Tiny Habits: How can small changes change everything?
It’s a new year! Do you have new behaviors you want to adopt or unwanted behaviors you want to stop? Tiny Habits is a simple and effective method to change behavior. Learn how to change behaviors or adopt new ones with Farra Trompeter, co-director and Edith Asibey founder of Asibey Consulting.
Farra Trompeter: Welcome to the Smart Communications Podcast. This is Farra Trompeter, co-director of Big Duck. Today. I’m excited to be joined by Edith Asibey, where we are going to explore Tiny Habits. How can small changes change everything? Before we get started, I want to tell you a little bit about Edith, who I have had the pleasure of knowing since even before I started working at Big Duck – we’re going back 16 or so years. Edith is the Founder of Asibey Consulting, which is an agency that works with mission-driven organizations that want to drastically improve how they engage supporters. Edith is a true citizen of the world. She was born in Italy, grew up in Latin America, and has worked in many countries. Edith and I also share a passion for teaching. She teaches a communications and marketing graduate class at Columbia University here in New York City, and perhaps the most important and relevant credential for today’s show is that Edith is a Certified Tiny Habits Coach. Edith, welcome to the podcast.
Edith Asibey: I’m very happy to be here, Farra.
Edith Asibey: The best way to talk about Tiny Habits is to think about behaviors that you want to change. New behaviors you want to adopt or unwanted behaviors you know you want to stop. So, Tiny Habits is a simple and effective method to change behavior. And, more importantly, it not only helps you change behaviors or adopt new behaviors, but it helps you sustain them over time. In other words, it helps you turn new behaviors into habits. And it was indeed the method created and tested extensively by BJ Fogg, who is a behavior scientist at Stanford University in California. And it was the result of about two or more decades of work that BJ Fogg and the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford had developed and have focused on how to really think about behavior. How does it change? How do we start new behaviors? How do we stop unwanted ones? So, there are several methods and models that inform, you know, what Tiny Habits are. In all of its simplicity, there’s a lot of science behind it.
Farra Trompeter: I know one of the elements in Tiny Habits is the idea of creating a recipe. So, as a foodie, I love talking about that idea. What are the ingredients or components of a tiny habit? How does the whole thing work?
Edith Asibey: Yeah. So, it’s really – the key is in the name, right? Tiny Habits. So, one of the things that BJ Fogg and his team realized is that in order to succeed in changing a behavior, we have to start tiny. This is really, really key. And when we say tiny, we mean something that you could do in 5, 10, 15 seconds; 30 seconds maximum. So, we’re gonna be talking about behaviors that you can really do every day, and you can do it very quickly. Why that is important, because I’m sure it’s fair to say, Farra, that when we hear about people trying to change behaviors or trying new things, we very often hear about motivation or we talk about motivation. “Oh, I just need to be motivated. Oh, I have to motivate myself. I don’t have enough motivation.” And so there tends to be sort of a personal blame almost, you know, to put on ourselves, this thing about I’m just not motivated enough.
Edith Asibey: And what we are saying with Tiny Habits is that it’s not the right way to look at it because it is not our fault whether we have the motivation or not because motivation ebbs and flows for everyone. Even if you’re a high-performing athlete like Usain Bolt, I’m sure Usain Bolt doesn’t wake up every day highly motivated. He’s probably more motivated than most, but not every day.
Farra Trompeter: Maybe six out of seven days.
Edith Asibey: Right? Exactly. And so, what Tiny Habits is proposing is that we recognize that motivations go up and down, up and down, they flow, sometimes you’re more, sometimes you’re less. And so, how do we hack into that and develop a way to change behaviors that doesn’t rely on whether we are highly motivated or not? So that’s the connection, you know, between behavior change and designs behind it and Tiny Habits.
Edith Asibey: This idea is that if we start tiny, we can do the behavior even on days that we’re not highly motivated. So here comes, now, how it works and the recipe, and the recipe is very memorable because it goes by A, B, C. A, B, C. Whereas A is your anchor, and what the anchor means is some behavior that you already do that you don’t even think about. It’s something that you do, habitually, every day as part of your routine. So maybe, let me ask you, Farra, can you tell me one or two things that when you think of your day, that you do everyday sort of infallibly, habitually? What could that be?
