it's sponsored products or more organic solutions that weren't paid for right. To those people. Now, that's in the case of search. They came in swept and they kind of have a monopoly on that.
But in other domains, like if you're in sales and face to face, good salespeople know how to sense how motivated is this person? I think that's what good teachers do. I think good coaches have a way of doing that.
What's the level of motivation of this basketball player or maybe even your coaching in debate or what have you? So we do that intuitively. What's not solved yet is some universal way of saying how motivated is my mom right now to eat broccoli?
You know, how do I know that? How do I sense that there are some proximal ways of doing it, but no overall level now when it comes to ourselves, how motivated me to do X. Sometimes we just have a feeling other times you could just say, well, you can determine the level of motivation by understanding how much work you're willing to do. In other words, the effort, how hard the behavior is. You can then map that back to level of motivation.
I'll give a true example from my life. Passwords, passwords, passwords, passwords.
OK, finally, finally, finally, thanks to my former student Katie reading the latest version of this book, I was like, OK, PJ, you're going to do a password manager.
That's pretty hard, but I had so much built up frustration around passwords and stuff and using different devices and all this kind of thing. And I don't use the same password. You know, I have I actually have an algorithm for creating passwords, but the algorithm is kind of broken down. And so I thought, OK, I'm going to do this. Well, that's hard. I had. Lots of motivation, so the fact that I was inputting the work to do a password manager helped me see how you're really motivated to get on top of this password problem.
So in some ways, by seeing how hard people are working at something, that's an indicator of their level of motivation, I like that a lot.
Is there a relationship between sort of motivation and your sense of self or yourself? Talk your identity and maybe emotions?
Yes, and it's it's complicated. And I'm not sure anybody has totally figured it out because those are big categories. But certainly there is a relationship. Let me start here in different contexts. We have different things that motivate us. In some ways you can think of that as wearing different hats or having different identities in different contexts. So in some context, I'm an Uncle Mike at a family reunion, some context. I'm a teacher like at Stanford and other contexts.
I'm a, you know, OK, surfer. Not a good one, not a terrible one. And so in each of those contexts, I'm a different person and what motivates me is different. And each one and I'm behaving differently in each one based on that role that I'm playing. That said, I do think there is a general, though some people would argue with me, a general, and I'll call it self efficacy, even though Albert Bandura, who pioneered the concept in some, may argue with me.
I do think that people have a generalisable sense of, yeah, I can do this, whatever the context is, whether I'm at a family reunion or at Stanford or out in the waves, bam, here's a huge wave. I'm going to do this or here's a huge teaching challenge. I'm going to do this or while my family reunion is really going south, I got to step and do something big. I'm going to do this. So I do think that sense of being able to take action and get good results can generalize across domains.
Even though self efficacy is mostly been conceptualized as domain specific. Your efficacy around cooking vegetables will not translate to doing taxes.
But I do think with and this is how I've seen it in tiny habits and coaching people in tiny habits, when people see that they can change behavior and reach a success, yes, that helps wiring in the habit and it helps them sustain the change over time. The feeling of success is what wires and habit and it keeps people going. But that feeling of success seems to generalize and help people unlock in other areas where they were fearful before.
So the fear diminishes so the hope can emerge. So think of hope and fear as vectors pushing on each other. And if you can diminish the fear, then the hope can emerge, which is a motivator, and allow you to do harder things. So and this is what I've seen in my tiny habits of research since 2011. And I didn't understand what was going on until about 2013.
So week after week, teaching Tony Abbott's measuring it week after week. Every Sunday. I would look at the data if I was busy on Sunday, Monday, so I'd see what happened last week and what's going on.
And about 20 percent of the people week after week would report that within the five day program, they would step up and do a hard behavior.
And I was like, wow. I mean, in other parts of the data, I would see that the behaviour change would generalise. Most people start doing other behaviours naturally, even within the five day period. But there was this, you know, this and it was a range from, you know, say 12 percent to twenty four percent. Was it the range and 18, 20 percent on average, probably.
And it was like, what's going on here?
