I am not usually one to sit around and watch TEDx all day. But this TEDx by BJ Fogg just blew my mind. Not for sharing information that I didn’t know, but for sharing it in such an understandable way for anyone to comprehend and learn. I’ve often said that in order to reach fitness goals, you have to break the behavior up into smaller steps. But that’s animal training psycho-jargon. BJ Fogg simplified my philosophy for me! Create tiny habits.
Fogg is the Director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University, and spends a lot of time studying, analyzing, and learning about behavior, and how to change it. His explanation of how behavior works and how it is changed was eye-opening. Basically there are 5 different basic ways to change a behavior: Green (new behavior), Blue (familiar behavior), Purple (Increase behavior), Gray (decrease behavior) and Black (stop behavior). There are also 3 corresponding time frames of changing a behavior. There is a Dot, which is a one time behavior change, Span, which is specific duration (ie- 30 days), and Path, or a permanent change (from now on). Mostly, when we set health or fitness goals, we are looking to create a “Path” behavior change, something we will strive to do permanently.
When we use motivation to create long-term behavior change, we are actually setting ourselves up for failure. This is because motivation applies to temporary changes, not permanent ones. So how do we create long-term behavior changes without motivation?
We create habits. Habits live in the “Blue Path” of behavior change spectrum. They are familiar to us, and they are set for the long-term. When it comes to learning to apply healthy habits, you don’t need to learn how to do the habit, we usually already know how. We know how to drink water. We know how to eat food. When creating habits, you are training yourself to make the behavior automatic.
Another key point to remember in creating tiny habits that you want to repeat in the future is to “celebrate the victory” immediately after completing them. Tell yourself you’re awesome. Fist pump the air. Do a victory dance. Give yourself that important opportunity to celebrate and reinforce the behavior.
When people set up goals, they are looking for healthy outcomes. Healthy outcomes are the end result of healthy habits. In the words of an animal trainer, they are the result of a completed behavior. In training an animal to voluntarily enter a crate and stay calm in the crate, the completed behavior results in reduced stress, but the animal itself is not trained to reduce its stress. That is just the outcome of the behavior. So, we need to design behaviors that will lead to the outcome, not be the outcome itself. Most of the behaviors that we need to do to achieve our goal are habits. As we create these tiny habits, step by little step, we progress toward our goal in a more reliable way.
And here is where my mind imploded… There are 3 elements that cause behavior- 1) Motivation 2) Ability 3) Trigger. Let me spell this out to you in animal training terms.
- Motivation, or consequence (reinforcement or punishment)
- Ability, or the behavior (can’t train an animal to do something it isn’t able to do)
- Trigger, or antecedent (cue or signal to start the behavior)
Here Fogg does an incredible job describing the motivation and ability trade-offs on a curve chart. If you have no motivation to do something, and it’s difficult to do, you are likely not going to do it. If it’s very easy to accomplish, you are more likely to do it, even if you aren’t super motivated. In order to do something challenging, you will need high levels of motivation to do it. So, when we make behavior changes small, it makes them easy, and motivation isn’t an issue.
How do you trigger this new tiny habit? Use an existing behavior and pair the new habit after it. The existing behavior becomes the trigger. The formula for the new behavior looks like this: After I (existing behavior), then I will (tiny habit).
Here’s where my conniption came in. OMG!!!! THIS IS ANIMAL TRAINING!!!! The “existing behavior” is the antecedent, the signal or cue. The tiny habit is the new behavior to be trained. And we’ve already established that there needs to be a consequence, a POSITIVE REINFORCER, after completing the tiny habit- the small celebration. This whole TEDx was about utilizing animal training techniques to create healthy habits! THIS is what I’m trying to teach other people! I’m blown away.
I actually also just learned that in mid-November, Edmonds is hosting a TEDx presentation and they are gathering 20 or so speakers to share their ideas with an open audience. I am really excited, and want to try to do one. It’s a long shot, but I’m pretty sure I want to expand further on BJ Fogg’s ideas. This is just one aspect of Zookeeper Fitness. There are still tons of other topics to explore- behavior momentum, positive reinforcement, putting motivation in the bank, going back to kindergarten, jackpot theory.
Thanks to Vibrant Fitness for the video. GREAT TOPIC!!