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#73 BJ Fogg | How to ‘Wire In’ New Habits Without Willpower

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BJ Fogg is the Einstein of Behaviour change. He studies and teaches behaviour science at Stanford, and chances are, you interact with tools and tech built on his insights several times a day.

In this episode, Terry sits down to explore the origins of his Fogg behaviour model, and how it applies to realm of money.

What you'll learn:


Terry: gday legend. In this episode, you’re about to hear from the Einstein of Behavior Science himself, BJ Fogg, BJ studies and Teachers Behavior Science at Stanford, and is the author of the excellent book Tiny Habits.

In my opinion, no one understands behavior and habits quite like BJ Fogg. Sure, there are people that have researched the topic and written really well about it, but as you’re about to find out, no one has the boots on the ground experience. No one has the. And nobody has the influence that BJ Fogg has 

in the first episode of this series, we’re referred to his model as a central part of our approach to helping folks change their financial trajectory and achieve their goals. And in this episode, BJ and I dig into the origins and the impact of that model. Expect to learn why emotion not discipline is the key to wiring in new habits without willpower.

The two ways that you can reduce your reliance on motivation to make behavior. How to support your partner in any change efforts. And we also explored how we might use his model to make or break financial habits that can improve our results. Now, BJ’s not only smart, but he’s an incredibly humble person and he was very generous with his time. He gave us absolutely everything he could in this format. So if you’ve ever fallen off the bandwagon in any change efforts, listen to this episode. If you want the answers, and more importantly, the tools that you can start applying instantly. I hope you enjoy.

 BJ, welcome to the show. 

BJ: thank you for inviting.

Terry: I was just saying before I hit record that having been a student of behavior for a long period of time in my career coaching, and then moving into this personal finance space and, educating here There’s a lot out there on behavior. And there’s not much that goes to the depth that you have.

And it was very obvious to me that you would spend a long period of time exploring this. I thank you for the work and the contribution that you put forward. 

BJ: Well, first of all, you’re welcome. And it is fascinating and fun to look at how human behavior really works and then share that

Terry: Yeah. but you’ve had quite the journey. So I’m actually really keen to go back to the start. Like you grew up in Fresno, California, or I’m from Australia. So tell me what’s life like there. What are the things you grew up around? 

BJ: Yes, it is in California, but it’s not the California. You’re thinking of, it’s not San Francisco bay area. It’s not LA it’s right in the middle of California. It is agriculture. I grew up in a home that was in a fig orchard. And the way I got to school, it was two miles through the fig orchards.

 So not, the sexiness of LA and not the sophistication of the bay area. It was Fresno farm town, and I kind of loved it.

Terry: Yeah. I read that you’re have a moment faith. Is that right?

BJ: I was raised Mormon. Yes. I’m not practicing now, but yeah, I grew up in a very devout Mormon household. In fact, all of my ancestors from both my dad’s side and months, all of them go back. They were all early Mormon pioneers that came from other countries or the east coast of the U S. To Utah. So I’m kind of a blue blood Mormon it’s run the deep in my genes.


Terry: That’s really interesting. don’t know why, but I’ve been really fascinated lately with that westward expansion I’ve been watching and learning a lot about the trials and tribulations. And have to say that was insane. What your ancestors did to get there. 

BJ: as a kid, you’re taught all these pioneer stories and you’d learn songs about the pioneers it really instilled number one, a sense of sacrifice for doing what you believed was right. And number two in, during harvest. So like as a kid weeding our little fruit, orchard, or garden, there was like no excuse to really complain very much cause in the context of what my ancestors did, it was kind of trivial, I guess.

But yeah, the whole pioneer heritage and those stories and all of that were very much part of my upbringing.

Terry: feels like there’s a lot of habit stuff coming through there. Right. Cause it’s just the things that you do consider. 

BJ: yes, very much. It’s a really interesting culture. And when I departed that culture, I was probably 28 or so the further away I got and I looked back. And some ways, the more fascinated I became with it, I was like, oh, cause when you’re inside it, it just seems ordinary. And it wasn’t until I was a doctoral student that one of my peers, when he was asking me a bunch of questions about it, he’s like, that’s fascinating.

And I was like, is it really. And then later I was like, oh yeah, he was right. It is this very authoritarian kind of culture. It’s very much about service. It’s very much about hard work. It is highly routinized and a lot of demands on your behavior. it does create a good backdrop for someone who would later become really interested in habits and optimizing your life.

 I mean, Steve Covey grew up Mormon. And so Steve Covey’s seven habits of highly successful people. Clay Christianson comes from a Mormon background and so on there could be quite a list of notable. Thought leaders and researchers who care about optimizing human behavior. And also they grew up in the Mormon culture.

Terry: yeah doing a lot of that stuff and doing it consistently will just show you the value of compounding behavior. We talk about that a lot. Just what is the value of doing something repeatedly, getting insanely good at it and automating it. So you would probably have an appreciation for that, that very few people I could imagine it coming out of that culture, going into the normal world, you’d be like, wow. 

BJ: Well, Terry, let me give you an example. As a child, we learned a song I’m a terrible singer, but I’m going to sing it, 

of the songs. That we saying young was called pioneer child pie in their children sing as they walked and walked and walked and walked. And that just said that over pioneer children saying, as they walked and walked and walked and walked.