And what I finally understood, and it took a while to figure this out, is that when people feel successful, even on tiny things, it changes how they see themselves. In other words, you can get an identity shift from even very tiny changes you feel successful around. And once I saw that, I was like, that's amazing. I mean, so you don't have to go to some big boot camp. You don't have to be indoctrinated. You don't have to get a new degree to feel like you have a new identity and competency.
You can just Flosse one tooth and allow yourself to feel successful and recognize you're changing. And that has this shift in how people see themselves. And so I started asking a new question then about in the Tiny Habits program and people would fill in the blank after doing tiny habits for five days. I now see I'm the kind of person who and they would fill in the blank.
And I started this in about 2013 and it was so interesting to see what would come back now, 90 percent plus for positive once in a while.
People say, I now see I'm the kind of person that can even do tiny things, but far and away most people say I now see I'm the kind of person who can change, the kind of person who can follow through, the kind of person who can set a plan and stick to it. And that was my favorite thing.
So whenever I would look at the, you know, the results every week, I would go in and look at what percent of people made a big change, because I love to see that number because it still fascinates me. Oh, my gosh. All you did was, you know, to push ups and floss one tooth and fill a glass of water.
And now you've made this huge change in your life. And then the other one is just to see the comments of how people have described how their identity had shifted. And it happened quickly.
And because of that, just these tiny successes, it's really interesting to me to think about, like how you can go from flossing a tooth to sort of like leaving your job or starting a business.
But the way that it changes, perhaps how you see yourself or builds your confidence or changes your self talk becomes really interesting.
Yes, I'm thinking yes. Yes. Yeah. And that to me is I don't want to say magic because I'm a behavior scientist, but that is like, oh, my gosh, that's like the loophole.
That's like the portal. You don't have to do these massive things to get this shift in identity and shift in self talk. You can do it through these pretty simple and straightforward way. So that is indeed the subtitle of my book, Tiny Habits. It's the small changes that change everything. That's what the subtitle is about. You make these small changes and it changes how you think about yourself. It changes your self talk. It changes your relationship with emotions.
So you're more inclined to embrace positive emotions and not let the negative emotions get you down. Some ways I'm getting chills because that is such to me that it's just I'm still fascinated with how that works and and people will. And for years they wrote me emails because, you know, the Tiny Habits five day program was done through email and personal coaching, through email. They're like, B.J., am I crazy? You know, I'm now doing this and this.
And I stepped up into this and I just feel like I can do anything and am I going insane?
It's like, no, that's actually a really good sign. You're seeing yourself in a new way. You're seeing that you can succeed you. You're seeing that you've developed skills have changed and you're applying those effectively and good for you. You're not going crazy. You are blossoming.
Talk to me about how we reduce fear. It's hard when I ask such good hard questions.
I'm not sure I'm the world's expert on this.
I mean, the way I think about fear is that we have a cause and effect relationship in our head. If X, then why? It's like a causal and our brain is really good at these cause and effect relationships. And that's what we're absorbing. I'm thinking even as babies and so on, I don't study babies. But, you know, we're saying if this then that if this, then this bad thing happens, that's fear. I think I'll kind of push it out there and you pull it back if you want.
One of the things. So back in the day, I was a humanities major and a writer and I was a terrible writer at the beginning, but I worked really hard at it and got good and then started writing professionally and would write on professional projects or contest to work my way through college. And then I worked as a ghost writer and editor and I was really big into narrative and story. I'd love personal essay, so I'd write a lot of personal essay, which narrative plays a big part and part of looking at story or narrative or whatever you want to call it.
And understanding the power of it was about setting up what you're doing. I think I think the whole reason stories exist, whether they're in folktales or songs or parables or little sayings, is to perpetuate a sense of cause and effect.
If you're honest, people will like you. If you lie, you'll be kicked out of the community. If you follow the rules, you will succeed. And a well told story essentially is setting up. If you do X, this is what happens Y. Here's the result. So stories well told stories can establish hope, like if you save for retirement, you will be comfortable and you won't be in the poorhouse or you won't have to live in your daughter's home when you grow up, you know.