Farra Trompeter: Change the cat litter. Brush my teeth. Take a shower. Put on clothes.
Edith Asibey: Nice. So, during the pandemic, if you took a shower daily, you are better than most.
Farra Trompeter: Well, you know.
Edith Asibey: So, let me pick “brush our teeth.”
Farra Trompeter: I might even do that more than once a day.
Edith Asibey: There you go. So that’s one that I think most people do daily, right? So, in your case, A, the anchor, will be brushing your teeth. Something you do daily, infallibly, that you almost don’t even think about it anymore. So that will be your anchor – A. Why is it called anchor? Because the brilliance of this method is that you’re going to use brushing your teeth as what you’re going to anchor your new behavior to. In other words, brushing your teeth is going to be the thing that is going to remind you to do your new behavior. So here comes the B. The B is the behavior, the new behavior you want to do, but in this case, it’s going to be tiny, tiny. So let me tell you one that I do.
Edith Asibey: I’m very interested in pursuing meditation, you know, trying to really meditate on a regular basis, and it’s been very hard for me. I just have not been able to turn it into a behavior that I do regularly, and it just always seemed too big to me. So what I have done is to develop a tiny version of it for me, which is that I take three deep breaths. So my tiny behavior is to take three deep breaths. So for Farra, if this were to interest you, what will I say to you, Farra, is that after you brush your teeth, Farra will take three deep breaths. So after I brush my teeth, I will take three deep breaths. Why that will work, because you’re likely in the bathroom, you’re probably in front of a mirror, and you could stop after brushing your teeth and take three deep breaths and start your day, maybe calmer or maybe in a different disposition. So that’s the B.
Edith Asibey: The C is the celebration. Another critical thing about behavior change is that we change when we feel good. We change when we feel successful, and therefore, attaching a celebration – tiny, tiny celebration – to have done the new behavior is key to turning it into a habit. So A is your anchor, brush your teeth. B is your new behavior, in this case, take three deep breaths. And C is a quick celebration. Mine is I do a little dance, you know, I’m Latin American, so I do a little dance and that’s how I feel good, and that’s how I celebrate. What might you do, Farra? What might you do as a little celebration? Something you can do?
Farra Trompeter: I mean, one way I often celebrate is with a piece of chocolate, but I don’t know how that’s gonna go after I brush my teeth. I have to think of one that would be…
Edith Asibey: Exactly, that may be controversial to brushing your teeth, but perhaps you could do a little pat on the back or, “Go, Farra,” or, “Well done.” It could be quiet. It could be loud. It’s totally up to you, but the thing is it’s important that you do it, and I know it could sound silly. “What am I going to celebrate that I did three breaths,” but it’s so important to experience that success and sort of really wire your brain and to want to do it again because it made you feel good. So that’s the recipe – A, B, C.
Farra Trompeter: Great, that’s really helpful. In fact, I do need to also meditate and find some calm in my life so maybe I’ll try that one. Well, you have a video on the Tiny Habits website about making generosity a habit, and I was wondering if you could share more about generosity and maybe some other Tiny Habits that folks might consider, particularly when we’re thinking about those of us who are doing mission-driven work. Like, how does this apply to maybe staff who work at nonprofits or board members or volunteers, or how might this apply to, actually, the work we do, the communications we put out? How does Tiny Habits and the mission-driven world maybe overlap?
Edith Asibey: The reason I became interested in Tiny Habits and in behavior change, more broadly, is because I have about two decades or more of working in various nonprofit sectors, you know, across causes. What every single thing I have done has in common, as a Communication Practitioner and as an Advocate, is that I have tried with my peers and my colleagues to get people to do something. To get people to take an action. So, no matter which nonprofit you’re in, most likely you will need people, you know, your supporters, your advocates, your volunteers, your donors to take some kind of action. And more often not, we need our supporters to take action repeatedly over time. I think that is a fair statement. And therefore, what I have found very difficult – and certain, I’ve had my share of successes, and I know you, Farra, have had a lot of successes, you know, working with clients and nonprofits.
