Book Summary: Take charge of your habits.

Tiny Habits book cover

Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything

by BJ Fogg

Everybody wants to change something, but what we achieve often falls short of what we set out to accomplish. And when that happens, we usually blame ourselves. But we’re not the problem. It’s our approach to change that’s flawed. Tiny Habits replaces that flawed design with one that’s proven to work.

Author BJ Fogg is the founder of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University. And this book is based on his extensive work in behavioral science and design, including fieldwork with over 40,000 people who’ve taken part in Fogg’s programs over the years.

Tiny Habits is structured like a workshop. Fogg provides enough background information to set the stage, but the bulk of the book is devoted to the process of Behavior Design for creating the new habits you want and getting rid of those you don’t.

You’ll learn a simple formula that underpins all behavior. With that knowledge, you’ll know the exact leverage points for creating and managing habits. He then walks you through The 7 Steps in Behavior Design, showing you how to create new habits and change or stop old ones. Each chapter includes exercises to put the ideas into practice.

A lengthy appendix summarizes the Behavior Design models, methodologies, and maxims. There’s an infographic that explains how to make a behavior easier, and another that goes over the three stages of the Behavior Change Master Plan. Finally, there are lists with suggestions for how to provide positive comments, how to celebrate and feel “shine,” and 300 recipes for tiny habits.

(I normally don’t make a big deal about end-of-chapter activities and appendices because they’re usually afterthoughts added during the editing process. That is not the case here. This book is entirely action-oriented and grounded in field experience. —DT)

In the author’s words, “…with Tiny Habits you change best by feeling good—not by feeling bad. The process doesn’t require you to rely on willpower, or set up accountability measures, or promise yourself rewards. There is no magic number of days you have to do something. Those approaches… aren’t reliable methods for change [and] they often make us feel bad. This book says goodbye to all that change angst and—even more important—shows you how to easily and joyfully bridge the gap (no matter the size) between who you are now and who you want to be.”

This summary reflects my takeaways from a useful book I recommend to others. Reading a summary isn’t a substitute for reading the book. There’s much more than can be covered here. Plus, this is my interpretation. If these ideas resonate with you, I encourage you to get a copy from your favorite bookseller. Here are the Amazon links: Ebook | Audiobook | Print

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes should be attributed to the book’s author.


The Elements of Behavior

Habits involve behaviors, and behaviors involve the interaction of three universal variables, which can be expressed as a formula:


A behavior happens when the three elements of MAP—
Motivation, Ability, and Prompt come together at the same moment.

Motivation is your desire to perform a behavior. The more motivated you are to perform a behavior, the more likely you will perform it.

Ability is your capacity to perform the behavior. You are less likely to do something that is hard to do. The easier it is to do something, the more likely it is to become a habit. This is true for both “good” and “bad” habits.

Prompt is your cue to perform the behavior. Without a prompt, motivation and ability are meaningless. No behavior occurs without a prompt. You’re compelled to act or not.

B=MAP applies to all behavior. For a behavior to occur, there must be a prompt plus sufficient motivation and ability. The relationship between motivation and ability can be seen in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1Figure 2
(See the original model and discussion at Fogg’s website, Behavior Model.)

Motivation and ability complement and compensate for each other. For a behavior to rise above the Action Line, you must have sufficient motivation and ability. The other must be strong to rise above the curve if one is weak. In other words, if you only have a little of one, you need more of the other—they compensate for each other as shown in Figure 2.

Habits are formed by behaviors that consistently fall above the Action Line.

Three questions to troubleshoot a behavior:

  1. Is there a prompt to do the behavior?
  2. Does the person have the ability to perform the behavior?
  3. Is the person motivated to do the behavior?

You can start, stop or change behaviors by adjusting the M, A, and P components.

  • Removing the prompt will stop a behavior. This is the best first step to take to stop a unwanted habit.
  • Reducing motivation or restraining ability will also help stop a behavior.

Golden Behaviors

Changing your life for good begins with matching yourself with the right behaviors. The best matches in Behavior Design are called Golden Behaviors, which have three qualities:

  1. The behavior will help you realize your aspiration. It has an impact.
  2. You want to engage in this behavior. You’re motivated.
  3. You can do the behavior. You have the ability.