So it's a story about like, OK, now I have hope and that will motivate me to sit or stories can establish fear. If you don't do X or if you do X, here's the bad thing that will happen. And it's my personal belief. I haven't studied this. Maybe somebody has that our brains, when we hear a narrative or a story that encapsulates a cause and effect relationship, we have a really hard time pushing back and saying, no, that's not true.
So I well told story in some ways is the only persuasion tactic for which. We don't have good defenses for and I'll put it one more thing out there, and you can pull back if you want. And that's why I think there is a commandment about not bearing false witness, not telling false stories, because whoever set up those commandments knew somehow that if you tell the community a false story that's going to stick in their brains and they're going to have either a false hope or a false fear, and it's very hard to scrub that out.
So this is something you do not do. You do not tell the full stories.
The role of narrative is so fascinating to me, right. Where if you want to change what you see, you change the narrative, you change the story, you tell yourself. But at some point it makes sense to delude ourselves and to be overconfident.
Right. If you're trying to start a business, you have to tell yourself a story that you're the exception. Yeah.
And you read all these publications and you follow bloggers who are telling you that story so you can maintain your hope and squashed down the fear. Yes, stories are entertaining, but I think we've evolved for our brains, too. I mean, that's how we learn how the world works. You know, cause and effect relationships and stories are a technology for transmitting cause and effect relationships within communities and through the generations. That's how I see it.
I think that's a good way. To sum it up. We've talked a lot about individual level behavior change.
How do we change the behaviors of groups or tribes?
Yes, a great question. There was a year at Stanford where the whole year of research we called it changed together. And what we wanted to look at, what how do we change groups and we mapped out different patterns, of course, another framework, another model for this, and it's harder to explain this because it's like a two by three thing.
And anyway, but just I'll get to some of the conclusions from the research is that there are different patterns that work for changing groups are changing together. One distinction that we drew out of the research is we called one type of group like if you want to change your behavior, you can join a destination group or a journey group. A destination group is a community that is already doing what you aspire to do. So let's say you aspire to work out something easier.
You aspire to study a lot. You're in college.
So guess what? Move into the honor storm or people are already studying. And then it makes it easier for you to change and study because you've joined this group that they're already doing that. So that's one way.
Another Way is called the Journey Group, where you join up with other novices who also want to make this change. And together you make this journey and you are study more or whatever you're choosing. So you've got these two patterns going on. Then on top of that, you have the issue of leadership.
We would call this person the guru. I mean, I know a lot of people don't like the word, but and a lot of group change efforts. You do have a leader or a guru or somebody who is saying, here's what we're doing. That guru can be situated within a destination group or a journey group and people can in some system. So we took a whole bunch of different change systems like Weight Watchers in Toastmasters and and mapped them down, like what's going on here in terms of the group dynamics, in terms of leadership.
And then there was one more component is what happens to the members of these groups. And one of the common patterns was. You then work up and then become a teacher or even a guru, you begin maybe as a novice, you're not really doing it very well.
But then you take on a role where you then you're teaching others, either either group the destination or the journey group that's coming between them. OK, yeah. So you have these variables that kind of mix and match. And then we went out and grabbed programs in the world that we felt like we're effective and mapped them out. And there were these systematic patterns of how you change together.
It's not like here are the three patterns. It's more like you're 12, it's not two hundred. There's like 12. And those seem to be the factors of the community already doing the behavior or are you journeying together? What's the role of leadership and then what's the status or the role of the member as they become more competent?
When you were saying that, I was thinking, OK, what is the role of my friends then in my behavior or my destination or my journey?
The people that I hang out with the most, my co-workers, my friends, what role do they play?
Massive, massive, good or bad? So, yes, a lot.
I mean, most people don't like to admit this, but our behavior is so influenced by our environment more than we think. And part of that environment is the people around us, your friends, if you want to eat in a certain way and they eat in a totally different way, that's hard.
If you're hanging out with them during an eating contest, if your friends are really into what he's studying and doing, homework them, you're going to probably study and do more homework. But we do have identities, different identities and different friend groups, and knowing how to move among them to optimize ourselves to achieve our aspirations is a skill for some people. And this is hard. You may need to turn the volume down on some friendships or even end them if those friendships are not taking you in the direction you want to go.