And so it was this frankly indoctrination, not only about the sacrifices that ancestors had made, but also step by step by step by step. And guess what? They finally got their.

Terry: Yeah. I grew up Catholic myself and you know, quite steadfast Catholic in the same way. So I do have an appreciation for that, that indoctrination 

BJ: it’s a mixed bag. There are some things that I still appreciate about it. Something’s like, oh my gosh, how come I cannot let that go?

Terry: Yup. Totally. And then I think that’s really interest. You can kind of see the value of a compounding sort of consistent approach, but then your approach to behavior is so anti or authoritarianism. And that’s what I really appreciated about it.

 I’d love to get into that, but how did you kind of make this big switch? Because looked at sort of your early professional career, you were doing a masters more around the faith side of things, and then you switched at some point to, captology. Can you tell us more about that? 

BJ: Yeah. My family, especially my dad is a very early doctor of technology. He built his own computer before you could buy them and you’d have to go through the little basements and learn to write basic. And we’re pretty much only the hippies in California. We’re doing.

And just grew up in a culture that was very at least within my family, encouraged by my dad. That was very technology forward. So was really fascinated with language and the power of language, I started a newspaper when I was in college that ran actually for 11 years, actually a weekly newspaper because the power of language to communicate and so on. And then I started doing consulting and I just tried to get my clients to do their sales on these little C not the floppy disc, but the next one, the three and a half.

 anyway, those little computer does you pop into the computer? And it’s like, this is the future. Let’s put your pitch on this. They pop into the computer and executes it, you know? Cause they were just doing mail, direct mail and I was helping them with that. And I was like, no, no, the future is this thing and you pop it into the computer and you’ll get their attention.

You’ll get them. I could not get my clients to do that. That would have been 1991. 

but I was very interested in the power of technology to influence behavior for good, for better health and closer relationships and so on. So then when I went to Stanford for my doctorate, that was my sole focus from day one.

And I didn’t realize that it hadn’t been studied systematically yet. And about a year after graduate work And I had three years left at Stanford for my doctorate. I was like, oh, nobody’s really done this. I guess I’m the person to explore the potentials and pitfalls of technology that influences our attitudes and behaviors.

And so that’s what I focused on and it was summary. I ran laboratory experiments that show. you can create computers that change our attitudes and our behaviors. And, oh my gosh, this is great. And this is so scary. And so I started talking about the upsides and the dark sides of that back in 1998, saying, Hey everybody, this is coming and this is crazy.

And this means you we’re creating machines that will influence human behavior machines that can act autonomous. It, nobody cared. Almost. Nobody cared. they were interested in usability and user friendliness and it’s like, no, no, no, yes, that’s here now, but what’s next is persuasion and influence.

there just was no interest in that. I did testify to the us government in 2006 on the dangers I saw coming, there was no follow up on that. And then I moved on in my work in about 2010. I felt like I’ve done my piece here. I warned people I’ve shown a spotlight on the good things I’ve learned about the bad things.

And I moved on to just look at human behavior in general, nothing to do with technology and especially habits. And then tiny habits came together in about 2010. And I started teaching that in 2011.

Terry: it seems like you’re early, a lot of the time. You’re always like that beautiful six years early. 

BJ: It’s frustrating because it’s like, people shouldn’t be caring about this 

Terry: yeah.

Well, look at the dystopian world we exist. I don’t know how many times I would log in every day. they’ve done such a great job of hacking human biology. I don’t know if that’s the right way to put it, 

BJ: But you know, that really dates back to video games of the seventh. It’s just now. in my lab, we talked about this as soon as you have these, I’m holding up my mobile phone. As soon as you have the computers and these little computers that can go with you everywhere. Total C shift, right? So the psychology or the creating games, you know, it goes back to pong and Pac-Man, I’ve never been a big gamer, but those were very compelling for some people, but the big shit. Was not just the laptop and the internet, but now these devices that you have within three feet of you for most, every moment of your life, including when you’re asleep that to me.

And we did a conference on that called mobile persuasion to shine a spotlight on that. It’s like, Hey, we’re going to have computers. At our sides and wearables at some point here soon, and this was before iPhone, it wasn’t there yet, but we could see it coming. And we ran conferences at Stanford to raise awareness and encourage the best use of this technology.

Terry: So Mike Kreiger co-founder of Instagram was a student of yours, correct? Yeah. So there was courses, you were teaching people around this persuasive technology.

and these guys were kind of part of that. 

BJ: yeah, I would teach a different class every year. So that’s typically what I’ve done at Stanford for the over 20 years, I come up with a new course every year. So it’s not always the same course, but it always has to do with behavior optimizing behavior and using that power.

Understanding that, and then using it in good ways. Mike Krieger, the co-founder of Instagram was a wonderful student, incredible student. And it was years later after the class, when a startup wasn’t working, that he pivoted and he, and another, he wasn’t my student, but Kevin Systrom pivoted and did this thing that has become Instagram.

Terry: it’s a behavior now. Isn’t it. 

BJ: Oh my gosh. But you know, back in the day, I was quite proud of Instagram. When they were independent, I mean whole different creature. And then the, anyway, we won’t get into that, but it’s become quite a different thing. Yes

Terry: seems to all go the same way as things where on doesn’t it. big shift now. So you’ve been in that technology space and you’re being. Communicating in this area, trying to warn people, educate people around what’s coming. And then you make this shift, as you said to just pure behavior.