Motivation is the desire to engage in a specific behavior or a set of behaviors.

Three sources of motivation:

  1. Your own wants
  2. The benefits (or punishment) you’d receive by doing a behavior
  3. Your context or environment

The distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is weak in practice. The above three characteristics are more direct.

Motivation is the least reliable of a behavior’s three components. Trying to change behavior by starting with motivation is a mistake. Here’s why:

  • Motivation can be complicated. Often, multiple motivations are at play, with some pushing toward a behavior, others pushing away, and others pushing towards a completely different behavior resulting in a psychological tug-of-war. Further complicating things, we often are oblivious to our motivations.
  • Motivation comes in waves, and waves crest, then crash. You’re not to blame if you don’t sustain them. That’s just how motivation works.
  • Motivation fluctuates from day to day, even minute to minute. Willpower decreases from morning to evening. Later in the day, complex decisions become more difficult.

Motivation isn’t the key to long-term change. The above aspects and shifts in motivation are mainly outside our control.

The 7 Steps in Behavior Design

You “Do” Behaviors, not Aspirations or Outcomes

Aspirations are abstract desires. Outcomes are things that are more specific and measurable. While both can help frame behavior, neither is a behavior. A behavior is something that you can do at a particular moment in time. An aspiration or outcome cannot be realized in an instant.

Steps in Behavior Design

  1. Clarify the Aspiration
  2. Explore Behavior Options
  3. Match with Specific Behaviors
  4. Start Tiny
  5. Find a Good Prompt
  6. Celebrate Successes
  7. Troubleshoot, Iterate, and Expand

Step 1: Clarify the Aspiration

Get clear on your aspirations or outcomes. What do you want to accomplish? You can begin with either aspirations or outcomes, but aspirations may be a better starting point because they are more flexible.

Step 2: Explore Behavior Options

Choose one of your aspirations or outcomes, then develop a list of specific behaviors to help you achieve it. You don’t have to decide or commit to anything in this step. You’re looking at your possibilities. The longer your list of behaviors, the better.

Fogg Maxim #1: Help people do what they already want to do.

Step 3: Match Your Aspiration with Specific Behaviors

How to select behaviors to work on:

  • Wrong ways:
    • Guesswork
    • Turning to the Internet for inspiration.
    • Relying on what has worked for friends
  • Right ways:
    • Coaching
    • Focus Mapping

Focus Mapping involves sorting through the behaviors from Step 2 according to their impact and practicality. (The book has an extensive exercise for this.)

  • First, sort for impact. Ask: How effective is this behavior in helping me achieve my aspiration?
  • Second, sort for practicality. Ask: Can I get myself to do this, even on my most harried, most challenging days?

Focus on the Golden Behaviors: These are the behaviors you sorted as high impact, and yes, I can get myself to do this. This list of behaviors should leave you feeling “optimistic and energized.”

Be hard-nosed about practicality. The goal is to develop habits we can practice even when we’re most hurried, unmotivated, and imperfect. The behavior is probably a good match if you can imagine yourself doing it on your most difficult days. It’s probably a Golden Behavior.

Step 4: Start Tiny

Start “intentionally, purposefully, and radically small.” To make your Golden Behaviors a reality, make doing them as simple as possible.

Recognize that motivation is unreliable. Ability isn’t. Make the behavior so simple that you need little motivation to do it. Simplicity makes behavior easier.

Ability Factors:

  1. Do you have enough time?
  2. Do you have enough money?
  3. Are you physically able?
  4. Does it require a great deal of creativity or mental energy?
  5. Does the behavior fit into your everyday life, or do you have to change something?

These ability factors form an Ability Chain that is only as strong as its weakest link.

Use the Discovery Question to identify the weak links in your Ability Chain. Ask: what is making this behavior hard to do? This will pinpoint which factors are most likely to cause you trouble.

Use the Breakthrough Question to make the behavior easier. Ask: how can I make this behavior easier to do? This can lead to three answers:

  1. Increase your ability by gaining skills.
  2. Get tools and resources that make the behavior easier and eliminate frustration.
  3. Make the behavior tiny. Either begin with a “starter step,” a small step toward the desired behavior, or scale back by making the behavior smaller.

Focus on consistency, not perfection. To keep a habit alive, keep it part of your routine.