That's just the reality. In other cases, this is talk about household as friends. Let's say you can hopefully have a household where you say, hey, everybody, I'm not drinking coffee for the next little while and I need your support on this and your friends will support you rather than sabotage you. Now, hopefully people in your household will support you and you want to make a good change and not sabotage you. But there is, unfortunately, situations where you do get sabotaged by friends or members of your household, even if they don't mean to, they might say, oh, you're going through another phase or didn't, you know, X, Y and Z, you shouldn't do that.
And that was part of what we looked at in the Change Together project. We don't have a perfect answer for this. You're part of a community or part of a social group that you really can't get yourself out of, but it's taking it in the wrong direction in terms of change or it's or it's pigeonholing you and not allowing you to change. That's a hard problem. I'm not sure there's a simple answer to that is what's the complicated answer?
What are your hypotheses here? You leave the community, you join a different community. You create I mean I mean, in the ideal world, you go, oh, I'm going to align myself, affiliate myself with people who are either a destination group who's going to support me in this change or a journey group, people that are on this journey with me as well.
You know, if you're in a job and you can't quit the job, if you're in a family and you're not going to separate yourself from the family, that solution I just said is may not be that practical.
What are the other parts of the environment that we probably don't think about that have a massive influence on our behavior? Wow.
I wish I had the framework. I wish I had the model of environment, because then I could just go here, the five things off the top of my head.
I'm going to think.
So we've talked a little bit about the perception of what's around us. And so I'm not going to go there. And certainly our social environment, I'm not going to go there.
I'm going to go with our built environment and I'm going to go with some details. I think lighting matters so much. If you look around the places where I live, I have, like, hacked the lighting. Like right now I have a huge window open in front of me and I have full sun coming in right into my face. And then in the evening, the light changes. You know, they turn to be like Amber. And then at night I only have, like, these red night lights all over the house.
So I really think lighting plays a big role. And there's a research on this. I'm not an expert on the studies, but the lighting is a huge deal. I think sound is a huge issue and managing our sound environment is harder than the lighting environment.
I think that's a big deal, creating an environment and this is different than light and sound, but it's a big part of my life and it has been for a long time is how do I rearrange? My environment to make the good behavior is really easy to do, and I'm constantly designing and redesigning and optimizing, and it can be as simple as this in our California home and here in our Maui home, I have a drawer with my vitamins and supplements in it.
So I know some people think vitamins are a bad idea. Well, there's certain vitamins and supplements I think are good for me. So set that issue aside. But there are certain things I want to take every day. So I have a drawer with the vitamins in it. Exactly the ones I want to be taking when and in some cases I take the cap off the vitamin bottle. So it's really easy to get out. Or in some cases I have a little dish that I put the vitamins in, in other words, rather than the cover that I have to fumble through and rather than on the counter and making a mess.
Over the years, I've learned just put it in a drawer, make the drawer dedicated to exactly your daily vitamins, and then don't even require yourself to take the cap off the bottle. Just make it so easy to do. Now, right now, my vitamin drawer here in Maui is a little bit of a mess because I run out of some and I'm trying some new things. And so one thing I will do probably this afternoon while I'm on phone calls is I'll go in and tidy up that drawer.
And it's not just to tidying exercise. I'm simplifying that behavior. I'm redesigning that environment. I'm upgrading it so that behavior becomes a lot easier to do. And when it is easier to do, that means I don't have to have much motivation.
So what I'm doing is I'm designing for the reality that motivation goes up and down and we don't have a lot of control over that. So the way you get around that is you just make behaviors really, really, really easy to do that you want to do. And that's the way I look at it. It's an ongoing you need to refresh refresh of what's in your fridge. Like we ran your fridge in a way we call a super fridge. Everything in there you can eat, but it takes some care and feeding once a week.
You've got to stocked the fridge when there's your closet, whether it's what's on your phone, home screen. Yes, there's a lighting and there sound. But then there's just designing things around you to optimize your behavior. And that's I've long been obsessed with that.
