Jahnavi Shah

PhD Student, Planetary Science

New Year, New habits

Hello 2022!

I’m not a much of a new year’s resolution planner, at least not usually. But a new year can serve as a fresh time to start something so I’ve been doing some thinking and planning. And as I do that, I’m trying to incorporate some ideas discussed in a podcast I listened to a while ago. The podcast is The Knowledge Project hosted by Shane Parrish and the episode is called Create Lasting Change (guest: Dr. BJ Fogg). BJ Fogg is the founder and director of Stanford’s Behavior Design Lab, and also the author of the book Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything and he refers to the book at times in the talk. I suppose the talk is more about behaviour, rather than habit, and that little success in behaviour change can create habits.

The first thing he addresses are 3 things needed together) for establishing a behaviour are MAPS:
1) Motivation
2) Ability
3) Prompt

One of the key points was that information and statistics alone is not enough to change behaviour in the long-term. You need to equip and individual with skills to carry out the behaviour and provide that when they are on a motivation wave (and not after). It also helps to make the task/behaviour very specific.

Dr. Fogg shares 3 approaches that can help:

  1. Train the person: provide the person with skills and tools
  2. Redesign the environment: put the tools in a place where they’re visible and easily accessible
  3. Scale back the behaviour: scale down the action as much as you can to have it be meaningful

The third point is something I struggle with. I tend to imagine that I have to complete a task to its entirety and that can be intimidating sometimes. For example, if I know the task will take me a few hours, I have less motivation to get started. I think many people can relate with the challenge of getting started. A strategy to help overcome this is to just do a minimal part of the task to begin. For instance, instead of aiming to exercise or read one hour everyday, plan to do it for 10-15 minutes. What Dr. Fogg noticed through his study/coaching to tiny habits is that people who successfully made a small change or progress had a positive shift in their self-identity or self-talk. And it’s that feeling of success which wires in the habit.

I want to go back to motivation which is one of the three things needed for behaviour change. This is always a tough one for me because self-motivation is not easily done, but there are ways to approach this as well. One approach is to align the behaviour with the person’s aspiration. Find a way to match the action to an existing goal. You’re more likely to be motivated to do something if you have a goal in mind already. Another way is to try to attach it to a benefit or punishment. The effectiveness and sustainability of this approach depends on the specific benefit/punishment. One another way discussed in the podcast is changing the person’s environment. For example, you’re more likely to read if you’re in an environment which is quiet and has access to books (i.e. a library). This is because your environment can also influence your behaviour. If you’re surrounded by people working on the same action as you, it’s more likely to have a positive impact. I know I get more work done in the lab than I do at home for that reason, and the same goes for going to the gym vs. doing a workout at home. Currently, we have to accommodate for covid-related restrictions but in more common times, try to change your environment.

There are many way to motivate people to change, however it’s important to remember that motivation is often a wave (at least it is for me). I have ups and downs in my motivation and according to Dr. Fogg, you can still capitalize on this. He says that motivation and ability can compensate for each other. For instance, when your motivation is low, the ability must be high. In other words, the action must be easy and straight forward to do or you’re not likely to do it. So, when you are feeling a motivation low, you can try doing tasks that are easier and come more naturally to do. You can do side and trivial tasks in this time. I find this to be very helpful because if I try to work on a harder task with low motivation and not end up completing it, I get even more de-motivated. Instead accomplishing something, even though it’s a minor thing can help feel successful which feeds a positive self-identity. In the same sense, when you feel highly motivated, you can try to attempt the more challenging actions (but you can also do easy tasks).

These were some of my takeaways from the podcast and I aim to implement some of the tips in my own behaviour change. Hope you got some useful tips as well. I highly recommend giving the podcast a listen, and if you’re highly motivated, read the book (it’s now on my reading list).

Happy creating lasting change!

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