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Guest column: Fogg and the science of instilling behavioural change

Starcom India CCO Rajiv Gopinath gives insights from BJ Fogg’s classic Tiny Habits.

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DELHI: Change can be easy and fun. Tiny is mighty at least when it comes to change. Almost all of us want to make some change in our lives – eat better, live healthier, be better parents etc. but there is a painful gap between what people want and what they actually do. There is a disconnect between the want and do. And this disconnect has been blamed in most part on ‘oneself’, ‘something must be wrong with us, our motivation levels.’ BJ  Fogg’s path breaking piece of work Tiny Habit: the small changes that change everything goes on to prove that this thinking is wrong. 

Creating positive change isn’t as hard as one thinks. Misconceptions and unscientific advice in the past have set us up for failure. The problem is with the approach itself, not with ourselves. 
More than that, it offers us a blueprint for making positive change for ourselves. It offers us a guide to disrupt the old approach of creating change, and replacing it with an entirely new approach and framework for change. 

Fogg wrote Tiny Habits as he felt that given his vast experience in behaviour design, it would be a waste not to impart this knowledge to people. He also encourages people who have read the approach to then disseminate it to others. And that is what I am doing through this article. We could start cultivating a culture of change right now. Introduce people to the behaviour design ways of thinking and doing. 

The first step towards fixing what ails us is to embrace feeling better. Habits are a means to this end. Habits propel us towards our dreams. 

But habits are far from tiny - they are mighty. Habits may be the smallest units of transformation, but they are also the most fundamental 

They are first concentric circles of change that will spiral out.

One person starts one habit, that builds to two habits, that builds to three habits, that changes an identity, that inspires a loved one, who then influences their peer group and changes their mindset. This then spreads like wildfire and disrupts a culture of helplessness, empowering everyone and slowly changing the world. 

By starting small with yourself, you initiate a natural process that can create a tidal wave of change. 

Behaviour design can play a role in creating large scale changes the world needs by reversing the spiral of failure that is so pervasive today. What if accurate models of behaviour and effective methods of change were common knowledge and common practice? 

And this application can extend beyond our personal lives to Societal, business and marketing problems. Innovators could use behaviour design to create products to help people transform into their best selves. Policy makers could more easily translate abstract problems into specific behaviours and then empower their communities to create and implement the solutions.

Our collection of habits is an ever shifting landscape we can nurture by design, or ignore at our peril. We start a habit by planting a seed in the good spot and keep nurturing it.

This book gives you everything you need to meet whatever challenges come your way, and is about behaviour design. By internalising it, you now have a system for change. 

There are two components to it - Models and methods

Models are all about how to think clearly (Fogg behaviour model)
Methods are how to design for the behaviour 

You can design for whatever aspiration or outcome you want. You can filter out all that noise about habits and human behaviour. Because you now know how behaviour works. 

Let’s explain how behaviour works, by detailing the Fogg behaviour model.

Behaviour happens when three things come together at the same moment: motivation, ability and a prompt.

B = f(MAP)

M - Motivation is your desire to do the behaviour 
A - Ability is your capacity to do the behaviour 
P - Prompt is your cue to do the behaviour.

You can visualise this model on two  dimensions. Along the vertical axis is the level of motivation for this behaviour. Along the horizontal axis is the ability to do the behaviour, along the continuum.

Suppose you want someone to donate to the Red Cross. Suppose they have high motivation and if it is easy for that person to do the donation. They are in the top right hand corner. They will do the behaviour. 

There is a relationship between motivation and ability.  This is represented by the action line. When someone is above the action line when prompted, they will do the behaviour and vice versa
When someone is below the action line, we need to get them above it for the prompt to instigate the behaviour. Either we need an increase in motivation or the behaviour needs to be easier to do or both.

This model applies to all types of human behaviour.
In summary, when motivation, ability and a prompt come together at the same moment, that's when a behaviour will occur. If any of the three elements is missing, the behaviour won't happen.

The easier a behaviour is to do, he more likely the behaviour will become a habit.

Most behaviour becomes easier to do when repeated.

No behaviour happens without a prompt.

When you look at actions or behaviours through the lens of the model, it opens a whole new world. For example: . You miss a yoga class for several days, and start blaming yourself on motivation. But the reality is the specific exercise routines being performed or the prompt for the class which could be the issue. Then you shift the dials variably on the three dials and tinker

An important nugget – big bold actions are not as effective as many would like us believe.
While small might not be sexy, it is successful and sustainable .

The motivation monkey loves to make big moves, then slips away from us when the going gets tough. Doing big things can be painful. We often push ourselves but we can’t keep it up for long and this isn't a good recipe for creating successful habits. 

‘Go big or go home’ is a faulty maxim and people don't know how to think tiny. 

You got to build your habits the tiny habits way - small and steady. It needs to be simple, easy to do and that makes all the difference.

For example: doing 30 push-ups at a stretch vs two push ups against a wall.

This is one of the hacks in the tiny habits method. Make the ability to do the behaviour easy.
Make the behaviour so tiny, that you don’t need much motivation, or the reliance on motivation is not too high.

When you are designing a new habit, you are really designing for consistency and for that simplicity is the key. Simplicity changes behaviour. If you want to do a habit consistently, then you got to adjust the most reliable thing in the behaviour model and that is ability.

Increase in ability makes your habit grow.

When you design your habits by manipulating ability, your habits take hold quickly and grow. 