Now the Fogg behavior model for me, the first time I came across it as a coach, I was like, that is exactly right. that puts language around what I have noticed my whole career. did you come upon this? 

BJ: it was bit by bit. And thank you for saying that. I mean, you look at. And it’s easily understood, but the uses and applications of it go on and on. It’s just such a fun model. basically says behavior. Any type of behavior happens when there’s motivation ability and a prompt. When those three things combined, the baby happens, it could be a behavior, one, it could be a behavior don’t want it describes any type of behavior, any age, any culture.

it’s a universal model. I think the earliest pieces of that came together for me, I was doing consulting for E-bay in about 2002, and I was helping them with customer support and that kind of thing. And I put together like, how hard is it? How motivated are people in the axes like you see today?

And I still knew there was a piece missing. And then over time I figured out, oh, there’s this? And I called it trigger at first. Now we call it. It’s the thing that signals do this now. And once that piece, that final piece dropped in, I was like, oh my gosh, it can’t be that simple. Is it? I can’t be, but it is, it can’t be.

And it is it’s really, everything comes down to motivation ability and prompt Once you see it, one of those things you can’t unsee you as a practitioner. And I so value people that have been in the trenches, helping people change their behavior for years and the, what, what you learned in doing that and discovered, and then you see this model.

It’s like, there it is. I love that pattern. And reaction delights me. The people I’m suspicious of are the people that are only just reading academic papers and doing kind of, research that’s really remote from actually changing anybody’s behavior. I don’t consider them experts.

The experts are you and others who are in the trenches everyday, helping people change.

Terry: Yeah it was straightaway. I was like, that is 100%, right. Because me, when I’m coaching people, you’re dealing with motivation. as you say, in the book motivations, this very unreliable source. But what I love about the model is how you got the three. And you can kind of see when those two things shift when the behavior happens you can almost go, okay, so how do we, pull these leavers to make this either happen or not happen and in what is that threshold?

And I just found that to be so useful the tiny habits movement. So you kind of shifted out of this technology space, and now you’re saying I wanted to teach people this model so they can change all these different behaviors in their lives. what made you kind of go in that direction and focus on a sort of a bigger, broader, Yeah.

BJ: Well, the tiny habits method was kind of an accident. I didn’t sit down and say, oh, I’m going to figure out habits. It was a point in my life where, so I’m 58 now. So if we rewind, I was probably what, 47 or something. I just felt like I was gaining weight. I was less healthy. I was more stable. And I was like, man, I’m not going to be able to turn the corner if this keeps going.

And so I actually looked at my own model, the graphical version of it, and I saw in the model that. If something is really, really easy to do, ability is very strong. So it’s easy to do then I don’t need too much motivation to do it. My motivation could be higher, low, but I don’t need much. I was like, oh, that’s interesting.

I mean, I’m looking at my own graphic of my own model at a region in the bottom right hand corner. And I thought, well, if that means, if I make a habit really easy to do, then my motivation can swing around up and down and I can still do it. And so I started with. One drop a sunscreen, in Fresno, we swim a lot.

I love swimming. We go to the beach. So sun issues and you and Australia you guys know about this. I think you’re way more enlightened than we Americans, but I was like, okay. Putting on a full face, sunscreen is hard to do. What if I just put on a one drop, just one. And if I want to do more, that’s fine.

And then also floss one tooth. If I want to do more, that’s fine. But always the baseline of one drop is sunscreen on my nose, where it needs it most and floss one tooth and a few other things. And I just found that those habits like that just wired in and there was so easy. So I goofed around with this.

On my own for probably six months. And then there’s a little Facebook group that I started and I called them team a Yoda. had them like do this new method. And fortunately, one of the. Very few things I like about Facebook is I can go back and actually see what happened with team Yoda.

I didn’t include it in my book because that kind of detailed didn’t maybe it would have been good, but anyway, and so then I decided to teach it in 2011, start rolling it out and just, I didn’t think it was going to go on for a decade plus I didn’t think it would be a book. It was just like, oh, I can help people create habits and I can get smarter than myself on how habits work.

And then hundreds of people signed up every week and every week I was teaching. The five day program and measuring the impact and running little experiments, we kept her week after week I think your book really differentiated itself, because it was super clear that it wasn’t all done in a lab. And, you know, there was some really kind of clinical experiments where people don’t behave normally cause they, in a different context, it was actually real life. You’re watching it eater writing and lucky said practitioner of the change.

Terry: So are there any, really cool success stories that come to mind for you out of that team Yoder group, where you go? I can’t believe these guys are able to do. 

BJ: I’m sure there are, I don’t really have a great narrative memory. But there are people that reach out to me often. At least once a day, I’ll get an email or some message saying you’ve changed my life. Thank you so much. That’s their stories in the book. They’re all true. I’ll share one just briefly.

This is toward the end We changed the name. So the stories are a hundred percent accurate where a father and a son, an adult son living at home, weren’t getting along. And so he was. In his twenties and not really progressing, not really working, just playing video games and there was tension.

And then he got his son to respect his coffeemaker. Like he was kind of ruining his dad’s awesome coffee maker and the dad said, okay, what’s the tiniest thing I can have them do and help them feel successful. And there’s more to the story, but he just told us. And all I want you to do is pull out the filter and put it on the counter.

