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Published November 28, 2012, 11:35 PM

Positively Beautiful: Tiny habits for a new life

Stanford professor BJ Fogg thinks you can change your life by investing three minutes a day for five days.

By: Dr. Susan Mathison, Areavoices.com, INFORUM

Stanford professor BJ Fogg thinks you can change your life by investing three minutes a day for five days.

Part research project, part social entrepreneurship, Fogg’s “3 Tiny Habits” free mini-course has a lot to teach about behavior and how to make things stick.

We’ve all heard the saying, “You can climb over the highest mountain one step at a time.” This simple little course helps you figure out the right steps so you have what it takes to get started and keep going.

Fogg knows a few things about behavior. He’s been at Stanford for more than 18 years studying human behavior through his work as director of the Persuasive Tech Lab. He was also named one of Fortune’s “10 new gurus you should know.” He’s intrigued by the possibility of texting and smart phones to create a healthier society.

His perspective is that only three things will change behavior in the long term:

1. Have an epiphany.

2. Change your context (what surrounds you).

3. Take baby steps.

Epiphanies are hard to come by. Sometimes even a heart attack or cancer diagnosis can’t create the behaviors needed for a healthier life. But context and baby steps are practical possibilities that Fogg tapped to create his Tiny Habits program in December 2011. Since then almost 8,000 people have declared the program a big winner.

If you are like me, I have a long list of behaviors I’d like to change. This program is more about creating new, better habits rather than breaking down bad behaviors. The hope is that focus on the newly positive change and celebrating the sense of accomplishment and victory will weed out the more negative choices over time.

Why is it so hard to stick with resolutions or follow through with big goals? Fogg thinks it’s because we overwhelm ourselves before we even start, even though we have a heartfelt desire to change or accomplish something new.

Tiny Habits is all about small victories. Goals are tiny, quick (less than 30 seconds) and targeted to follow an already established daily occurrence.

You probably have a few automatic habits that you can use for this tag-team approach. For example, when I get a phone call, I will take two deep breaths. After I brush my teeth, I will floss one tooth. When I get out of bed, I will do one stretch. After I drink my morning coffee, I will write one line. After I eat dinner, I will go for a 30-second walk. The first action is the trigger for the new habit you are trying to create.

The idea is to set yourself up for success. If you are going to write, have your journal on the table where you drink your morning coffee. Have your walking shoes in an easily accessible spot. If there is anything painful or inconvenient about your tiny, new habit, change it to make it quick, easy and painless.

Once your new tiny habits become automatic, you can work toward doing the full behavior successfully, such as remembering to floss all of your teeth, doing frequent deep breathing exercises, walking for 30 minutes, or writing 500 words every morning.

Declaring victory is also an important part of the process as it helps cement the new habit with positive internal energy. Come up with your own celebratory “I rock!” or “I am really good at this.” Try one on and see how it makes you feel, and say it out loud if you dare.

Maybe you are already thinking about the new year and your list of resolutions. But you don’t need to wait until Jan. 1 to make a change.

You can start now by visiting http://tinyhabits.

com/join to learn how to create tiny habits that can change your life forever.

Dr. Susan Mathison founded Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo and created PositivelyBeautiful.com.