It sounds like almost like a conscious approach to your environment. And it almost sounds like you have a ritual, like a ritual around it.
I do. Well, I do. And for some of these things, I don't need to rearrange the fridge every day or I have a car that I use just for the beach and surfing. It's a Honda Element. It's great. It's little beach car and it gets to be a mess, you know, because there's like this here and sand and stuff, you know, it just happens. So once a week I have these once a week routines, these rituals.
The habit is to pull out a card that has a list of here's what I'm going to do every weekend at cleaning the fridge, clean the bathroom, tidy my car. So on. The habit is to pull that card out with these little stickers on it.
And then I just at some point during the weekend, I just do the task like the car. I got the car, tidy things, throw things away and you'd be thrown away.
And then in my own practice of this, what I've learned is if I set the bar too high, like the car has to be sparkling clean, I'm not going to do it.
I'm going to my brain will sabotage me. I'll find reasons not to do it. So in the tiny habits way, all I have to do is tidy one thing in the car and the tiny have way.
When I go to the fridge every week to clean it, I only have to do one thing like, oh, here's some pesto that I'm pretty much done with.
I can recycle the pesto container. Well, guess what if I thought I had to clean the fridge again, it's like not going to do it. But if it's like I don't have to do one thing and then once you start, it's like, oh, here's this, here's this.
Next thing you know, in most cases you've done a pretty good job on the bathroom or the fridge or the Biedermann or the car.
So, yeah, there's these approaches to managing my environment that I systematised. That's all in the service of optimizing my habits, which in turn. Is what I do, so I can have more positive impact in the world, because that's what it boils down to for me, is like I need to be as effective as I can in helping people be happier and healthier. So all of these things, even tidying the garden and cleaning Superfriends is toward that end.
So I then can be super effective at helping people.
I can't let it go without asking why you call it the super fridge.
You know, my partner and I started doing this a while ago and he feels a lot of ownership over it because he maintains the kitchen mostly. It might have been his word. I'll give this answer. I guess a super fridge is a good name because once we started rearranging our fridge environment to support us and the nutrition habits we wanted and to make the bad nutrition habits impossible. So in the fridge, there's nothing in there that I have to resist or use willpower to not eat.
It's like all on the game plan any time as much as I want.
And once we did that and lived with that for a few months, well, probably the insight came after a couple of weeks. It's like, oh my gosh, the job of the fridge isn't to keep things cold. Now, the job of the fridge is to help us eat on our game plan.
And that totally changes a reframing how we use it. Yeah, it's like it's not a cold, it's not a cooling device.
It's a help us eat healthy device. And in that way it gave us, I feel, super powers. So that's why I feel like super fridge is a it's like almost like a companion. It's almost in my mind it's personified. It is like this is your job and this home is to help us eat healthier, go super for it.
I love that. I'm totally going to steal that. My kids are going to they're going to love this.
How do we how do we make a bad habit harder to do or how do we change a bad habit.
Like I was thinking about asking you about biting our nails. But you know, I've completely stopped biting my nails as a result of this pandemic going on right now.
Good for you. But in general, like, how do we go about stopping habit?
I mean, habits are sort of neutral, right? They're neither good nor bad. How do we stop a habit that we feel is bad for us?
Yeah, the valence of that word has shifted over the last ten years. Even ten years ago, when I was training the Weight Watchers innovators at their headquarters, they were unwilling to use the word habit in their program because they felt it was mostly a negative word. So that was a snapshot in time. I remember about ten years ago. Fast forward to today. It can go both ways today, but there was a time when it was considered mostly negative.
And yes, you're right, habits are habits, the way they form good habits, what we call good habits and bad habits. They all form in the same way our brain, the way that brain gets rewired. It's not like here are the good habits and bad habits. Its behaviors become automatic and then it's ourselves or the culture that labels them good or bad. Creating habits is pretty straightforward and easy, and that's what the tiny habits method is all about for creating habits.
Stopping unwanted behaviors are what people call breaking bad habits. It can be much, much harder and it's not the same thing.