In habit formation, less is sometimes more. Simplicity influences behavior. If you want a habit to grow, start small and simple. You can naturally grow the habit after it’s been wired into place.

Step 5: Find a Good Prompt

Prompts are the unseen forces that propel our lives. No behavior occurs in the absence of a prompt. People respond consistently to prompts when they have the requisite motivation and ability, which is why well-timed prompts are so effective.

There are three types of behavior prompts: person, context, and action.

  1. A person prompt is an internal prompt that relies on something within you to prompt behavior. They aren’t reliable for effecting meaningful change in your life.
  2. A context prompt is anything in your surroundings that prompts you to act. Context prompts can be helpful for one-time actions but can be stressful and ineffective for daily habits. Too many context prompts can have the opposite effect of desensitizing you and causing you to ignore the prompt.
  3. An action prompt is a habitual behavior that can serve as a reminder to perform a new habit. Action prompts are more effective than person and context prompts. (The book refers to them as “anchors.”)

Action Prompts are already embedded in your life so seamlessly and naturally that you don’t have to think about them.

Find prompts for your new habits.

  • Identify your anchors. Your daily habits (or routines) can be valuable for establishing new habits. 
  • Use your existing habits. Start with the things you already do every day, and then find a new habit that would fit right in.
  • Create Pearl habits. Identify something that irritates you daily and use it to create a beneficial habit.

Fitting the new habit into your day, three things to consider:

  1. Match the physical location. First, think about where your new habit will take place. What’s a conducive location?
  2. Match the frequency. Next, consider your current routine and decide how often you want to do your new habit. Find an anchor habit that corresponds to the frequency of your new behavior.
  3. Fit the theme or purpose. Although less critical than the first two points, the best anchors have the same theme or purpose as the new habit.

The Tiny Habit recipe:

After I… (Anchor Moment) I will… (do the Tiny Behavior) and celebrate (by…).

  1. The Anchor Moment prompts you to engage in the new Tiny Behavior. An Anchor Moment can be (1) a pre-existing routine (such as picking up your child from school) or (2) an event that occurs (like a phone ringing).
  2. Tiny behavior is a new habit you want to start. Make it small and easy—a tiny task that can be completed in less than thirty seconds and performed immediately following the Anchor Moment.
  3. Immediately celebrate. After you do the tiny behavior, say or do something to elicit positive emotions—a good feeling that Fogg calls “shine.” You must celebrate immediately to wire the new behavior into your brain.

You can also start with your routines. Instead of starting with a habit you want to create and finding a place for it, you start with the routines you already have and find new habits to plug in.

Step 6: Celebrate Success

When you celebrate, you can create positive feelings on demand. It’s this good feeling that wires the new habit into your brain. It’s effective, quick, easy, and fun.

Celebrate success immediately and intensely. The speed of habit formation is influenced by the immediateness and intensity of the emotion you feel when you celebrate. Contrary to popular belief, habit formation isn’t a matter of a certain number of days. Some habits develop in a matter of days if a robust positive emotion is associated with the behavior.

Celebrations must be authentic. It will backfire on you if you feel awkward or phony when celebrating. Your brain must feel good. Celebrating should be personal and tailored to what makes you feel good.

No one needs to know that you’re celebrating. The celebration doesn’t have to be something you express physically or verballyThere is only one rule: it must be something you say or do (internally or externally) that makes you feel good.

Positive reinforcement causes a neurochemical reaction in the brain. A positive feeling stimulates the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s reward system and helps us remember which behavior made us feel good. Dopamine helps the brain encode the cause-and-effect links, establishing future expectations of a “reward” associated with this behavior.

Celebration is the best way to create a positive feeling that wires in your new habits.

Step 7: Troubleshoot, Iterate, & Expand

A habit’s formation time is determined by three factors: the person performing the habit, the action, and the context. As a result, no one can say that it takes a certain number of days to form a new habit fully—there’s no universal answer.

Your habits will scale naturally when you follow the Tiny Habits method consistently. Small habits can grow and multiply, especially if cultivated within a larger system of behaviors.

Success breeds success in habit formation. Your confidence grows when you feel successful at something, no matter how small. It’s the frequency of your successes, rather than the size, that determines this. Aim for a slew of small victories.

