Tiny habits for building resilience

A lot of people are struggling at the moment.

When many of us thought we’d be returning to a ‘normal’ existence this year, the reality has hit us hard: returning to ‘normal’ is not going to happen (at least not anytime soon).

Over the last few weeks, I’ve heard some self-help gurus and influencers make the following claims:

• “You are the creator of your own destiny”
• “You can do anything you put your mind to”
• “If you just visualise what you want, the universe will manifest it into being!”

Alarm bells go off for me whenever I hear these sorts of statements.

Yes, I somewhat agree. If you focus your mind, have clear goals, effective strategies and consistently engage in the right behaviours, you’ll be amazed by what you can achieve.

But I get a little annoyed when these ideas are presented in an overly simplistic way. What many self-help gurus and influencers fail to do is give people practical tools and evidence-based strategies that will help them to change their behaviour and reach their goals.

Without practical tools and strategies, we are setting people up to fail.

Stanford University Professor BJ Fogg states in his book Tiny Habits:

“For too many years, myths, misconceptions, and well-meaning but unscientific advice have set you up to fail. If you’ve attempted change in the past and haven’t seen results, you may have concluded that change is hard or that you can’t succeed because you lack motivation. Neither is accurate. The problem is with the approach itself, not with you.”

In this blog post, I’m going to share Professor BJ Fogg’s simple but powerful method for changing behaviour: tiny habits.

The power of going tiny

When life feels hard and you’re struggling to find the motivation to get through the day, you need to scale things right back.

How do you do that?

You need to make whatever you need to do seem really easy for your brain. This is where tiny habits come in.

What are tiny habits?

A tiny habit is a behavior that can be performed in less than 30 seconds and requires little or no willpower. The radically small behaviour sets you on a path to achieving your goals.

Tiny habits allow you to have a predetermined plan for each day. Without tiny habits, you can wear yourself out just deciding what to do. Tiny habits automate your behaviour and make it easy for you to get on with doing what you need to do.

Anatomy of a tiny habit

According to Professor BJ Fogg, a tiny habit is made up of three key parts:

• An anchor moment (i.e., prompt).
• A tiny version of a desired new behaviour.
• An instant celebration.

I’ll unpack each of these parts before bringing it all together with a few examples from my own life.

1. Anchor moment

Anchor moment

An anchor moment is a pre-existing habit that reminds you to carry out the new tiny behavior. Examples of common anchor moments include putting on your shoes, brushing your teeth, having dinner, checking your phone, and taking a shower.

Anchor moments are solid and reliable parts of your daily routine. You do them every day without fail. These routines act as a trigger for the new tiny behaviour, propelling you into action.

2. A tiny version of a new behaviour you want to do

Tiny version of desired behaviour

The tiny behaviour should require little to no effort or willpower to carry out. For example, if the desired behaviour is to floss your teeth, the tiny behaviour would be to floss one tooth. If you want to do more than the tiny version, go for it. But consider that’s a bonus extra. By carrying out the tiny behavior every day, you keep the habit alive and give it a chance to establish solid roots in your life.

3. Instant celebration

Instant celebration

If you want to fast track habit formation, you must do one simple thing — celebrate. Milliseconds after you engage in the new behaviour, you need to release a positive emotion. Instantly.

It’s this instant release of good feelings that will remind you to do the behaviour again in the future.

What does celebration look like? Here are some ideas from my own life:

• Do a fist pump.
• Say out loud “Shazam!”.
• Say “Winner winner chicken dinner!”.
• Drum a punchy beat on the table.

11 tiny habits for building resilience

The following is a list of tiny habits that help me to think, feel and function better. These tiny habits are focused around eating well, moving my body, getting plenty of rest, decreasing stress and managing my mindset.

1. After I make my bed, I will put on my walking shoes on.

2. After I have my breakfast, I will think of three things I feel grateful for.

3. After I put on my walking shoes, I will have a sip of water.

4. After I finish a writing session, I will take out a broccoli to chop.

5. When I arrive at a school, I will sanitise my hands and carefully put my mask on.

6. When I open up Zoom (or Teams) to deliver a presentation, I will take a deep breath and say “You can do this!”

7. After I set my intentions/goals for the day, I will put my phone away from my body (in another room).

8. When I find myself feeling overwhelmed, I will take out a post-it note and write down one thing I can do.

9. When my head hits the pillow, I will write down three things that went well today.

10. When I find myself feeling stressed, I will do a big sigh.

11. When I find myself feeling stuck, I will think “Who can I ask for help?”

How to create your own tiny habit recipes

These tiny habits are currently working for me. But they may not work for you. You can design your own tiny habits from scratch by pairing up anchor moments with desired tiny behaviours (don’t forget to celebrate!).

Alternatively, you can create your own tiny habit recipes by using the Tiny Habits Recipe Maker.

Tiny habit recipe maker

You can also check out Dr BJ Fogg’s great book Tiny Habits (there is a long list of tiny habits at the back of the book).

To sum up

Visualising what you want is never going to be enough to make it happen. You need to be in action. I’ve found the tiny habits method to be a great way to shift from inaction to action, especially during challenging times.

Like anything in life, using tiny habits requires practice. But the more you practice this skill, the better you’ll get. And the better you get, the better you’ll start to feel about yourself and what you’re doing.