Behavioral Science

Designing Your Behavior, One Tiny Habit at a Time

by . July 24th, 2015

We cannot expect to tackle most of the issues tied to creative work or entrepreneurship if we don’t develop the right habits to make it happen.

Dr. B.J. Fogg, a Stanford University-based researcher, and the originator of “captology“, the study of computers as persuasive technologies, says it might be a bit easier than you thought. He believes behavior can be designed, not just learned.

Check out this or any of his other TEDx videos, and see if you agree:

Anchor behaviors

These are habits you already have that you can use as triggers to start doing the desired action. The idea is to associate an action you would normally do with the habit you want to improve, followed by a small reward that could be as simple as praising yourself verbally.

If the changes are small enough and do not require a lot of motivation or ability to do, you should develop the desired habit in a short time, after which you could increase repetitions of the habit and so on.

To understand Fogg’s main thesis about “Anchor behavior” and creating “Tiny habits”, we have to understand his much discussed take on behavior change.


What the above chart basically says is that in order to modify behavior, three things need to be present: motivation, ability, and a trigger.

Since motivation can be unreliable (some studies suggest it’s finite) especially when it’s tied to something that’s out of the scope of our abilities, Fogg posits it may be best to focus on our triggers as well as our rewards for performing positive actions.

Fogg’s behavior grid also shows what kinds of behavioral changes you could aim for. In our case, we want to try to aim for continuous behavior changes (paths) .


Anyone who’s tackled a huge project will doubtlessly tell you that no matter the size of the endeavor, it’s always really just a bunch of little things that are usually simple by themselves. The trick is to keep doing those little things consistently.

Unfortunately, negligence is probably the easiest thing we can be consistent at. We don’t want bad outcomes, obviously. But our problems often lie with how we build good habits.

Practical examples of designing your behavior:

  •  Whenever you have your morning coffee, write 50 words on your manuscript, entrepreneurial business plan, or make a quick sketch of ideas for a future creative work.
  • Do 3 pushups after you use the toilet.
  • Check your posture when you see a doorknob.
  • Drink a glass of water whenever you’re bored.
  • Whenever you go on Facebook, take time to compliment one friend.


The idea is to very slowly but consistently develop these tiny habits, increasing the increments over time.

Marshall Kirkpatric, founder of Littlebird,  tried out Dr. BJ Fogg’s ideas and has this to say:

“I learned from Dr. BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits program that a good approach to picking up new habits is to:

1) make them small

2) tie them to an anchor habit you’ve already got (your old habit becomes a trigger) and

3) celebrate when you do them.

So every morning after I make coffee, I get out my vitamins, then I open up the Harvard Business Review mobile app and read their Management Tip of the Day, then I check off those two habits on Lift. Then I open up my mobile flashcard app and use frequent recall to assimilate the lessons I’m learning in life (like BJ Fogg’s 3 steps to picking up new habits) while I stretch in my living room and drink coffee. Then I check off flashcards and stretching.”

Seems worth a shot. What do you think? Tell us below!


Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.