Minimum Viable Behavior Change
I just kept failing. My picture of getting fit was running. So one day I alternated between running and walking on a hot summer day, for as long as I could. I felt very motivated that day and I made a big effort, and came home sweating and panting.
But that was the end of that. I immediately went back to zero physical activity. My takeaway from that experience was: I’m not a fit person, I’m not a person who exercises regularly. My fitness efforts are, frankly, ridiculous.
A few years went by and I tried it again. Same thing, alternating between running and walking for as long as I could. Same outcome, one big effort and then nothing.
I just didn’t know what to do. I could have used some advice on how to form habits, but I didn’t know where to look. I could have asked a friend or family member, but I was unsure of what I was doing and a little embarrassed.
I imagine there are lot of people who have made the same mistake, of trying to do too much and failing and getting discouraged. The good news is, behavior change resources have blossomed in recent years. There has been an emphasis on concrete habits, and a strong reception for these resources.
First there was Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, then James Clear’s Atomic Habits, then BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits. I started with Atomic Habits in 2018, then read Tiny Habits in the first few days of 2020.
I see a progression from Atomic Habits to Tiny Habits. Atomic Habits is a complete toolkit for behavior change. While Tiny Habits feels more like a patient buddy helping you on the first, wobbly steps towards lasting behavior change. Tiny Habits is warmer and less intimidating. It emphasizes having compassion for yourself and starting small.
With the Tiny Habits framework, I was finally able to make a habit of exercise. I was surprised how successful I was and how easy it was. And it even gave me more confidence in others areas of life.
There is an underserved area in the behavior change and self-help space. Most self-help content is too intimidating and maybe even macho. There are many more people who could be helped if only the first steps were made even clearer and even less intimidating than they are now.
So in books there is Tiny Habits. Apps are another great resource for supporting behavior change. A promising one I saw today is called Core: Easy Workout. It emphasizes starting small and being consistent in working out.
Intentional behavior change is a huge problem to be solved. There is a huge opportunity to address the need for accessible, practical, welcoming tools for accomplishing it. There are billions of people to help. And much that can be accomplished with books, articles, and simple apps. The resources have rapidly improved already. With an increasing emphasis on practical, achievable behavior change, more and more people will be able to thrive like they never have before.