Change Skills. There is a system to change, and underpinning the system is a set of skills: behavior crafting, self-insight, process skills, context skills, and mindset.

Behavior Crafting can assist you in choosing and fine-tuning the habits you want in your life. Concentrate on what interests you, be adaptable, and strive for variety. The more variety you start with, the faster you learn. Begin with a variety of habits, preferably three, and see what happens. You’re on the right track if you’re feeling upbeat and seeing progress.

Self-Insight is the ability to recognize which new habits will be meaningful to you. You want to establish new habits that are small but potent in meaning. For example:

  • Habits that affirm a piece of your identity.
  • Habits that directly relate to an important aspiration. The connection must be clear.
  • Habits that have a significant impact despite their small size.

Process skills are concerned with adapting to life’s dynamic nature so that your habits strengthen and grow. This is the skill of knowing when to push yourself beyond tiny and make the habit harder.

Here are some guidelines for adjusting your habit’s difficulty.

  • Don’t push yourself to do more than the tiniest version of your habit. You can always raise the bar and lower it when you need to.
  • When you want to do more, do it. Don’t limit yourself.
  • Celebrate hard if you’ve done too much. Expanding a habit too much can cause pain or frustration, weakening it. You can overcome those negative feelings by stepping up your celebration.
  • Identify your edge by using emotional flags. If you feel pain, frustration, or avoidance, you have likely increased your habit’s difficulty too much or too fast. Conversely, if you get bored with your habit, you might need to rev up your efforts.

Context skills are about managing and changing your environment to reduce friction between you and your good habits. These skills are crucial to creating and maintaining change because our envornment has a huge influence on our habits.

The Discovery and Breakthrough Questions can help you identify sources of friction: How can I make this new habit easier? And, what is making this new habit difficult?

As you design your new habit, keep environment in mind. Redesign your environment as needed to facilitate the new habit. Follow these guidelines:

  • Don’t do what everyone else does. You’re a Habit Ninja, not a conformist.
  • Discover what works for you.
  • Get the gear you need.
  • Eliminate the demotivators.

Mindset relates to how you approach, perceive, and interpret the world around you.

It turns out that you’ve already gained some valuable Mindset Skills.

  • Being open, flexible, and curious about change
  • Ability to adjust your expectations
  • Celebrating your small successes–no matter how small
  • Trusting the process of change and being patient
  • Being able to embrace a new identity

Untangling Bad Habits

Three categories of habits:

  1. Uphill Habits are easy to stop and require ongoing attention to maintain.
  2. Downhill Habits are hard to stop but easy to maintain.
  3. Freefall Habits, such as substance abuse, are tough to stop without professional help.

The B=MAP model is the foundation for creating new habits and stopping old ones. In stopping old habits, instead of creating effective prompts, you’ll look for ways to eliminate prompts. Instead of increasing your motivation, you’ll think about ways to decrease it for an unwanted habit.

You don’t “break” habits; you untangle them. “Break” is a poor metaphor for changing habits. It implies that you can get rid of a habit through the use of force. You can’t. Instead, you untangle habits like you would untangle a knotted rope—step by step. And you don’t start with the most challenging part because the most difficult tangle is deep within the knot.

Stopping bad habits—Fogg’s Behavior Change Masterplan:

Three steps: First, develop new positive habits. Second, focus on stopping specific behaviors linked to the old habit. If stopping doesn’t work, the third step is to try replacing the old habit with a new one.

1. Develop New Habits

Don’t start with the unwanted habit. Instead, create habits that relate to another aspect of your life—tidiness, relationships, creativity,  and so on. This will improve your skills and boost your confidence, giving you greater strength to untangle bad habits.

Build habits around your strengths. With this approach, you’ll succeed faster and learn valuable skills and insights. As you create positive changes, you get closer to becoming who you want to be. Your attitude toward yourself will naturally change if you feel successful in making these changes.

2. Stop the Old Habit

Just as you used the Behavior Model to design your way into a new habit, you can also use it to design your way out of an unwanted habit. You can stop a behavior by altering one of the three components of the Behavior Model: remove the prompt, decrease motivation or impede ability. Making any of those changes long-term will stop the habit.

