Why motivation isn’t the key to building your exercise habit
Imagine this: you go on a hiking trip and realise how unfit you are. Upon returning from the trip, you vow to begin exercising to get more fit. You decide to jog every morning before work. The first week goes by with no issues. Then comes the second week, you’re just that bit slower in getting out of bed, the snooze button is pressed a few times before you get up to put your running shoes on. By the third week, your new ‘habit’ of jogging before work falls by the wayside. You feel bad so you choose not to think about it, and you put it down to a lack of motivation and willpower on your part.
Does this sound familiar?
You aren’t alone. Almost all of us run into this scenario in one form or another when we choose to start a new habit!
B J Fogg is a behaviour scientist who is the author of ‘Tiny Habits‘, based on his extensive research and analysis of how habits are formed. He says in his book that motivation isn’t the be-all-end-all for the development of a desired habit.
Fogg created the ‘tiny habits method’ to hack the universal behaviour model so that you and I can consistently perform a desired behaviour and make huge changes in our lives.
Fogg’s method states:
B (Behaviour) = MAP (Motivation. Ability. Prompt)
STEP 1: Shrink the Behaviour to a 30-Second or Less BITE SIZE
To understand how motivation and ability interacts with one another, Fogg provides the motivation x ability chart with the action line.
If the task is too hard, then you’ll need high levels of motivation to rise above the action line and complete the task e.g. rescuing your child from a burning house.
If a task is easy to do, you need very little motivation to rise above the action line and complete the task e.g. brushing your teeth.
Relying on motivation to be there each time you want to execute a habit almost always doesn’t work, because motivation ebbs and flows.
That’s why Fogg suggests shrinking every new habit to the tiniest habit version so very little motivation is needed to push it above the action line.
How to find the tiniest possible version of a desired habit?
Do that by either reducing how long you perform the behaviour, or just doing the first step. For example, the tiniest version of a 30-minute meditation practice could be becoming mindful of just one breath. The tiniest version of a daily jog could be just taking 10 steps.
Your goal is to find a behaviour that’s easy to do in 30 seconds or less.
STEP 2: Identify a Prompt that Isn’t Your Phone or Calendar Alerts
There’re typically 3 types of prompts we use to remind us to do something:
External prompts e.g. phone notifications or alarms
Internal prompts e.g. thoughts and emotions that remind you to act
Action prompts e.g. the completion of one behaviour reminds you to start the next behaviour
Fogg recommends using an action prompt for new habit development, because external and internal prompts are too easy to ignore e.g. the snooze button! And they could be quite demotivating as they tend to come up at the worst time.
An action prompt uses the completion of one behaviour to trigger a new behaviour.
If you use the end of cleaning your kitchen counter tops as the prompt to take out the garbage, you can leverage the momentum you already have from being on your feet and walking around the kitchen to then walking outside. That momentum is just enough motivation to get you over the action curve.
And since tiny habits can be completed in 30 seconds or less, you’ve many action prompts throughout your day to which you can fit tiny habits.
For example, you can try ‘after my morning coffee, I will take 1 mindful breath’ to kickstart your habit of a daily meditation routine.
Now go back to your tiny habit and set up an action prompt by completing the sentence:
After I __________, I will ___________.
STEP 3: Grow your Habit With ‘Shine’
‘Shine’ is a term Fogg created to explain the feeling you get after an accomplishment e.g. the feeling you get when scoring a job you wanted after multiple rounds of interview. What does your celebration look like?
The feeling you experience after getting this job is the same feeling you MUST generate after executing a TINY habit.
It may sound ridiculous to feel pride and success after just one mindful breath or jogging 10 steps, but based on Fogg’s extensive habit research, learning to celebrate after a tiny win is the most critical component of habit development.
Fogg says when you feel successful at something, even if it’s tiny, your confidence grows quickly and your motivation increase to do that habit again, and perform related behaviours. You’re building on a momentum!
Let them inspire you to write your own exercise transformation story.
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