I'm often asked, "How did I write 10 books in fifteen years?" The answer? Start small. Commit to one small task at a time: Schedule an interview, conduct the interview, write 100 words, and so on.
During a recent conversation with Dr. BJ Fogg, a world-renowned behavioral scientist and author of the new book, Tiny Habits, I realized that I had been practicing a version of the method Fogg's research team have introducted to 40,000 people in the last decade.
"Over the last twenty years, I've found that the only consistent, sustainable way to grow big is to start small," Fogg told me.
Fogg is the research director at Stanford's Behavior Design Lab. For years, he's taught students how small changes lead to big results. One of his students, Mike Krieger, adopted Fogg's methods to start his company--Instagram.
Focus Energy on One Small Task
Fogg told me the story of another former student, Amy, who was a stay-at-home mom. She dreamed of starting an educational-media company. Like most people who dream of being their own boss, the process seemed overwhelming. Amy procrastinated in hiring employees, looking for office space, navigating tax codes and filling out legal documents.
For months, Amy took no action on her big plans. Does that sound familiar?
Fogg says that Amy fell into a common myth that's prevalent in our competitive society: go big or go home. Instead, Amy adopted the tiny habits method.
"Every morning after dropping her daughter off at kindergarten, she pulled over on the side of the road and wrote one to-do on a sticky note. Just one," says Fogg.
Each to-do was something Amy could do right away. For example, Amy could send out an invoice, schedule a project meeting, or draft the introduction to an educational guide.
The simple act of focusing her energy on one task sparked a chain reaction. Amy eventually launched her company and it continues to be successful today.
According to Fogg, "One tiny action might feel insignificant at first, but it allows you to gain the momentum you need to ramp up to bigger challenges and faster progress."
Celebrate Small Successes
The most valuable tactic I learned from Fogg is to celebrate small successes. "Celebration is how your brain wires in a behavior," Fogg told me. Celebrations need not be big.
For example, I like wine and, like most people with a cellar collection, I save the most expensive wines for a special occasion. Sometimes, those occasions might include celebrating a big business win. But what about the countless successes--tiny ones--that happen every day? If I open a bottle a wine after accomplishing every task, I wouldn't get much work done.
A celebration is anything you do that creates a positive emotion. It could be as simple as saying to yourself, "I did a good job!"
A few weeks ago, my favorite NFL team won a game in the last seconds to make the playoffs. I spontaneously jumped up and did a little dance in my living room. My daughters were nearby--and recorded a few seconds on their iPhone. I looked ridiculous and no, I didn't allow them to put it on TikTok.
I recalled the event as I listened to Fogg talk about the importance of celebration. We celebrate the achievements of a team wearing a jersey we like even though we don't know the players personally. But how often do we jump for joy when we accomplish a task that moves our business forward?
Celebration causes a positive emotional change in our brain and forms a stronger connection to the behavior that we want to repeat.
The appendix to Tiny Habits has 100 examples of tiny celebrations. The point is to find one or two that work for you. For example,
- Say "Yes!" while you do a fist bump.
- Do a subtle head nod.
- Smile big.
- Raise your arms and say, "Victory!"
- Pump your fists and say, "Awesome!"
- Imagine your father or your mother saying, "Wow. That was excellent."
The secret to sticking to new, positive behaviors is to celebrate success no matter how small that success might be.
Now that this article is finished, it's time to celebrate. Maybe I'll do a little dance--as long as my kids aren't around to record it.