That’s all you have to do. And the next morning he came down, there was the filter and it’s like, oh my gosh, amazing. And he walked by his son’s room where he’s probably playing video games and whatever, and said, thank you. And you know, not a whole lot. Well, one thing led to another where his son started doing more than just setting it out and their relationship got so much better.

So by helping his son. Change just starting with this tiny thing, they were able to just have this massive impact on this father, son relationship. And what I didn’t probably share enough in the book is that this father had a troubled relationship with his own father. And one reason he was so distressed is he swore he wouldn’t repeat this pattern.

I mean, I didn’t want to repeat it with his son, but it was playing out. So he was able to use behavior design and tiny habits to help his son despite all the tension and the, going in different directions to feel successful field co-operative heal that relationship. And really move things for it in ways that I feel like are so important, that’s more important than getting up early in the morning.

That’s more important than being more productive at work. father, son relationship or any close relationship. So I guess that came to mind because wow, I never knew that I would help people in that way. And it makes me feel a lot of shine, a very strong feeling of success.

Terry: Yeah.

and I think that’s what fascinates me about behavior as well as cause there does seem to be a ripple effect and it moves from a relationship you’re having with yourself into a relationship you’re having with the external reality that you’re in as well, because you change and then your view of things change.

 so much as possible beyond, I used to work in fitness side of things and you see the light come on in somebody’s eyes when they go, wow, I just did something I’d never thought I could do. And then the question comes, if I could do that, what else could I do?

What else is possible for me? 

I think that’s what I’ve always enjoyed. 

BJ: you know, it unlocks that potential and that from the beginning, really my five day tiny habits program that was free and it’s still a free that’s what I was designing for. I didn’t care really if people, continued that habit from the Vienna what I was optimizing for was confidence that they could change and skills to change.

Maybe I was just lucky or maybe who knows what I felt like if I can help people build confidence, they can change and give them some skills of change, know they’re on their way. It doesn’t matter whether they’re continued to floss or do two pushups I can have this bigger impact.

And that’s why I kept teaching that week. After week after week, I didn’t get paid. I was not an official academic project. It was just this thing that I would do. I, you going back to my more background and service serving others. So I drew on that training and that way of seeing the world as, yeah, I’m using time every single day, every single day, I’m devoting time to help people create habits with no obvious payout other than just my own feeling of satisfaction and happiness for doing it, which was.

and more than enough really. and that’s in part why I’m talking to you one you’ve been in the trenches, your practitioner, and I so respect that. And too, if I can help more people, I’m there.

Terry: I’d love to dig into some of these concepts a little bit more cause something that I kind of mentioned this earlier. The role of emotion in, habit formation was a massive light bulb moment. For me. The example you gave in the book is the first time he used the Uber app, it feels so much better that you never use the alternative ever again.

So how did Come about for you because it feels like a real depart from the moment. So yes, you’re valuing the consistency and the routine of the moment, so of things, but this feels like a actually, but you guys are wrong. You don’t force your somebody way into a habit. What you need to do is you need to actually create that sense of winning really early.

So how did you come to that? 

BJ: It didn’t come out of a research lab. even though I’m a behavior scientist and I run experiments and design true experiments. And outside of Stanford, the experiments for tiny habits were not academic, but I’d still use my research skills on that. It goes back to me, just goofing around with my own behavior.

At the beginning, when I felt like I was slipping, I was gaining weight. I was sleeping less. I was stressed. And I remember I would floss before I put on one drop at sunscreen because it makes sense, right? You don’t want Chrissy hands to play, but, and I remember looking in the mirror and looking at myself and thinking, oh crap, everything today could just crumble and fall.

And it could be a total disaster because that’s how I felt about kind of every day. This can just be awful for me, but I would say good for you, BJ victory. And I’d put, you know, Victor, you got this done, you flossed that one to fixture. You put on one, drop a sunscreen. And it was just that, that acknowledging that I got one thing right today that made me go, wow, that’s interesting and I kept goofing around with that until I tuned in and thought, oh, it wasn’t.

Me saying victory. It was that allowing myself to feel successful because those habits to wire in and at the time it was a radical idea. Nobody was talking about that. Now, fast forward two years after my book was published and I thought that people are embracing that in droves and I’m really happy.

It is our emotion. That create habits. It’s not repetition. It’s not willpower. It’s not discipline. It’s the emotion you feel when you do a behavior that can turn it into an automatic behavior. In other words, a habit. And there are some that now I have, of course, much better ways of thinking about it and there’s research that supports it and so on in other fields.

But the simplest example for anybody to think of is think of a product or service that you use every day and think of your first time using it. What was your emotional reaction? And I guarantee in almost all cases, it was like, oh my gosh, it’s giving me a superpower. Oh my gosh, this coffee mug or this new route to work, or this Uber app or these new shoes or this new pillow that I bought, they are helping me feel successful.

And I also think of it as they give me a superpower and it’s like one and done. So once you find that new route to work, that’s more beautiful and fast. You don’t consider the other routes anymore. You now have a one and done habit and instant habit, and we all have these examples. It didn’t take willpower and it didn’t take repetition.

And if you see what’s behind that, and you, if you can think back and remember. you had this strong, emotional reaction when you did that behavior that caused you to do it again and again, and sometimes quickly, and sometimes over a little bit of time become a behavior you would do without thinking, without considering other options or in other words,

Terry: the other example you given the book, I think is even more pertinent than a baby trying to learn how to walk and getting the reinforcement from the parents. Like you’re looking at them, you got a big smile on your face. You’re celebrating every year. And that really hit home for me.

