Book Review - This Book Will Change Your Life (Or So It Says)
Updated: Feb 19, 2020
That's what the book jacket says for the most recent book I've read: "Tiny Habits - The Small Changes That Change Everything" by BJ Fogg, PhD.
The first 100 pages had me thinking that, like so many business-y self-help books, it would've been fine as a magazine article: a clever idea or two explained 17 different times alongside cute graphics. And it definitely gets points for being easy on the eyes, with a lovely font and scattered blue lettering for emphasis and graphs a six year old could understand.
Essentially what he said in those first 100 pages was - decide on big goal, break it down into bite-size pieces, and schedule it. This is not exactly ground-breaking information: if you want to run a marathon, for example, you have to start by putting on your sneakers.
But that's all he wants you to do, at least at first - just put the sneakers on. If you want to sit down with a tub of Ben & Jerry's and watch Gilmore Girls after putting on the sneakers, that's fine. In fact, he wants you to get super-psyched about just getting the sneakers on.
As the title suggests, he's all about doing tiny things and then celebrating those as victories. Instead of putting on the sneakers, running nowhere, and then getting all down on yourself, he wants you to change your mindset (oooh, another buzzword) and congratulate yourself on that tiny success.
And no success is too small! Embrace them all. Fist-pump, dance around, high-five yourself - whatever makes you feel like a winner.
Because people do things, and keep doing them, when they a) are easy and b) make them feel good.
Eventually, you'll be in such a sunny and excited frame of mind from putting on the sneakers that you will run . . . around your kitchen island! Which of course is further than what you ran yesterday and therefore deserving of more celebrating!
From there, I believe the idea is that success begets success and also serves as a motivator. "Well, putting on the sneakers is now so easy, and so fun, that I'll just jog down to the end of the street!" And if you celebrate that tiny victory, next you'll jog to the end of the next street, too.
Thus, eventually, you will have run a marathon.
Really? That could literally take years, at that pace. I haven't tried this because I'm a wee bit skeptical.
But wait! Maybe that piece of his method doesn't resonate for me, but there are others that do.
He emphasizes the importance of designing the correct "prompt" for a new behavior. If you want to start flossing your teeth, put the dental floss on top of your toothbrush instead of leaving it in the drawer. If you keep meaning to call your mother but wind up watching TV instead, put a post-it saying, "Call Mom" in the middle of your TV.
Related to the concept of prompts is something he calls an "anchor." Are you already religious about brushing your teeth, even if you don't enjoy it exactly? Then attach a new habit to that. Is sitting down every morning with a cup of coffee the highlight of your day? Then tack on new habit onto that moment. Firmly entrenched or deeply enjoyable habits make excellent anchors for new habits. You are more likely to succeed with the new habit, though, if it is related to the old one - gassing up your partner's car probably wouldn't attach well to brushing your teeth,
He also discusses the importance of prompts when trying to stop a habit you don't want. Do you spend 20 minutes scrolling through email in bed every morning? Plug your phone into a kitchen outlet before bed - and buy an alarm clock if you just said "But I use the alarm on my phone!" Again, not groundbreaking, but worth having reiterated.
How about a good habit to compensate for the daily irritations of life? Do you get enraged at red lights? Then maybe you should practice deep breathing every time you see a yellow light. Does your neighbor's dog bark too much? What if you did a push-up every time, so that you got in better physical shape instead of worse mental shape because of that dog?
Where Fogg gives us the most insightful info though is elsewhere. Have you tried and tried to train for a marathon and never run more than five miles? He would argue that you don't actually want to run a marathon. It's nearly impossible to be successful at adding a consistent habit into your life if it's not one you truly want. If you don't have a good "why" for a new habit, you've chosen the wrong new habit to tackle.
The most hands-on useful part of this book is the appendices. He provides several detailed flow charts on how to implement his approach, plus list after list of "After I do X, then I will do Y" suggestions. Although I read this book for work, I found the list of Tiny Habits for Close Relationships to be super-relevant and easily implemented (and so did my husband).
I'm not sure this book is a recipe for establishing big change - as the name suggests. But if you've struggled to incorporate smaller behavioral shifts - cleaning up your desk at the end of the day, packing a healthy lunch, picking up your dirty laundry from the floor - you might want to read this. It won't have you running a marathon, but it might get you to floss your teeth.