Edith Asibey: And I think that success has to be recognized in terms of us all, as a sector, getting better in terms of how we get people involved and how can we get people to really mobilize in support of a cause? But at the same time, I have also observed and experienced that a lot of our success is what I describe as episodic. In other words, the one-offs, you know, we do this campaign and then all these people come or we do this event and all these people come or, you know, we mobilize a lot of money, but it’s one-off. My interest was, “How do we sustain change over time?” So I approach Tiny Habits from the following perspective: If there is a method that can effectively help any of us develop new behaviors for ourselves, to make our own lives better – you know, to be calmer, to rest more, to exercise, to eat better; all things that are going to make ourselves feel better and be better – why couldn’t we use that method to help people help others?
Edith Asibey: In other words, is there a way that this method could be used to help people make generosity a habit? So with the idea that maybe I don’t need to be constantly reminded or prompted or asked to do things for other people. Maybe I could use this method to develop habits that are generous habits, where I will do it as something that is habitual to me. Because we know, and the science is behind it, that when we help others, it also helps us, and we also feel better. So, that is the connection, and that is my take, and that is why I’m focused on Tiny Habits and on behavior change because I seek to develop ways by which people will help others in a generous way and act generously as a habit. So, let me give you a couple of examples of this.
Edith Asibey: We developed several generous recipes, you know, we called them Tiny Habits for generosity or generosity recipes during the pandemic, especially at the beginning – back in March, April 2020 – where there was so much uncertainty out there. And we developed several recipes that we saw the people started using, you know, all over the world. Things such as, when I go out on the street, I will look up, you know, when after I come across a person on the street, I will look and smile at them and then celebrate. So what is the anchor? You know, something that, again, happens. Because the anchor doesn’t necessarily have to be something that you do, it can also be something that happens to you. As long as it’s something that is habitual, that happens often, right? So this one recipe for generosity was after I come across a person on the street, I will look at them and smile.
Edith Asibey: And even with the masks on the eyes, you know, can show that you’re smiling.
Farra Trompeter: Smize. Is that Tyra Banks? Smize, we smile with our eyes.
Edith Asibey: Exactly. And so that was one of the Tiny Habits for the generosity that we developed during the pandemic, as a way for people to, again, help each other feel better and just be there for each other.
Edith Asibey: Another one was – remember, there were a lot of small businesses closing in the early phases of the pandemic – and so we developed a tiny habit that said, “After I see a post on social media of a small business struggling or closing, I will post a positive comment.” And, of course, you celebrate. Another one, more related to friends or families or people in your life, “After I grab my phone for the first time in the day, I will text a friend to ask how they’re doing.” Or “After I grab my phone for the first time in the day, I will send a message to somebody I haven’t spoken with in a while.”
Edith Asibey: So, grabbing the phone, I think it’s fair to say, is a very solid anchor, because I think the majority of us do grab our phone, our mobile, like it or not, early, you know, as one of the first things we do. So, we are saying, well, maybe you could use that as an anchor, grabbing your phone, to then do an act of generosity. Which is, I do that every day, by the way. What I do is I grab my phone and the first thing I do is I send a good morning message to my mother, who is abroad. So these are some examples of how the method could be applied for generous habits that could be generosity towards family, friends, but also complete strangers.
Farra Trompeter: Have you seen any organizations try to do this with their entire list or with their community? I totally am hearing about it, and I think it’s great as we center even, and we’ve been talking a lot about it on this podcast, too. I did a podcast recently with Meico Whitlock around being mindful, and I think it’s important when we talk about nonprofit communicators, we remember there are people behind that, and you can’t be good at your job if you’re not whole as a person. And that, to your point, we all need calmness, we all need rest, we need time in our day to think and not just be in endless Zoom meetings. But I’m curious if there is any application of Tiny Habits, like the way I might approach my activist list if I’m trying to get people to take repeated advocacy or to become a monthly donor or something like that.
