Becoming a Habit Ninja - I

  • Apr 18, 2020
What is a Habit?

Say it’s lunch hour and you are stirred by the aroma of a freshly cooked meal. Perhaps you saw your colleagues leave their desks or your stomach growled, screaming lunch. What you do next is effortless, as if part of a predetermined sequence. You might for instance, turn off your computer and go to your kitchen. If your food was prepped ahead of time, you heat it and soon enough you’re having lunch. After a good meal, you welcome a feeling of satisfaction which is why you will repeat this again the next day.

Do you agree that having lunch is something you do regularly and is particularly hard to give up?

If yes, then hurray we have identified a habit of yours!

Why should I read this post?

If you have a goal or aspiration - you want to learn a new language, want to exercise more, want to read more, want to get organized, want to help your kids achieve better scores then this is for you. A Habit Ninja is someone who is aware of their own habits, is able to modify them on demand, and can replace existing habits with new ones. In short, as a Habit Ninja you can reprogram yourself. What you learn here will help you make actionable and effective changes in your life to achieve any goal you’ve set for yourself.

This post series takes a slightly different approach from traditional articles on Behavior change. Instead of sharing a recipe and telling you what ingredients you need and their proportions, I’m going to collaborate with you. I will share how I use these recipes, how I add or remove ingredients, change proportions to show you how to get creative. My background as an engineer enables me to break down complex problems into tiny deliverable actions that we can form behaviors with.

Now a little about the inception of this series- I read Tiny habits by BJ Fogg after it was recommended to me by a friend. This fortunately coincided with the start of my blog in the wake of our COVID quarantine giving me the time I needed to learn and experiment with Habits. Also unlike many other habit behavior books I’ve read, this one was result inducing from its onset. I found myself taking notes, creating tiny habits and changes to drive my goals.

That said, this is not a plain summary of the book. I can attest to having an affinity toward behavior change by having read several other works in this area- The Power of Habit, Why Buddhism is true, 7 Habits of highly effective people, Mindset and the Psychology of change. And of course my own experiments in my personal and work life have contributed too. This is my first post on behavior change, so I encourage you to be patient, be positive and start tiny. I firmly believe this is going to work better than reading a book and forgetting all about it. Let’s build our skills and confidence together to become Habit Ninjas!

What will I learn?

This post is the first in a series of five posts that will help you design, develop and create self sustaining habits. Here’s a description of upcoming posts in this series.

  • [Part 1] FOGG's model of Behavior change
  • What is this model? And How can it help me?

  • [Part 1] Tiny Habits
  • What are Tiny Habits? And How do I develop them?

  • [Part 2] Motivation is no good
  • Limitations of depending on Motivation alone. Learn about why motivation is an unreliable monkey and how you should be using it to your advantage

  • [Part 2] Understanding Prompts
  • How do you insert a habit into your life and if it fails, how can you debug it.

  • [Part 3] Magic Wanding to meet your aspirations.
  • Actually white boarding actionable tasks to achieve your final goal. I will help you come up with effective ideas with reliable frameworks.

  • [Part 3] Designing your habit plan using Focus Mapping.
  • Designing your habit plan using Focus Mapping. We will filter out the excess ideas we came up with and this is the half way point. By now you have learned how to successfully create habit plans.

  • [Part 4] Make habits work
  • Making Habits easier to do. Debugging trailing edges or habits that don’t stick. Build, improve or multiply the good habits

  • [Part 5] Good and bad habits
  • Identify the bad ones, and learn how to replace them with the good ones.

  • [Part 5] Habit development for your family or group
  • Learn how you can apply self habit behavior change concepts to a group of people. Maybe a friend or work group.

  • [Part 5] Becoming a Habit ninja
  • Conclusion and final summary

What is the FOGG model of behavior change?

Fogg has developed a very effective model for Behavior change and he calls it the B:MAP model. The essence of this model is that a Behavior is a function of three elements— Motivation, Ability, and Prompt (MAP). They come together at the same moment to drive a behavior.

“Motivation” is your desire to perform the action. Motivation can vary from high to low.

“Ability” is your capacity to perform the action. The behavior/habit can be hard or easy to do.

“Prompt” is your cue to perform the action.

The clever thing about this model is that it takes the focus off of motivation as the key to changing behavior. Low motivation alone is not the reason why you might not be able to eat healthy or meditate every morning. In fact, the cure lies in making the behavior easier to do and setting up a prompt for it.

  • In order to perform an action and turn it into a habit, your motivation, ability and prompt need to be above a threshold when the prompt occurs. This threshold is called the Action Line
Remember your Lunch habit?
  • Now your “prompt” to get lunch was the time or growling stomach.
  • Your “motivation” was to satisfy your hunger.
  • Your “ability” was the ease to get lunch.

If you knew you had hot, delicious lunch waiting for you 6 feet (1.83 m) away, you would have walked over almost immediately. However, if you had to prepare a salad from scratch - cut the veggies, wash the lettuce yada, yada you probably wouldn’t be as excited. This exemplifies how, easier the task is to do, more the chances you will do it. Washing and prepping the salad contents ahead of time, improves your likelihood of getting off your “screen”, snacking before lunch or skipping it.

  • To be able to consistently perform a habit in any given circumstances we have to fine-tune M, A and P to the right combination.
What are TINY habits?

The essence of Tiny habits is that you take a behavior and make it tiny, really easy to do, find where exactly to put it in your day and continue to nurture and grow it. The tinier the habit the higher the chances of its success.

A classic example is- the Maui habit. When you wake up in the morning and put your feet on the floor, you say, *“It’s going to be a great day”. You should be true to yourself when you say this, if you think your day is going to be difficult, you could say “I’m going to try to make today better” or “I’m going to be positive today”.

I wouldn’t just advocate for the Maui habit, but it turns out I’ve been doing a very similar tiny habit version of it for months now. I’ve named it the - Hana habit (after my favorite spot on the island of Maui).

I instilled this habit to overcome a sense of dread I experienced every morning.
Waking up and having to go to work and accomplish a multitude of tasks seemed relentlessly daunting to me. Instead of thinking about the things I had to do, I thought “tiny” and focused on my next task “making the bed”. I owe my little brother for this tiny idea that changed my day!

Try this habit for yourself, and when it gives you that immediate sense of achievement, take it. This is a simple and time specific habit that is not going to grow. But it will be a start to adding many other tiny positive habits to the rest of your day.

Follow this recipe to build your own habit and add it to your life [From TINY Habits]

Find an ANCHOR MOMENT An existing routine (like brushing your teeth) or an event that happens (like a phone ringing). The Anchor Moment reminds you to do the new Tiny Behavior.

Introduce a NEW TINY BEHAVIOR A simple version of the new habit you want, such as flossing one tooth or doing two push-ups. You do the Tiny Behavior immediately after the Anchor

Follow with INSTANT CELEBRATION Something you do to create positive emotions, such as saying, “I did a good job!” You celebrate immediately

As for me, I developed three tiny new habits

  • To #stayHydrated

  • When I see my water bottle is empty,

  • I will fill it up,

  • and enjoy a sip of cold water!

  • To become a full-time flosser

  • After I brush my teeth,

  • I floss one side of my mouth

  • (yes, starting tiny!)

  • To organize my dish drying rack

  • Before I wash the dishes in sink,

  • I empty (only a few) dishes on the drying rack

  • that way it never overflows

Next post [Becoming a habit ninja II]