Tiny Habits Summary (BJ Fogg)

Many of us start new routines with enthusiasm only too find our new behaviours deteriorate after a few weeks.

Because we’re starting too big, upending our lives to accommodate the change. 

The solution? Start small. 

3 mistakes we make in habit change:

  • Berating ourselves for failed habits – causes us to revert to poor habits, creating a vicious cycle. Rather, we should embrace mistakes as learning opportunities.
  • Confusing aspirations for concrete actions – Aspirations are amorphous while outcomes are measurable. We must swap vague ideals for specific behaviours.
  • Relying on motivation as a lasting fuel for habit formation. Instead, we need a tried and tested system.

Creating habits is straightforward with the correct system.

3 steps to building new habits:

  • Find an anchor moment
  • Couple this with a tiny behaviour – tiny is mighty!
  • Celebrate your win immediately to reinforce the desired behaviour (give yourself a mental or verbal pat on the back)

Tiny Habits summary

Everyone wants to make positive changes in their lives.

Losing more weight, becoming more productive etc. etc.

But it’s clear that our tactics aren’t working.
Often people assume it’s due to failed willpower. But this isn’t so. 

Change can be achieved but we need to approach it differently. 

The first step is to stop blaming ourselves for failed attempts. 

You’re not the problem. Your approach is the problem.
We just need to understand the science behind human behaviour. 

Secondly, we need to break down big goals into manageable chunks. 

This isn’t just nice theory but has been battle-tested in Fogg’s Stanford behaviour design lab

There’s a common misconception and that is the information-action fallacy. 

Giving people the right facts doesn’t encourage change.

But there are three things that do.

  • Epiphanies, which are impossible to facilitate or predict. 
  • Environmental change, which isn’t always possible. 
  • Tiny habits, which you can start immediately. They make you feel good and create a positive feedback loop

Fogg’s example is his Maui habit, where every morning upon waking, he puts his feet on the floor and mustering all the positive energy possible, says “it’s going to be a great day”.

Behaviour design

Fogg has a formula, known as the Fogg behaviour model, outlining the three factors that drive human behaviour:

B=MAP [or Behaviour = Motivation, ability and prompt]

If motivation is low, you need a high level of ability to initiate change and vice versa.

Ability is the most predictable element and actions become easier upon repetition.

For effective change, we must try to harness all three in tandem. 

Sometimes change happens due to sheer motivation but more often behaviour is predicated on what’s comfortably within our abilities and a predictable prompt. 

Haiti earthquake appeal is a good example of the above in action.

The disaster was well publicised, meaning motivation was high. 

All you had to do was reply to a text to donate, which was within anyone’s capability. 

The prompt was the text itself encouraging you to donate. 

This works for bad habits too.

For example, when we check social media in the morning:

  • It feels good, so motivation is high
  • It’s easy because our hand is already on the phone 
  • Why? Because we’re using the phone as an alarm. 

We default to what is easy, which can be used to make good habits and break bad ones. 


Motivation isn’t enough for sustained change.

It helps create the spark to encourage us to do hard things, but it’s short-lived.

What people forget is that sustainable change requires doing the same things habitually and repeatedly.

Instead of being cognisant of these behaviours, we focus on aspirations; grand visions of the future, which by their nature are abstract.

We focus on the result, not the actions behind the result.

It’s no surprise then that behaviour breaks down as the motivation required to reach these ephemeral dreams evaporates.

But behaviours bridge the gap between the present and the desired future; immediate tools you can deploy today.


Easy behaviours are more likely to be adopted.

Instagram knew that people were motivated to share photos of themselves online, so they focussed on the ease of the process.

The easier we can make desired behaviours, the more they stick.

If we’re having trouble adopting a habit, we need to examine five potential areas to see where we can make things easier:

  • Time
  • Money
  • Physical effort
  • Mental effort
  • Routine

For example – if we want to adopt a daily home press-up regimen…

Time, money and schedule aren’t an issue because press-ups are free and quick.

Physical ability and mental effort are. 

The solution?

Do a couple of wall press-ups, which don’t require significant physical ability or mental energy to complete.

In other words, troubleshoot the broken area and simplify it.

Three ways to make behaviours easier

  • Increase skills
  • Access tools and resources
  • Go tiny


Prompts are all around us and are responsible for our current behaviour.

They’re often subconscious and lead to automaticity of action that can benefit our desired habit change.

In other words, we can engineer prompts to trigger desired behaviours.

Removal or deletion of prompts can help us to re-imagine our prompt landscape. This may be especially useful in the online world.

There are three types of prompts:

  • Contextual –  the traffic light turns green and our foot instinctively hits the accelerator
  • Person – the inner feeling that we must do something, such as the sensation of needing a wee. Unfortunately, there’s no in-built prompt for initiating desired behaviours like doing the laundry. 
  • Action  – perhaps the most effective for mini habit activation. You can pair an action you already perform regularly with a desired habit.

Fogg uses the example bathroom breaks to initiate a press-up routine. 

The reason they’re so effective is that rather than creating a habit from scratch, they build upon existing routines.

Action prompt considerations

Not all action prompts are considered equal.

Like anchors, action prompts should be dropped on behaviours you perform regularly, day in and day out.

They are effective because these anchors constitute a stable and ritualised part of our current routine.

The Action Prompt “formula:” After I do [anchor habit], I will do [new habit]

Analyse the following:

  • Location – you might not be able to use a bathroom break as a prompt when working in a shared office. Consider a suitable spot for the habit.
  • Frequency – decide how often you want to perform your new habit and pair it with a prompt of the same frequency. If you only want to do something once a day, pick something you already only do once a day.
  • Theme – for increased effectiveness, habits should be thematically paired with their prompts. Cleaning teeth and flossing, for example, rather than cleaning your teeth and sweeping the floor.

When you try to synchronise these factors, your new habits have more chance of sticking.

But remember, it’s still necessary to experiment.
You’ll instinctively feel the connection between the two and the more practice you get at meshing new behaviours, the closer you’ll get to realising your aspirations.

Emotions reinforce positive behaviour

Celebrating our wins makes us more likely to repeat the desired actions and create a feeling of abundance.

Celebrations should be directly linked to the action and are time-sensitive, but can be discontinued once the behaviour is established and ingrained.

Fogg refers to the sensation you get when completing a desired behaviour as the ‘shine’.

Habits can grow and multiply – once we feel successful, motivation increases, helping habits multiply and encouraging us to tackle more challenging behaviours.

  • There are uphill habits – meditating daily
  • There are downhill habits – social media
  • There are freewill habits – substance abuse

Behaviour change phases:

  • Phase one – Create new habits
  • Phase two – Stop old habits
  • Phase three – If needed, swap old habit for new habits

Next steps

Start so small you can’t fail to get the feel-good response from initiating a productive new behaviour. 

It could be as little as doing one stretch in the morning for 30 seconds. Before you know it, you may just be a die-hard yogi!

Recommended reading

Click here to read my article on the topic, and pair this book with Atomic Habits by James Clear.

Like this? Then browse more book summaries.