future startup logo

Book Review: Tiny Habits by B.J. Fogg

B.J. Fogg is an American social scientist and author and the founder and director of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford. Fogg wrote a fascinating book in 2019 titled Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything. Written in an easy-to-read format, the book offers practical advice for creating good habits and breaking bad ones.

There are a ton of great books on habit formation such as The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, Atomic Habit by James Clear, and Good Habits, Bad Habits by Wendy Wood. While all these best-seller books offer excellent tips and insight into the inner workings of human habits, Tiny Habits offer some new ideas on how to build habits by starting small, taking an experimental approach, and applying the behavior design model.

In this review, five pieces of lessons from Fogg’s Tiny Habits that you can apply to improve your life. 

Do these three things to design successful habits

"In order to design successful habits and change your behaviors, you should do three things.

#1. Stop judging yourself.

#2. Take your aspirations and break them down into tiny behaviors.

#3 Embrace mistakes as discoveries and use them to move forward."

Three elements of a behavior

"For a behavior (B) to occur, three elements must converge at the same moment: Motivation, Ability, and Prompt.

The model looks like this: B = M+A+P. [....]

1. Check to see if there’s a prompt to do the behavior.

2. See if the person has the ability to do the behavior.

3. See if the person is motivated to do the behavior."

If you want to make something into a habit, make it easy to do. The harder a behavior is to do, the less likely you are to do it

"The easier a behavior is to do, the more likely the behavior will become a habit. This applies to habits we consider “good” and “bad.” It doesn’t matter. Behavior is behavior. It all works the same way."

No habit happens without a prompt or cue that triggers that habit

"If you don’t have a prompt, your levels of motivation and ability don’t matter. Either you are prompted to act or you’re not. No prompt, no behavior. Simple yet powerful. Motivation and ability are continuous variables. You always have some level of motivation and ability for any given behavior. When the phone rings, your motivation, and ability to answer it are always there in the background. But a prompt is like lightning. It comes and goes. If you don’t hear the phone ring, you don’t answer it. You can disrupt a behavior you don’t want by removing the prompt. This isn’t always easy, but removing the prompt is your best first move to stop a behavior from happening. [....]

On the flip side, if there is no prompt, there is no behavior even if you have high levels of motivation and ability."

Emotions create habits

"There is a direct connection between what you feel when you do a behavior and the likelihood that you will repeat the behavior in the future. When I unearthed this connection between emotions and habits in my research on the Tiny Habits method, I was surprised I had not seen this truth before. Like an answer to a riddle, it was suddenly so obvious. I wondered why this insight was not already common knowledge. (....) In my own research, I found that habits can form very quickly, often in just a few days, as long as people have a strong positive emotion connected to the behavior."

Feeling successful in whatever small way possible accelerates habit formation

"I now understand why my Tiny Habits data showed so many breakthroughs. When people feel successful, even with small things, their overall level of motivation goes up dramatically, and with higher levels of motivation, people can do harder behaviors. This is how tiny successes can change the game for you at work, at home, and even inside your own head. The big takeaway: Start where you want to on your path to change. Allow yourself to feel successful. Then trust the process."

Acquiring the skills of change is like mastering any other set of skills

"Acquiring the Skills of Change is like mastering any other set of skills. In order to become a top-notch pianist, you need to read musical notation, keep tempo, phrase melodies, memorize music, and expertly finger passages. The more you practice in the right way, the more confident and capable and flexible you become. You won’t become a proficient pianist overnight, just as you won’t become a Habit Ninja overnight. But you can get started immediately and watch your skills increase."

People behave according to the identity they identify themselves with

"All humans have a strongly rooted drive to act in a way that is consistent with their identity. When a group faces threats, any group member who is unpredictable creates risk for the group. That person gets shunned. There is a good evolutionary reason for this—when food, shelter, and other resources depend on group unity and collaboration, it is critical to reliably predict what a person is going to do. Your life might depend on it. As social beings, we all act largely in keeping with certain identities even if we don’t realize it."

You can stop a habit from happening by simply changing one component in your behavior design model

"You can stop a behavior by altering any of the three components of the Behavior Model. You can decrease motivation or ability, or you can remove the prompt."

How to change other people 

"When supporting other people in the change process, let my two maxims be your guide.

#1 Help people do what they already want to do.

#2 Help people feel successful.

If you are helping a spouse, a work colleague, your boss, your customers, or your kids do what they aspire to do, you’re likely on solid ethical ground."

Feature image credit: Virgin books
Originally published on Jan 27, 2020. Updated on June 6, 2023

Mohammad Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based entrepreneur and writer. He founded Future Startup, a digital publication covering the startup and technology scene in Dhaka with an ambition to transform Bangladesh through entrepreneurship and innovation. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, and society. He is the author of Rethinking Failure. His writings have been published in almost all major national dailies in Bangladesh including DT, FE, etc. Prior to FS, he worked for a local conglomerate where he helped start a social enterprise. Ruhul is a 2022 winner of Emergent Ventures, a fellowship and grant program from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

In-depth business & tech coverage from Dhaka

Stories exclusively available at FS

About FS

Contact Us