Can a Tiny Habit Shape Your Success?

Ever stumble across a great idea or a new way to show up and be more effective in your career, and promise yourself: "I'll get to trying that when .."?

Unfortunately far more times than I'd care to confess I've found reasons to put off making the positive changes that I know might really help me show up, shine and succeed in my career. Despite my best intentions, I get distracted, life interrupts me, I become too busy and the very idea of trying to do one more thing -- even if it made it more efficient and effective in the long run -- is completely overwhelming.

"While many people talk about behavior change as being hard. It's actually not hard if you do it in the right way, by creating tiny habits," explained BJ Fogg, an experimental psychologist at Stanford University when I recently interviewed him.

"Tiny habits help you scale back bigger behaviors into really small behaviors and sequence them into your life where they can be easily accommodated," said BJ. "They rely less on willpower and motivation and more on redesigning your life little by little, so over time these small shifts create dramatic results."

Given researchers estimate 40 percent of our days are mere habits -- that's a little more than six hours -- it seems reasonable to hack some of these routines to create the kind of changes we really want to make in our work.

For example, let's say you want to finally read the growing pile of articles and books next to your desk to improve your expertise in a key area of your work. Applying BJ's formula for making small changes you might create a tiny habit by taking the following steps:

  • Scale back change to something very small - If something is very simple to do you'll need far less motivation to follow through. It'll also help remove all those "too busy right now" excuses and create feelings of success that can be built upon. Rather than trying to get through the whole pile, try setting yourself the goal of reading one page each day to get started.

  • Design a place for your new behavior - Look for where this really small behavior fits naturally into your working day. Try to find another activity you already perform regularly, that would be a good match for the new behavior you're trying to create. It might be first thing in the morning when you turn on your computer, or when you stop to eat lunch.
  • Create a tiny habit recipe - Program your tiny habit so you know exactly what you need to be doing and when you need to do it. Use this formula to make it easy: After I (insert existing routine), I will (insert new routine). It might be: After I turn on my computer at work, I will read one page from the pile. If the habit isn't working try shrinking the change even further, try an alternative routine to anchor your new habit to and ensure your new routine is well matched to the anchor you've chosen. If you're too focused on answering all your emails in the mornings to enjoy reading a better recipe might be: After I sit down to eat my lunch, I will read one page from the pile.
  • Celebrate your success - Emotions create habits. Behaviors are either more automatic or less automatic and the way you shift it along the automaticity scale is through your emotional reactions. When you complete your tiny habit reward yourself with an "Awesome!" or "Good for me!", to affirm to yourself that this a behavior you're proud of. Of course you're not really celebrating having read just one page, but rather that you're showing up and changing a behavior that you've decided is important.
  • Build your habit day-by-day - As your habit begins to stick, expand on it as required. Build the habit a little bit at a time, without compromising your ability to get started each time. Maybe try reading two pages a day, then three pages a day, perhaps even four or five.
  • What tiny habits might unleash your success at the office? If you'd like help to walk through this recipe step-by-step visit and join one of the weekly tiny habit programs or get trained to be a tiny habits coach.

    And if you'd like more tested, practical ways to show up, shine and succeed at work, grab this free podcast series from leading thinkers on human flourishing.

    This article first appeared on Live Happy Magazine.