An exercise to map your family’s timeline

Family timeline method on BJ Fogg's website
Family timeline method on BJ Fogg’s website

Here’s an exercise that psychologist, innovator and university lecturer BJ Fogg used at a family reunion that I’d love to do with my own family.

The idea was to collectively map their family’s story, starting from his parents’ wedding to the current day.

Each person was given their own post-it note colour and told to write their memories of that year on the post-it. They used 4 x 6 inch post-it notes to allow the writing to be larger and write more.

The post-it notes were then stuck to large boards. Each board was divided into three columns, one column per year.

The exercise led to a lot of sharing, about positive events and negative, both of which have shaped their family’s journey.

You can read more about the Fogg timeline on BJ’s website.

I wish I’d discovered this exercise earlier. Last year we had a huge reunion down in the Scottish Borders where family from California met up with folks here in Scotland, some meeting for the first time. This would have been tremendous fun and a great way to share our stories and see where our lives interacted and if there were any common themes.

Next time, maybe…?

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.