The key factors that affect ability to do a behaviour are: time, money, physical capability, mental energy, and fitting into current routine.

This helps you zero in on the right problem to solve for better ability, essentially solve for the weakest link in the ability chain.

There are three  approaches to making a behaviour easier to do: improve your skills, making the behaviour tiny, and changing the environment.

What approach you use is a function of your motivation levels at that time. 

The book then focusses on the key approach which is - making the behaviour tiny. 

It is the cornerstone of the tiny habits method for a reason. It is a fool-proof way of making something easier to do. It is often a good place to start regardless of your motivation levels.

Making things tiny fall into two  categories. And these are game changing.

Category A. Starter step
Category B. Scaling back

For example: . If you want to run a 10k, then the starter step is - putting on your shoes
The key nugget here is - keep the bar low and keep the habit alive. The starter step needs to become hardwired, and it creates a momentum which propels you to the next step. Every time you do it, you are keeping the habit alive and cultivating the possibility of growth.

Keeping a habit alive means keeping it rooted in your routine. Consistency is key and simplicity drives it.

In scaling back, it is taking the behaviour you want and shrinking it. As a result, your tiny habit will be a much smaller version of your desired behaviour 

Having explained motivation (M) and ability (A), we next move to prompt (P)

The power of prompt. Prompts are the invisible drivers of our lives. We experience 100s of prompts each day. We barely notice most of them. More often than not, we simply act. 

A prompt says - Do this behaviour now.
No behaviour happens without a prompt and people respond reliably to a prompt when they are motivated and able. 

The crucial nugget here is- If there is no prompt, there is no behaviour....even if there is motivation and ability.

Hence it is key to design a good prompt for the behaviour you want.

Don't leave prompts to chance. Design a good prompt. Help yourself do what you already want to do.

In the behaviour model, motivation and ability reside along a continuum. ...but prompts are black and white. You either notice it or don't.

Designing prompts is a skill you can learn and practice.

Let’s look at what kinds of prompts are available to us and how they work 

There are three  types of prompts - person prompts, context prompts and action prompts 

Person prompts - This relies on something inside of us to do behaviour, which is not so reliable. 

It is action prompts which are the most effective and they use the concept of Anchor, and the power of after. and build a habit on top of an already established habit. And the best part is that the utility is not just for physically habits but can also lend to ways of pushing the needle on self-compassion. 

People change best while feeling good...not by feeling bad
Create tiny habit recipes by using your list of existing habits
Find a new habit that would naturally follow ...come up few ideas. This is the concept of Anchor, which helps build new habits on top of older, established habits.

Write out a recipe in the tiny habits format
Pick one reliable habit.
The format is: After I _____________, I will _______________

Create 2 more recipes for tiny habits
By working on three habits at once....you will actually learn more 
Start practicing your new habits
Dive in ..have fun

The author gives 2 examples of how he cultivated tiny habits. Flossing and push ups. 
After brushing his teeth each day, he would floss just one of this teeth. 
Every time he would pee, he would do two push-ups immediately afterward.
In both of these, the ability was really easy, and he built them both on top of an already established anchor action.

A useful hack extension is to create pearl habits to deal with irritants in your life.
List irritants in your life.
List new beneficial habits that you could do after the annoyance...come out with five options, from which you narrow down on one.

A very critical concept to note is that emotions create habits.

We rarely recognize our successes and feel good about what we gave done. 

We have very few ways of saying... I did a good job.

The ability to feel good at any given moment. We can use this superpower to transform our habits and ultimately your life.

Feeling good is vital. A celebration is surprisingly effective.
 
We need to embrace those small victories and learn to skills to know how to celebrate them.

Towards the end, BJ Fogg lists skills needs to become a habit ninja.

To become a habit ninja, you do something familiar, you learn skills - the skills of change. 

For any skills, you weren’t perfect in the beginning and you weren't expected to be.
Later it became ordinary and easy. 

That's the right way to think about behaviour change.

The five different categories of skills are - 

1.    Behaviour crafting 
Selecting and adjusting the habits you want in your life
Knowing how many new habits to do at once and knowing when to add more
Focus on what interests you
Start with three super easy habits and add three new habits each month
Embrace variety
Stay flexible

2.    The skill of knowing which new habit will have meaning to you

The new habit affirms a piece of the identity that you want to cultivate.
The new habit helps you reach an important new aspiration.
The new impact has a big impact despite being tiny.

3.    Process skills
They are focused on adjusting to the dynamic nature of life in order to strengthen and grow your habits

4.    The skill of redesigning your environment to make your habits easier to do.
How can I make this new habit easier to do?
What is making this new habit hard to do?
By layering your habit with environment design, you will reduce friction and set your habit free to go above the action line.
When you are designing new habits, invest time in redesigning your environment so they are easier to do

5.    Mindset skills
Approaching change with an attitude of openness, flexibility and curiosity, 
Being able to lower your expectations 
Feeling good about successes no matter how small
Being patient and trusting the process of change 
Celebration 
The skill of embracing a new identity

Finally a summary of the steps in behaviour design 
•    Clarify your aspiration
•    Explore behaviour options
•    Map with specific behaviours
•    Start tiny
•    Find a good prompt
•    Celebrate successes
•    Troubleshoot, iterate and expand 

(The author is chief client officer Starcom India. The views expressed in this article are his own and indiantelevision.com need not subscribe to them.) 

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