Edith Asibey: I will give two examples. One is I definitely would very much like to encourage organizations to consider Tiny Habits for their own teams. So, before we even talk about volunteers, donors, et cetera, I personally and with my team, had very good experiences working with nonprofits, teaching the Tiny Habits to the nonprofit teams themselves; because we are here in remote work, most of us are still in remote work or some kind of hybrid work where team-building is key, right? And so we have seen in team cohesion and feeling closeness is important. And so we have seen nonprofits who have taken on some Tiny Habits for their teams thanks to, you know, the work that we’ve done together, but really amazing things. So just different ways by which you could start a team meeting with a tiny habit that everybody does as a group or a way to finish a team meeting where the team has picked a tiny habit that, before we press the end button on Zoom or the end meeting button on Zoom, here goes a new tiny habit that you could have for your teams, right, in the way of saying, “Have a great day everyone,” or whatever you want to do. But I really want to first call on the application of this, not only at the individual level but also as teams in the nonprofit culture and just the health of the team-building.
Edith Asibey: And then, I will say the closest I have seen for adopting this approach or taking this approach to, you know, large mailing lists and such are the folks of GivingTuesday. Not that they’re necessarily using Tiny Habits as such, but the folks of GivingTuesday during the pandemic, they developed a, first daily and now weekly, sort of generous action idea where you basically sign up for, you know, their SMS messages, and once a week they send you something easy enough to do because easy is the key, that you could do, obviously in the context of giving generosity. And again, it’s not giving money, necessarily, but giving time, support, et cetera. So, I haven’t seen a tiny habit as such applied to large lists or others, and I think it’s an enormous opportunity, but I do want to credit the folks of Giving Tuesday for having, I think, taken on an interesting approach to giving people something easy to do once a week.
Farra Trompeter: Yeah, I appreciate that, and I also appreciate the idea of centering ourselves and centering our teams. So, I’m curious, let’s say somebody wants to get started. They might want to create their own tiny habit for themselves or think about, like you said, how to bring it into their culture. How might they get started? Do you have any resources you can provide?
Edith Asibey: On the Asibey website, which is asibey.com/tinyhabits, we have a form where anybody could enroll to take the five-day Tiny Habit free – free is key, this is something I do on a volunteer basis – free five-day program with me. So, if you go to asibey.com/tinyhabits, you can enroll with me, and I tend to offer the program once a month. It’s only five days, and it’s basically five days where you get to practice, because it takes some practice, and it’s amazing because you only have to practice five minutes a day, maximum. We’re going to pick three Tiny Habits that you want to practice from Monday through Friday, and I’ll be there as a coach to help you through it so that, you know, you may have questions or maybe one didn’t work and the other work, or maybe you didn’t pick the right anchor or maybe the right, you know, it’s a different anchor for this habit. And so you really use those five days to learn about yourself and learn about the Tiny Habits that you chose. So that is one option, you know, go and come and join the program, and I’ll be more than happy to take you through it as an individual.
Edith Asibey: And then we all also offer services, in this case, yes, as part of my consulting work, for organizations; nonprofits that want to take it on as a, again, as a group activity. And it’s really incredible because in an hour, an hour and a half sessions, the folks really come out transformed, you know, both in terms of direct applications to their daily lives, nonprofit colleagues could tell us, “I went home and I was already telling my family over dinner,” you know, and just coming up with new Tiny Habits for their family. But again, back to building the team and strengthening the health of the team, it’s been wonderful. And then, of course, our ultimate motive, which is to really help how we think of our campaigns and how we design our actions so that we put ourselves more in the shoes of the people whose behaviors we’re trying to change and the people who we want to take action and think, what might be an easy way for them to do something that they may want to do and for them to turn it into a habit, you know, that will help our cause?
Farra Trompeter: That’s great. And we’ll link to your website in the show notes for this and in the transcript. And of course, if you want to connect with Edith, you can find her at asibey.com. I want to mention for those of you who live or plan to visit Brooklyn anytime in the near future, you have to be sure to visit one of my favorite restaurants, which is called Lowerline. It happens to be run by Edith’s husband, John, who’s the Chef-Owner. Edith and I often meet there for oysters and other delicious snacks. So be sure to check out Lowerline. Edith, thank you so much for coming to the show and for sharing these insights and have a lovely rest of your day.
Edith Asibey: Thank you, Farra, and I look forward to hearing about your own Tiny Habits, and I’m here ready to support you and your listeners and take you through this journey. Thank you.
Farra Trompeter: Thank you.