Creating a new habit begins with a tiny step

I had the good fortune of meeting BJ Fogg a few times about 10 years ago; he used to live a couple of doors down from my cousin in California. I had recently redesigned my website and when showed it to him he leaned in and got really interested in it. It’s a conversation that has stuck with me ever since and was one of the many pebbles in the jar that led me to decide to do this web thing for a living.

BJ works primarily in the area of creating systems to change human behaviour, very often with computers. He wrote a really interesting book called Persuasive technology: using computers to change what we think and do. And edited another called Mobile persuasion: 20 perspectives on the future of behaviour change.

A couple of years ago I took part in a short experiment that he ran worldwide, via email, about starting new habits. This TEDx talk more or less outlines what we did. What worked for me was:

  1. Start small, e.g. floss one tooth a day.
  2. Tag your new behaviour onto an existing habit.
  3. Be accountable to someone.

I decided to start flossing my teeth (having been nagged by the dentist). I used a floss pick, which allowed me to floss all my teeth in about 30 seconds (that was tiny enough for me). I tagged it onto the end of my daily morning shower. So when I stepped out of the shower I would floss. And within the first few weeks I would email BJ to give him an update.

It worked! Even on the days when I consciously decided that I was running so late I would skip my teeth floss that morning I always found myself standing flossing my teeth after my shower thinking “Eh?! But…!”

If you want to take something up, I can thoroughly recommend BJ’s approach.

Published by

Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 46 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Latterly, web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall. Currently on sabbatical. I am a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, and I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir.

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