And I don’t think we do this a lot. We do not sit back and reflect on, wow, look what I just did. how far I’ve already come. Like, why do you think we don’t do this? 

BJ: I wish had a good answer for this. my class at Stanford right now, this is exactly what we’ve been diving into for the last few weeks. Stanford students are very good at beating themselves up at criticizing themselves and pushing themselves to the limits and it makes them very unhappy.

Okay. They can do it. And I can generalize about Stanford students cause you don’t get into Stanford without the ability to nail an exam and get great grades and things like that. And that means they had and still have this almost compulsion they have the skills to push themselves and to shame themselves until they, have a.

Computer code or whatever they’re doing. And a lot of my class is about helping them recognize and rewire themselves. And I told them at the beginning of class, I said, this may be the hardest class you ever take at Stanford. Not because of the readings so difficult, not because the concepts are sort of difficult, but because I will ask of you to rewire what has caused you to succeed and get to this point.

it is hard. But the students who are doing that are just having a transformative experience this will be a class I repeat because, you know, like I said, I do a new, but this one is so important. And this approach it’s called tiny habits for health and happiness and a big part of it is, you change best by feeling good.

Not by feeling. You’ve changed best by feeling good, not by feeling bad. And putting that into practice into their lives. It’s hard. And I know it’s hard because I’ve had to struggle with that. And there still are times when I’m tough on myself, but I’ve learned there is ways to say you learn things when you learn things.

So if I mess up on something, the other little saying is Everyone’s doing the best they can. Nobody tries to screw up. And I say that to myself, when something doesn’t go as I. I say it in like third person, but I really mean it for myself. So after I feel like I’ve messed up, I will say everyone’s doing the best they can.

Nobody tries to screw up as a way to help me not feel shame or shade and instead acknowledge a book came out Not even a year ago called the gap and the gain and the two operas, Dan Sullivan and Ben Hardy say it so well. And as soon as I read half that book, I was like, this is in my class.

I read the rest of the book they focus exactly on this. So rather than looking at the shortcomings, you look at your progress in a measurable way, if you can. And I think that is. So important and that is crux of what I’m hoping my students learn to do is have habits of gain seeing the gain rather than gap.

Terry: Yeah. 

BJ: it’s hard. And that’s why I think this could be the hardest class, my Stanford students ever.

Terry: so even the concept of like, you only get good things, if you delay gratification. So you’re, it’s pushing you to be really future focused. And if you’re future focused, there’s always, as you just say the gap and you have to be in the present to acknowledge the game.

And so that’s what I feel we have to do a lot with our guys is bring you back to the present and look. From where you’ve come from, but you have to change gears, slow down, stop, and actually smell the roses. Don’t you. 

BJ: yeah, is a big shift for high-achievers. and there is just. Oh, wow. There’s different directions we can cover. But I will say this by celebrating your successes, however tiny you are not lowering your potential. It’s counterintuitive. You are opening your potential because so many, including my Stanford students.

And I thought this is like, oh, if I don’t have like these high aspirations, if I’m not reaching for the stars, if I’m not setting myself up for the biggest things, I won’t read it. And that’s not the case at all. as you allow yourself to feel successful about big things and small things, you transform your identity.

And then when your identity shifts, it causes this big ripple effect that changes so many other aspects of your life. And that’s really what the subtitle of my book is about. It’s not that like an individual habit like flossing, one tooth is the game changer. It’s the confidence. It’s the learning to be nice to yourself.

It’s the seeing the opportunity for changing other aspects of your life. And so the small changes that change everything. Those are the small changes and I’ll 

just. Underline the it’s being nice to yourself and acknowledging your progress and allowing yourself to feel good even about the tiniest of success.

Terry: it’s an unconscious fear. Isn’t it of letting go of this one way of thinking and allowing yourself feel that. I saw that a lot in the very highest performance, the champions, that would get to a certain level with a certain mindset. And then that would just fizzle out and you would just plateau.

Whereas another type or person who actually enjoys, learns to enjoy the journey that person’s progress and their potential, as you say, it just keeps it going.

BJ: and I think it differs. I say, I think because I don’t have quantitative research on this, so I want to be clear about what’s based on research but my sense is if it’s a domain that you’re new to, or you have a string of failures around. Then don’t go big. Don’t go big, the baby steps, the tiny habits method and so on.

Whereas if it’s a domain where you’re quite confident and good, then you can set higher standards and sometimes it will shift. For example I live half the year in Maui and yay, Tara, I’m wearing an Aloha shirt, even though I’m in California right now, 

Terry: Super jealous. 

BJ: but the first. Times I surfed in Maui and I was in my fifties.

 even the smallest of things. Like, oh my gosh. I almost got that wave. And I remember going to our home in Maui and telling my partner, I served four and a half waves today, which I crack up because I had to acknowledge the half. Okay. Now a days I will surf 20 or 30 waves and I won’t think anything of that and I will critique myself.

Okay. I got to get better at this because now I’m thinking. And now I know what I’m doing out there. So I think it is kind of domain dependent to some degree. And if you’re really good at like me giving keynotes in public speaking, I’ve done that ever since I was, part of Mormonism is speaking in public, so I don’t have to like, baby-step that.