And they're as different as growing this little tree, let's say a palm tree with coconuts to pulling it out of the earth. There are different processes and unfortunately, there's a lot of information out there that tells people how to break habits. That is not effective enough. It's limited. And in response to that, I've created a three phase master plan for behavior change. That's exactly for very, very wired in habits that people want to get rid of. Some habits are really easy to stop for.
So we're not talking about those, you know, like stop the habit of going to the gym, stop the habit of paying your bills. Those are easy to stop, but it's these kind of habits. It's not as simple as many people have said. And that really upsets me. Some people have trivialized how hard some of these habits are to stop. And the problem with that is that when people read that and then they can't stop drinking or smoking or playing games on the Internet, gambling, then they blame themselves and they beat themselves up and they think I'm flawed, I'm terrible, I'm awful.
And so people who mislead others about how to get rid of unwanted behaviours are actually damaging lots of people. And that makes me grumpy. So in response to that, I said, no, here's the system. There's a three phases to it. I'll just go through pretty quickly, Shane. And these aren't for like, oh, I'm I'm going to stop the habit of leaving the pen out on the counter. We're talking more ingrained habits that are more complicated.
First of all, think of it as untangling. But phase one is you practice creating good habits. So you set the bad habit aside and say. I'm just going to create a bunch of good habits, and in the process of creating good habits, your identity will shift and that may push out some of the unwanted habits you'll develop the skills of behavior change. Behavior change is a skill and you use those skills later and then you'll also develop more motivation.
Why? Because your fear of change will be reduced. So that's why in phase one, you focus on creating good habits. Phase two, then you look at the habits you want to stop and you untangle it for each one of these phases.
There's a flow chart in the back of my book, Tiny Habits. So, I mean, of course, I think of everything in terms of systems and flows. And it's a it's a comprehensive system.
And in phase two, you identify which part of the tangle you want to undo and you see if you can remove the prompt. And if that doesn't work, then you see if you can make it harder to do, in other words, manipulate ability, and if you can't do that, then you see if you can change the level of motivation. So you're using the components of the behavior model systematically, prompt ability, motivation, and that order step by step.
If one works, you're done and you can go to another tangle and have it. If it doesn't work, you go to the next step. So it's a system if you find you cannot just simply stop the habit.
Then you go to phase three, phase three, which is about swapping it, so many people say you must stop it. That's not true in this comprehensive system. That is the last phase.
So instead of coming home from work and getting on YouTube, one of my friends has a YouTube addiction. What will I do instead? So then that person would look for a swap, which is at once your stopping habit and then creating a new one. And there's a systematic way for doing it. It builds on prompts, ability, motivation, just like all the rest of the behavior designed system. And so you what you look for is something to swap in that will be more motivating or easier to do or both than the existing habit you want to untangle.
So that's a high level summary focus on creating new habits. Then see if you can stop the habit. And then if neither of those work go to phase three and then you focus on swapping, but you don't have to guess. There's a system for that that I mapped out. And it comes back to the order of what you do and how you pick which behaviors and everything and behavior. Everything comes back to prompt ability and motivation. Those are the components you have to fiddle with to either create a behavior or get rid of one one of the parts of your book.
I love the most is the appendices where you had all these beautiful diagrams, almost like charts and that were super easy to understand and go through.
Thank you. I'm I'm smiling being and kind of laughing because. Thank you for that.
Those got pushed back to the appendix, not by me, but my editors. If you're just me, I mean, the book is written, as you see, in a way that has these true stories that show how people have used this and tiny habits and behavior designed to transform their lives. And then, you know, here's how you do it. Like but the flowcharts were deemed way too complicated for most people and very off-putting second pillar and open to the book and see a flow chart and put it back down.
I know it's kind of sad, but you have to meet people where they are.
And I mean, yeah, there's people like me who are like, oh, he thinks in systems. This is so exciting. I know. All right. This is great.
Yes. People like us, but not everybody does that. And in fact, one of the people I was working with on the book, she doesn't think in any graphics just turn her off and it's like, no, no, no.
