Founder Fuel: Turns out we’ve been doing habits all wrong

Whether you buy into resolutions or not (I don’t, I prefer reflections and refocusing) it’s likely that January unearthed something you wanted to change or improve upon. As entrepreneurs we forever see opportunities for optimisation and our personal development certainly falls into that camp too – whether it’s sleeping more, eating healthier, getting to the gym, or snapping at your team less. But as we slide into a blustery February the gap between want and do may have started to slip, and we get that little neg-head voice of criticism:

Why can’t I just do it?

Other people can do this, why can’t I?

Why don’t I have the willpower?

Sound familiar?

Well here’s the thing – it turns out our approach to changing behaviours like this is all wrong. If you were trying to put together a chest of drawers with faulty instructions and parts missing, would you blame yourself for not being able to do it? No. We might feel frustrated, but we’d blame IKEA. When it comes to behaviour change we blame ourselves – even though it’s actually the instructions for behaviour change that we’re working with that is sub-optimal.

We met up with BJ Fogg, the founder of Stanford’s Behaviour Design Lab and he has a new set of instructions – or Recipe as he says – for change based on years of live research. We’ve been testing it too – it’s both effective and very flexible. We’ve tried it on good habits, bad habits and even to build resilience by putting that neg-head voice back in its box.

Feeling good not feeling bad about habits

Fogg’s model is based on feeling good, not feeling bad about habits. All too often we try to change behaviour with information only (what Fogg calls the Information-Action Fallacy). We learn why we should do something and that should be reason enough to change – and yet the evidence is clear – we don’t manage it (no time, no willpower, right!?!) and then we feel bad. Rewards, incentives, even accountability have their shortcomings too. What we need to do then is attach feeling good to new habits. Combine this with finding a space for the new habit in your routine and making the habit as small as you can to start, and you’ve got the Tiny Habits Method.

The Tiny Habits Method – as easy as ABC:  

Anchor > Behaviour > Celebration


Decide on an existing moment in your routine like brushing your teeth or an event that happens (like a phone ringing). The Anchor Moment reminds you to do the new Tiny Behaviour.


A simple version of the new habit you want, such as flossing one tooth or doing two push-ups. You do the Tiny Behaviour immediately after the Anchor Moment. (If you find yourself not doing it, it’s too big or not specific enough – so make it more Tiny). If you end up doing more than the tiny habit (ie 5 push ups)  you get extra credit!


Find your unique way of creating positive emotions, such as saying, “good job!” or breaking out into a big smile (this is unique to each individual!). Repetition is not what wires habits to the brain (this is confusing correlation with causation). It’s the celebration that hacks the brain and makes it automatic. Celebrate immediately after doing the new Tiny Behaviour and it attaches positive feelings to achieving this step, writing it into your brain in a positive way.

The Fogg Behaviour Model

The Tiny Habits method utilises the three critical elements that drive our behaviour:

Behaviour happens when Motivation, Ability & Prompt converge at the same time

Ability is why we must make the new habit as Tiny as possible (when we’ve cracked that we can add the next Tiny Behaviour). The Prompt is the trigger that we use in our routine to anchor when we will do our new habit.

It’s key to embrace that the Tiny Behaviour chosen will be unique to you – even if the new habit is the same as someone else’s. Ten people could decide that they “want to get better sleep”, but the Tiny Behaviour that they start with will be different for each person – one could be about removing the phone from the bedroom, another could be stopping screen-time at 9pm, another meditating for 5 minutes when you get in from work. The Recipe should be seen as a bit of an experiment too – if one behaviour isn’t quite landing, try another to see if it fits better.

Overriding negative self-talk (the “neg-head”)

Self-criticism is its own sort of habit really. Many of us have a natural tendency to think we’re “stupid” or “failing” in some way which eats away at our resilience. The Tiny Habits Recipe can be applied to flipping those to more positive thoughts and celebrating when we catch the negative thinking.

Think of this like a well-trodden path in a cornfield (those who’ve been in some of our Founder Performance Training will recognise this analogy). The path is well-trodden because your brain is used to using that path. Our brains are amazing at conserving energy (or lazy!) so it sticks to the easy path. But start treading down a new path – a more positive path – and the old path starts to become overgrown and the new path becomes clearer and clearer. Our brains are the cornfield and our neural pathways the path. You can tread down a new path with a little effort to start out and then you have a new pathway that is more positive. The Tiny Habits Recipe is the system for getting through the initial part that requires effort. Once you’ve got through that you have a new positive habit that is… well, a habit! Just like we learn to drive a car – after a while it becomes intuitive.

Our founders are already experimenting with applying the method in their busy startup schedules, if you want to join them take a look at our training and coaching programmes.

NB: A side note on BJ Fogg – if you’re in the tech world and have heard the name before it will likely be because his Stamford class became famous for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to make their apps and products sticky – some might say addictive. As we all start to kick back on the negatives of social media etc in defence of our wellbeing, this has brought these methods under scrutiny. For now, let’s focus on Fogg’s Tiny Habits method as a way of utilising this expertise for good. 

Written by Christina Richardson, founder at weare3Sixty
Founder coach & trainer | Startup exec-team coach | FounderCircle® creator & head-coach. Passionate about sustainable founder performance, wellbeing and the leadership transition from founder to C-suite.

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