And I grade myself after every keynote talk and I almost never given a, but that’s in a domain where I’m very expensive. Whereas in other aspects of my life and for most people, the things you’re working on whether it’s changing, how you eat. Yeah. You’ve probably eaten a lot and you have a lot of experience eating, but do you have experience eating in this certain way or working out in this certain way?

And that case you’re like a baby learning to walk. So acknowledge every single, even half waves that you are writing and give yourself credit for that as you level up.

Terry: Do you know, what’s interesting when you say that story about the surfing and starting surfing, I can give you the, complete opposite, what not to do. The first time I went surfing learn to surf. I went to a break called Winky pop, which is right next to bells beach. It was six foot waves, super dangerous breaking on reef.

And I didn’t surf for another two years after that because I told myself you suck at this and it’s very dangerous. 

BJ: Yeah, but what a good example and isn’t that so true. Of how people think they’re going to change their behavior. They go to those six foot wigs breaking on a reef. And they’re like, if I just had enough motivation, I could do this. No. you got to design and this is, and design is an important word in my work.

And in this method, you design the change into your life. You design the habits into your life and the way you designed it reliably as you make it really tough. You find where it fits naturally. That’s a design challenge, not a willpower challenge. And you feel good about it by design. You don’t leave that to chance.

So in tiny habits, you’re hacking the size of the habit you’re hacking where it fits and you’re hacking your emotions. And so it’s those three hacks those are all design challenges, not character challenges and not willpower challenge, all design. So you have control, but it also means you iterate.

If something’s not working. You change and change and you redesign it until it snaps into place.

Terry: Yeah, that’s the thing is that it’s experimentation. It’s experimentation with Tom, where you start to figure out. So for example, for me I have figured out now that the Keystone habit, my best habit that I can do every day is go to bed before nine 30, because everything else. Happens a lot easier for me the following day.

So if I just do the. Then the ripple effect for the next day goes on and on and on. And that was just exactly, you know, your process let’s find the best behavior for me. So health gets better. I get better. I’ll get up earlier. I train, I’m going to eat a lot better. I’m going to have better willpower because I’m not going to be as tired.

All those things happen because of the one habit. So I totally agree with that. One thing I want to touch on here is the ability chain. So when we’re talking about starting and stopping, having. when I come across the ability chain and you talked about, well, this is how you think about how ability changes.

 I think that’s critical for thinking about how you can kind of move that ability lever. So can you talk a little bit more about that?

BJ: Yeah, let me contextualize it. So again, behavior, according to my behavior model behavior happens when motivation ability and prompt come together at the same moment, and you can change behavior there, get it to happen, or get it to stop by changing your motivation by changing your ability level or by stopping the prompt or making sure it happens.

So ability is one of the three factors. And it’s one of those that we have. Substantially more control over there are five components. So, you go down the everything I do as a system, it’s all a systematic approach. It’s not just a list, it’s a system and everything fits. So within ability you have, how much time does the behavior take.

So if you want to get yourself to do a behavior, And you’re finding it too hard. See if it can be less time. So rather than the working out for 30 minutes, workout five, or rather than meditating for 20 minutes, meditate for three breasts. So you’re making it easier by less time. If you want to stop a behavior, make it require more time.

So let’s say you don’t want to use Instagram on your mobile phone. As much, make it harder to do my more time. You have to log in and so on. So you got time, you can manipulate, you got money. Sometimes you can manipulate that, you know, make it less expensive or more expensive. If you want to stop, you have cognitive effort, how much you have to think.

So if you want to do the behavior, make it require less cognitive effort. That’s like shortcuts and defaults and so on. If you want. Stop or reduce the behavior require more cognitive effort, like a more complicated password or something like that. Physical effort is the fourth link in the chain. You can make something easier to do, like around me.

I’ve got a kettlebell there. I’m getting into this rope flow thing. I’ve got three ropes around me, which I’m loving and they’re just right here. I’ve got a calf stretcher here cause I want to do those things. So they’re right here in my office environment. If you want to make it More physical effort.

So you don’t do the behavior well, so you don’t want to eat as much ice cream. Don’t have it in the house. That means you’ve got to drive to the grocery store. That’s more effort and more time. So for each link in the chain, not all of the money sometimes doesn’t apply, but sometimes it does.

You can adjust the ability. Make it easier to do if you want the behavior to happen or harder to do, if you want to do less or stop the behavior. And those are the things you can shift around by design. 

Terry: I’ve got a funny story for you here. so your student. The guy who started Instagram Instagram is one of the ones where I’m like behavioral design. Cause obviously we need to be on Instagram from a business point of view, but then you’ve got like, it’s just pinging you all day. Right? So I put app limits on my phone and once it goes beyond the app limit, there’s like a step between you and the app that you have to always go.

Yes, like allow me the extra 15 minutes just that one bit of friction to make it happen. For me to get into that’s the law of least effort now working for me, I’m kind of like, I’m so annoyed with having to click that screen where it’s actually going to, my use has gone down a lot in the last couple of weeks for that one thing. 

BJ: that’s so good. So in the tiny habits book, I helped people learn the system. And in the back there are these flowcharts that they wouldn’t let me put in the actual book. you can follow the flow charts and this, then this and this or this it’s, it’s like it all maps.

And so if you want to make it harder to do, make it harder to do like with that kind of interstitial interruption, if you want to make it easier to do, like, there’s an app right now that I’m using called leaf, which does heart rate variability. And so it gets where the leaf app is on my phone.

