Start small and see big progress
“Behavior Design is not a solitary pursuit. Each behavior that we design, each change that we make, is another drop in the pond that ripples out. We shape our families, communities, and societies through our actions. And they shape us. The habits we create and perpetuate matter.” — BJ Fogg, PhD
One of my time-consuming habits of clicking on articles online while I attempt to do my work has resulted in a new tiny habit that I just adopted after reading the article A Stanford researcher did 2 push-ups every time he went to the bathroom and lost 20 pounds.
The trick to lasting success, according to BJ Fogg, PhD, who founded the Behavior Design Lab at Standford University, is making sure that you pick out new behaviors and routines that you actually want to adopt, not simply those you think you should do.
“One of the criteria is you actually want to do it,” he said. “So that’s why it’s really easy to create them, and then there’s no reason to procrastinate.”
When I read the article, I grinned because I knew this could work for me. As a marathon runner, who has run 16 marathons in the last eight years, including all the six world majors, and now training for my 17th marathon, I need to sneak in strength training that would help me run strong and stay injury-free.
I loved how the author built up the pushup routine around his bathroom-going. Since I work from home and love making a big pot of green tea mixed with nettle tea, I immediately jumped on the opportunity to elevate my strength training experience by using the plush blue Yoga mat in the middle of my office.
I was not only enthused about my discovery of how to add more strength training to my running routine, but I also ordered BJ Fogg’s book, Tiny Habits, The Small Changes that Change Everything so that I could read it, review, and study it, as well as invite the author on our Seeds of Sunshine, a mother/daughter podcast. Yet, my biggest goal was to learn more new tricks, as I firmly believe in making small and positive changes at any age.
No such thing as “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!” Instead, my motto is: “You can teach anyone new tricks — any time.”
Make it simple
Making a tiny change simple is less intimidating and more motivating, which is why I tested Fogg’s idea right away by doing a different strength movement every time I needed to go to the bathroom. And my first day doing this, I happened to drink lots of tea, so here’s what my strength training exercises looked like:
- 10 stability ball push-ups — I wanted to supercharge the author’s regular push-ups. Call me an overachiever — ha! ha! I just like stability ball push-ups better, as I have to stabilize my core to balance on the big white stability ball collecting dust in the corner of my office.
- 12 kettlebell swings, which take me less than 60 seconds to knock out. Kettlebell swings are my favorite, for they do so much in such little time. They work my upper body, as well as my glutes and core. Huge win!
- 20 glute bridges with a medium tension band around my knees. We all know that to walk and run, we need strong and healthy glutes. As a runner, I used to have major pain in the glutes that felt as sharp as a knife. However, running more hills and being religious about my kettlebell swings helped me heal and run stronger and longer.
- 30-second plank - What’s not to like about a strong core, right?
- 5 Single-leg Romanian deadlifts on each leg. After all, I am originally from Romania, so what better way to honor my country and origins than the famous Romanian deadlifts?
- Single-leg 10 to 20-second stands, since in running, we hop from one leg to another.
As a runner, I know which exercises are the best to strengthen various muscles in my body, which is why I was excited at my strength training buffet full of choices from various weights to different movements, which made every one of my bathroom trips exciting.
Make it reflexive
I could not agree with Fogg more about the power of reflection. I tend to do a little too much of it, as I like to analyze my feelings and write about them. I also love sharing my exciting discovery while avoiding formal strength training classes when I can just be my trainer in between bathroom breaks.
Rosie Nice suggests in her article How to Practice Reflective Thinking published in the Harvard Business Review to “start positively by recognizing everything that is going well. Acknowledging your successes and celebrating your achievements will build your self-confidence and fuel your motivation to move forward. Then, identify ways in which you could improve. It’s important to be kind to yourself during this process — the point is to recognize areas for growth and development.”
Being kind to ourselves while figuring out what we need to improve upon is the catalyst for making changes less daunting. This also motivates us to find out what else is possible once we grow and develop into better versions of ourselves.
Make it enjoyable and rewarding
Who doesn’t like having fun and getting rewards? We all do, of course, which is why I jumped — literally and figuratively — to mix in various strength training exercises throughout the day every time I went to the bathroom, or whenever I needed a break from sitting in front of my computer.
Pinpointing what rewards will motivate us to stick to new habits is part of the fun. I remember when I was in high school, my father knew exactly how to reward my good grades and my finishing at the top of my class. He promised me trips abroad, for I have always loved traveling for its novelty, the food, the cool clothes, and the chance to immerse myself in a new culture.
Once my husband and I became parents and had a boy and a girl, we quickly learned the power of rewards, bribing, cajoling, you name it. When our kids were little, the rewards were pretty simple, such as treats or special activities they liked, but as they grew up into teenagers, the nature of rewards changed a little bit to match their new tastes and interests — special activities and cash became desirable.
The trick is to find the type of reward that truly motivates us, such as treats, a fancy restaurant meal, a short trip, a new book, new clothes, and so on.
My reward: turning strength training from dreadful to fun while feeling stronger on my runs, as well as reading Tiny Habits, the roadmap to a successful, enjoyable, and rewarding life.
And how about you? What new tiny habits would you like to try? Maybe start thinking of the reward right away to get going with your tiny habit one small step at a time.
One thing is certain: tiny habits can help us feel mighty while we turn building blocks into future success!
For more poetic musings and short-form philosophy, please check out my new book, Inspirational Signs for More Sunshine in Your Life and Morsels of Love, A Book of Poetry, and Short-Form, published in 2021.
If you like podcasts, please listen to Seeds of Sunshine, a multigenerational podcast that I started together with my daughter.