To stop a habit, get specific. One common mistake when trying to stop bad habits is motivating towards an abstract goal, such as “stop stressing out at work” or “stop eating junk food.” Those aren’t specific enough. They’re abstract labels for a tangle of habits that Fogg calls the “General Habit.”

Beginning with your General Habit may result in avoidance due to frustration or intimidation. By focusing on the entire General Habit, you won’t make much progress, similar to trying to untangle an entire knot at once. Start with the specific habits connected with your General Habit instead. Your untangling attempt will be lot more successful if you take them tangle by tangle.

When faced with a slew of specific habits to untangle, don’t stop. Don’t get overwhelmed. Just pick one tangle and design it out of your life.

Start your untangling with the easiest habit. The one you’re most sure you can do. The one that’s not a big deal. It is tempting to pick the hardest, stickiest habit to unwind, but that is not the best approach. There’s no right or wrong way to stop a habit; you must choose what works for you. Whatever you choose, don’t overwhelm yourself. Remember, you’re practicing the skills of change and learning along the way.

Stop a Habit by Focusing on the Prompt

Sometimes you only need to change the prompt. Three options are available: removing the prompt, avoiding it, or ignoring it.

  • Removing the prompt is the simplest solution to stop an unwanted habit. Redesigning your environment is the best way to remove a prompt.
  • Avoiding the prompt. If you can’t remove the prompt, you may avoid it by:
    • Avoiding places where you will be prompted
    • Avoiding people who will prompt you
    • Stopping people from placing prompts around you
    • Avoiding media that prompts you
  • Ignoring the prompt requires willpower, which can be challenging, especially if your ability is strong and your motivation runs high.

Stop a Habit by Changing Ability

This step is about making the habit harder to do. Some options:

  • Increase the required time.
  • Increase the amount of money required.
  • Increase the amount of physical effort required.
  • Increase the amount of mental effort required.
  • Make the habit conflict with an essential routine.

Stop a Habit by Adjusting Motivation

When they want to stop a habit, people often start by trying to influence motivation. Most of the time, this is a mistake. Motivation levels can be challenging to adjust with Downhill Habits and nearly impossible with Freefall Habits.

Make adjusting motivation a last resort. Do this only if you haven’t resolved the problem by focusing on prompts or ability.

Avoid using demotivators. Sometimes they work, but more often, they cause more harm than good. Change occurs best when we feel good, so take care that your attempts to demotivate behavior don’t turn into guilt trips.

Scale back the change. Don’t give up if the methods discussed so far failed to stop your particular habit. You’ve got more choices. Scaling back your goals is the next step in the master plan, which you can accomplish using the following methods:

  • Set a shorter timeframe for quitting the habit (“I’ll quit for X days.”)
  • Reduce the duration of the unwanted habit
  • Reduce the number of times you do it
  • Reduce the intensity of your engagement with it

3. Replace the old habit with a new one

Swapping behaviors involves replacing bad behavior with good behavior.

Get specific about the behavior you want to stop and the behavior that will replace it. You must choose the new behavior wisely; otherwise, the swap won’t work. If you choose something only because you think it’s “good for you,” the swap will probably fail.

Remap prompts to swap a behavior. Remapping prompts is performing a new behavior instead of the old one when prompted.

If remapping the prompt doesn’t stop your old behavior, then the old behavior is more motivating, easier, or both. Work on ability and motivation:

  • Ability—Make the new behavior easier and the old one harder.
  • Motivation—Make the new behavior more motivating and the old one less.

Swapping is more likely to succeed if you do all four actions.

Other options:

  • Swap in a better new behavior and repeat the steps.
  • Limit the swap. Set a time limit on trying the swap and then decide what to do next.
  • Work on other new behaviors to build skills and fortify your confidence then return to this persistent bad habit later.

Designing Group Change

You can apply these tools to change group behavior in three ways: (1) Change your behavior to distance yourself from a group’s negative influences. (2) Work together to change your collective behavior. (3) Design a change for others that will benefit them

Two rules for designing change for others:

  • Help people achieve what they already want.
  • Assist people in feeling successful.

Book details and where to buy it:

Get the book on Amazon: Ebook | Audiobook | Print  (affiliate links*)
Amazon rating: 4.6 of 5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.2 of 5 stars
Page count: 322
Publication date: Dec. 31, 2019
Author website:

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