It’s on the home. 

Terry: Yeah. 

BJ: Right. Don’t put it like on the third of first screen, I save a spot on the home row for an app that I want to use frequently. And it’s a sensor that I’m wearing here on my stomach. Right. It’s taking my heart rate and calc and my heart rate variability. And I probably won’t use it forever, but for right now, I want to use a lot.

And so I just make it easier to do.

Terry: Yeah. just a couple of questions here on specific advice. So obviously we’re, talking about personal finances and improving our habits and behaviors around this area. So I’ve got a couple of specific questions for you. If you are somebody who is struggling with.

Impulse buying, scrolling through something like Instagram and seeing, oh, that’s a deal that’s popped up and you just keep buying those kind of the deals that are always there. how would you advise that person to change that behavior? 

BJ: I’ll just tell you what I do. in the snap purchase situation, I just have a personal policy.

Then if it’s over like 200 bucks, I sleep. Now the purchases, you may be talking about maybe 18, 19, whatever. I don’t have a policy on that, but I do think that by causing myself, I have to sleep on this. And then if I still want it in the morning, I can get it. I think that generalizes to other things if I see something online that I want and I want to buy, I just screenshot it. And what that allows me to do. It is, I don’t have to buy it, but my brain can relax.

Cause I’m not going to forget about it. Cause it’s in my photos. So then I know later when I’m looking at photos, which maybe I do every two weeks, I just scroll back. If I still want it, I can get it. So for me, so I guess if I’m suggesting on-screen purchases after I see something I want to buy, I will take a screenshot and send it aside.

And then later when I’m looking through photos, if I still want. Yeah, maybe I get it, but see, it just slows you down, but your brain doesn’t like freak out and go, oh, I’m never going to find that again. 

Terry: I love that idea because I think the snap purchases, I don’t want to miss out. And so the screenshot alleviates the fear, and then You can go back into the thinking part of your brain the next day or whatever, and say, okay, do I really want that?

BJ: that’s how I ended up with The heart rate monitor, the HRV is I didn’t buy it instantly. I screenshotted it and said, okay, maybe I’ll get it. Maybe I won’t. And then I decided I wanted to do it, but most of the time I ended up not buying the stuff. It’s like, man, I’m really glad I didn’t get that.

Terry: What about somebody who they’ve been listening to this podcast? They listened to heaps of different podcasts. Money’s an area they wanting to get started on and they’d been learning, but they haven’t actually started doing. How would you advise that person just to get started and start building some nice habits? 

BJ: There are a couple of ways. I mean, the key is to match yourself with the best habits for you. So I don’t want to prescribe a financial habit for everybody. You’ve got to find what works for you and there is a tool online, tiny with an S and there’s a tool that you can mix and match you swipe left and right.

And you can design. New tiny habit recipes, and you can pick the best habits for you. So that’s one approach. There is a financial section. It’s not as extensive as it might be. The other one is just on your own list. If I could wave a magic wand and get myself to do any financial habit, just imagine I can get what would I do and just make a biggest list as you can.

Didn’t go back and select based on one, which of these habits really helped me achieve what I want. In other words, 

Put a star by the items that you think will have lots of impact. Don’t start the ones that won’t and the number go back through the list and say, well, which can I actually get myself to do?

That’s different than impact, like realistically, and you put a circle around those, then you look back over the list and you say, which ones have both a star and a circle. And those are your starting points to the news of the tiny habits method to bring those habits into your life.

Terry: Yeah. One that comes to mind for me there. And if you’re thinking about. At least. And you’re listening to this is I’m tracking your spending is a really good way to manage it. And there are tools. And I think this is what I like about your approach too, is you’re like, get the tool that’s going to make it easier for you to do the thing.

So you worry first about the behavior, but then what are the tools that can actually move this down, that ability sort of align so that becomes a lot easier and I don’t need as much motivation to do it. 

BJ: that’s a common dynamic for many behaviors. The more you do it, the easier it gets. Now, if somebody is listening to this and they find themselves resistant. then just scale back the time member and the ability to chain time is one of the things. So maybe you say, okay, I’m just going to track for three days.

That’s all. Cause if somebody thinks I’m going to track for the rest of my life, that’s like overwhelming and often people will without even knowing it self-sabotage and they don’t do it. So if you find yourself procrastinating just say, okay, just three days, I’m going to get it set up.

It’s going to be super easy to do. And after three days I can. I’ll decide to continue. So you scale it back.

Terry: Oh, that’s massive. I think, I think that’s exactly right. People think, oh my God, this is going to then become an encroachment on my life and your brain just keeps going. So I think that’s really important. The last one here I’ve got for you. Couples. So couples wanting to change and improve work on sort of their financial habits together and not so much even just around finances, but just engage in a change.

How would you advise couples to go. 

BJ: Yeah, I think there are two ways to change your behavior in the long-term one is to redesign your environment. The other is to create these habits and I of course would suggest the tiny habits method and they work hand in that. So these tiny changes, plus change your environment ever since 2011, that’s what I’ve told people on the five day program, you’ve got these two levers to pull.

 One, what you can do as a couple is have a policy about what’s in the home and what’s not in the home. That’s about changing your environment. for example, we will not watch TV after nine o’clock. That’s a public. Right. Just as a policy that changed your environment. It means after nine o’clock, you don’t have the TV going.

