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5 Ways to Turn Tiny Habits into Big Changes

Live Happy blogger, best-selling author and wellness coach Michelle McQuaid presents a series of interviews entitled "Show Up, Shine and Succeed." This is the fourth of five insightful posts. Each podcast/interview features a different positive psychology expert, all speaking on topics related to happiness, confidence and success in the workplace.

Have you ever stumbled across a great idea that could make you more effective in your career—and promised yourself that you’ll get started on it later?

Break a big change into small, manageable pieces

We all find reasons to put off making the positive changes, even if we know they will help us in the long run. Despite our best intentions, we get distracted, life interrupts us, we become too busy and the very idea of trying to do one more thing 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,” explains BJ Fogg, an experimental psychologist at Stanford University, who has proposed the concept of "Tiny Habits" as a way of overcoming our usual obstacles to change.

Click here to listen to the full podcast.

“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.”

How to get started

Given that researchers estimate 40% of our day consists of mere habits, it seems reasonable to try to hack some of these routines to create the kind of changes we want to make in our work and life.

For example, let’s say you want to finally read the pile of articles and books growing 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:

1, Scale back change to something very small 

If something is very simple to do, you’ll need far less motivation and will power to follow through. Also, scaling down a task to something small helps remove all those “too busy right now” excuses. When you actually do it, you 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 ten pages each day to get started.

2. Find time for your new behavior  

Look for time when this small new behavior fits naturally into your day. Try to find an existing recurring activity 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.

3. 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 ten pages 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.

4. Celebrate your success

Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool. You can help make small behaviors more automatic and make yourself want to stick with them by rewarding yourself. When you complete your tiny habit, take a minute to metaphorically pat yourself on the back or use another form of affirmation to show yourself that this a behavior you’re proud of, and to make it something you’re more likely to keep doing.

5. 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 can you utilize to increase your successes at the office and in life?  If you’d like help to walk through this recipe step-by-step, visit tinyhabits.com and join one of the weekly tiny habit programs or get trained to be a coach.

And if you’d like more tested, practical ways to show up, shine and succeed at work visit showupshineandsucceed.com.

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