New YearsHow are you doing on those New Year’s Resolutions? If you’re anything like me, you either didn’t make New Year’s Resolutions this year because they haven’t worked in the past, or today, a week into 2012, you’re struggling with those resolutions.

Dr. BJ Fogg, the founder of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University, wants to change how we approach resolutions, specifically, how we form new habits.

My Introduction to Three Tiny Habits

Last week, I participated along with 371 other people in the latest session of his Three Tiny Habits program (next week he has over 1200 people signed up). There’s no charge to the program, and Dr. Fogg somehow manages to make you feel like he’s personally vested in your individual success, which is amazing considering the fact that he is helping hundreds of people at a time and he hasn’t automated the program to any significant extent.

The program was surprisingly easy to follow, and I managed to complete my three tiny habits each and every day. It’s too early to tell if this is life-altering, but it has certainly given me a new tool with which to make changes in my life. The true value of the program is in the learning, and then the accumulation of many new habits over time that add up to big changes.

So what is a “Tiny Habit”? Dr. Fogg defines it as a behavior:

  • You do at least once per day
  • That takes less than 30 seconds
  • That requires little effort
Here are some examples:
“After I brush my teeth, I will floss one tooth”
“After I walk in the door from work, I will change into workout clothes”
“After dinner, I will play 3 chords on the guitar”
The theory behind Three Tiny Habits is quite interesting, and can be broken down into three parts.

Triggers

Note that the examples above all begin with an existing habit or event: after I brush my teeth, after I walk in the door from work, after dinner. The existing habit or event is called an “anchor”, and it triggers or reminds you to do the new behavior. This is incredibly important, because our brains are connection machines. Our brains are hardwired to make connections. Eventually, as you repeat the behaviors, with the new habit following the existing habit, the brain begins to make the connection, and the new behavior becomes almost automatic. For example, when you finish brushing your teeth, you find yourself automatically reaching for the floss.

Ability

The second key to easy formation of new habits is to invest in making the behavior super-simple. So in addition to the trigger, you must have the ability to perform the action of the new habit, and the less friction involved, the greater the likelihood that you’ll do it. Dr. Fogg recommends arranging the world around you to make the new habit easy to do. For example, you might put the floss right next to the toothbrush so that you don’t have to find it in a drawer, or set out the guitar within easy reach of the dinner table.

Motivation

You must have motivation to change, and the motivation needs to stay with you over time as the change becomes a habit. Dr. Fogg encourages you to say “Victory” to yourself after the successful completion of each habit. He also acts like a personal coach, checking in each day by email to make sure you completed your Three Tiny Habits and congratulating you on your success.

Note that motivation is the third piece, not the first. Most self-help books and all motivational speakers start with the motivation piece, and if you fail, you simply weren’t motivated enough. Dr Fogg’s program relies less on motivation (although it’s still important), because he stresses the trigger and making the behavior super-simple to accomplish.

Agile Marketing: How Does This Relate?

You can certainly use the technique of Three Tiny Habits to accomplish some of the tasks of Agile Marketing. For example, one of my tiny habits was to write down my three top priorities for the day after breakfast. This tiny habit prepared me for Scrum. But I find it even more interesting to apply the theory to how customers engage with your product or brand. Dr. Fogg makes this connection explicit in a talk he gave to an audience in Buenos Aires this fall: https://bitly.com/fogg9min.

Think about his Facebook example: a mail comes into your inbox (the trigger) telling you that you’ve been tagged in a picture; you click on the picture (a super-simple, nearly friction free behavior), and fifteen minutes later you notice that you’ve spent all that time on Facebook catching up with friends (motivation). For your own business, especially if you’re a startup, what triggers do you put in the path of your customers to encourage them to interact with your product or brand? Have you made the behavior you want to trigger as easy and friction free as possible? And what is the emotional component involved in interacting with your product or brand? Where’s the motivation? Any business that can’t answer these questions is likely to fail.

If you’d like to learn more about Three Tiny Habits, go to https://www.tinyhabits.com/ If you participate in the program, let me know how it worked for you. I’d also love to hear more examples of triggers in your marketing.

Jim Ewel

I love marketing. I think it’s one of the most difficult and one of most exciting jobs in any company. My goal with this blog is to evangelize agile marketing and help marketers increase the speed, predictability, transparency, and adaptability to change of the marketing function.

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