The graphic look at this, the graphics showing more than what we can actually say in words. And she just wasn't her thing.
So it was so good to have her input because, I mean, she was a very she is a very, very smart person.
But it helped me realize is like, oh, not everybody wants a graphic or a flowchart or if this than that, if this than that. And that's my bias towards stuff, but not hers. And so I want to be able to reach people like her. So the compromise was to push that and other things that were a little more technical back to the appendices. And I'm so happy they're there at least.
Well, I forgot to ask you to kick off the interview here to ask you what is a habit?
A habit is something that we do quite automatically without thinking very much and is formed by repetition then, yeah, there has been a lot of stuff out in the world that says repetition creates habits, but that's actually not how it works. If you look at the study that people cite most when they're making that claim, it's a 2009 2010 study. It was you will see that that study showed that habit strength correlates with repetition. It wasn't even designed to show causal relationship.
So, yes, habit strength correlates with repetition, but repetition is not what creates the habit.
That would be like saying, I'm going to do a study of fit people and oh, guess what? Hanging out in the gym leads to being fit.
OK, everybody go hang out in the gym because my study shows that the fitness people are the people that spend the most time in the gym. So go hang out at the gym. So you go to the gym or I go to the gym or somebody go to the gym. They hang out at the snack bar and watching TV and whatever they're like, I'm not getting fat.
What's going on there? That's how this research is being misapplied. And so to set the record straight, as you saw in the book, I have a chapter called Emotions Create Habits. So it's emotions that cause our brain to rewire. Oh, my gosh. That helped me feel successful or that that was instrumental. So the problem and I knew that would be controversial and that would upset people because some people have established their whole career.
Around the idea that repetition is what creates habits. Yes, I talk about that for like a paragraph in my book and I move on to what really works because the book is in my work in general. It's not about pointing out here's everything that's wrong. My work is here's how to do it right. Here's how to think about it in the right way. Here's how to do it in the right way. But I will say here the problem this isn't in the book, but the problem with people believing that repetition creates habits.
No. One, it's not accurate. Number two, then they see the changing behavior is something they must endure or suffer like, oh, if I just didn't go to the gym for 21 days, even though I hate it, I'll have the habit or 66 days or one hundred and eight days or whatever they've heard. So then they see change and suffering or endurance and then they may procrastinate doing stuff. And then when it doesn't wire in after twenty one or so, all those are bad things.
So instead, if people understand that emotions create habits. Oh and by the way, it's positive emotions that help you change best, that means you feel good through changing and you don't have to procrastinated and you by helping yourself feel successful, not only do you are in the habit, but then you have all these other positive effects, some of which we've talked about earlier. So I think it's a really important shift for people. And even though I know there's even more criticism coming toward me around this, I have to put it out there.
I have to put out the truth as I see it, as my research support is emotions create habits. And that also means you don't have to it's not 21 days or 66 days in my data. I've seen for years that the vast majority of people report that a habit has become automatic or very automatic within five days. And that's a function of their emotion as they do that new behavior. So if they do the new behavior and feel a an intense positive emotion as they do it or immediately after, then that will help that behavior become more automatic and then tiny habits.
We don't leave then emotion to chance. There's a technique we call celebration where you hack, you're basically hacking your emotion. You're calling up a positive emotion by doing a fist pump, thinking about it, great song, thinking of holding or anything that helps you feel a positive emotion. And that's a way to hack it, to bring up a positive emotion or to have your brain and help the habit wiring quickly.
I like that a lot. That's a I think that's a great place to end this conversation. Veejays, it's been long overdue that we've had this. I really appreciate you taking the time.
I so appreciate you inviting me, Shane, and thank you for the great work you do. And thank you for helping me share this. Hey, one more thing before we say goodbye. The knowledge project is produced by the team at Farnam Street. I want to make this the best podcast you listen to. And I'd love to get your feedback. If you have comments, ideas for future shows or topics or just feedback in general, you can email me Ashin F-stop blog or follow me on Twitter at a pair of you can learn more about the show and find past episodes at F-stop Blogs podcast.
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