For example, and our home, there’s no bread in the house. I don’t think we’ve had bread in our home for eight years. because we just felt bread. Wasn’t serving us. And then that also went to ice cream because if we had ice cream in the freezer, man, he’d you think I’ll eat a little bit with eat at all?

So it was like policy. No. Ice cream in the house. So if one person wants ice cream, the other doesn’t, then it doesn’t work, but it’s like, can we agree on that? Not if we can’t have ice cream, we just can’t have it in the house ever done. So that’s one approach is find what environment redesigns do you want to do?

So you can have policies. You could say, Hey, what if we set up, like, I have a piece of exercise gear in the living room. It’s covered up beautifully with this cloth, but I got cooperation from my partner to be able to set up this quite sophisticated piece of exercise equipment. You don’t love it, but he was okay with it once.

So it’s make the good behaviors easy to do, make bad or the unwanted behaviors harder to do and do that together by design that’s one approach. The next approach. Is to figure out what habits that you want to do and do them together. If you can, if you don’t have the same habits you’re working on often my partner and I are not working on the same habits.

There’s just always a sense of we’re going to support each other 

in the habits that you’re doing. So even though I may not be doing the walking habit that he’s doing. Man I’m all on board. He comes home. I said, how did it go? You did a great job, you know, so on. it’s not only okay to try new habits and to improve your life, but it’s encouraged and it’s respected.

And it’s awesome. So if you can do the same things together, like, oh, well, I’m just going to eat this kind of food for breakfast. That’s great. But sometimes you have different things you’re working on. So supporting each other. By allowing people to put a big piece of exercise equipment in the living room or eating certain things for breakfast and then helping them feel successful when they do those habits.

Terry: I think that’s critical, isn’t it? Because it’s not that you’re going the other way, but if you don’t actually have to choose to actively support the person and their habit, 

BJ: Yeah. 

Terry: be passive, you actually have to actively be encouraging the habit and making sure that you’re not doing anything that actually will make it harder for that person to achieve what they’re or even just start that thing.

Don’t you. 

BJ: and don’t send the subtle signal like, oh, you’re going through a phase. You’ve tried this before. Know that. I think that is unhelpful. I wanted to say it’s evil. I’m not sure it’s evil. Cause I don’t think it’s intended to harm, but Those kinds of subtle signs can be very discouraging. I mean, we all know that, so that’s why I like your point about being active and supporting it and saying, well, what else do we, how do we rearrange the kitchen?

What else do you need? how was your walk? That was great. What did you see? Good for you, 

Terry: Helping them celebrate and just making sure that you’re not, the wrong temptation, the other way. I think that’s 

critical. But you thank you so much for coming on and sharing your wisdom. I really do appreciate it. what are you excited about working on. 

BJ: oh my gosh. Many things. Well, in my research lab, we are looking at how to help people develop long-term professional we’re calling them buddies, but it’s, your relationships. Long-term professional relations. That in some ways is our effort to help Stanford students and later young people more generally the pandemic has been hard in terms of the isolation, the restrictions, the disappointment, the frustration, and San Fran students are so hard on themselves. Like they didn’t get the top grade or the road scholarship. If we can change their thinking toward you’re here at this place to figure out who are your long-term collaborator.

Then they can shift to something. They can actually work on every single day. So w that’s one another one is to systematically and scientifically derive. What are the best self care habits? In the world generally, and then getting down to for young people, for older people, to people that just started colors for people that just have a baby, right.

So we’re not just guessing or letting people guess on their own, but coming up with a system to derive the best health care habits, and then eventually being able to share that.

Terry: love that. That sounds amazing. Two very important things, I think. Where can people learn a little bit more about you support you and find the book? 

BJ: two places. BJ BJ F O G is my most general maybe not awesome website, but links to places. And then tiny If you want more on the tiny habits, smell. And in buying the book. Yes, I get the paperback version. Y’all 

Terry: kind of percent agree. Don’t get the online. The paperback version is sexy is a great looking book. 

BJ: yeah, I Get the actual book and you know what we did early this year, I have a big mailing list and I have a okay. Following on social. And I said, look, here’s the tiny habits guarantee. if you bought my book and it didn’t work for you, you let me know.

And I will personally refund that book and we brought casts everywhere. And guess what? What happened was people got back in touch to that too late. It’s worked for me. No need for the guarantee. It’s totally worked and not a single person ended up saying, no, and you had to read the book, right?

It’s not like you could just leave it there. And I thought I would have 20 or 30 people. Maybe even people scamming the system and I was fine paying the money if they made the claim. But what happened instead of people saying it didn’t work, we got exactly the ops, so I didn’t have to spend a lot of money.

So there still is the tiny habits guarantee. If you get my book and you read it and apply to it does not work for you. you can keep the book and they’ll send you the money I’ll reimburse you. And that’s my personal money. I’m that competent in what we’re sharing here, that it will work for you.

Terry: My, that doesn’t surprise me at all that everyone’s come back and done the opposite because it is, as you said before, it’s systematic, it’s do this step once. Do this step two, do this step three. And then here are the models. Here are the frameworks, and it’s what you’ve done, what you put together has so much influence in what we’re doing and the way we help people.

So I really thank you for that. 

BJ: well, keep up the good work, Terry, thank you so much for inviting me to talk to you. 

Terry: Thanks for coming on.