On the 4th of September, my life changed forever. Of course, I had no way of knowing that would be the day. I thought I was in Bali to celebrate my friend’s marriage and figure out the next chapter of my life. You see, my husband and I had decided to separate only a few days before. I had no idea the universe was about to deal such an unexpected hand.
I was drugged at the wedding, abducted, violently, and repeatedly assaulted, and had a huge accident coming off a motorcycle trying to escape. This resulted in a mild traumatic brain injury and spine, neck, head, and nerve injuries. I couldn’t do much at all for more than two years. I couldn’t even legally make my own decisions because of my traumatic brain injury (TBI).
I was terrified of doing anything which might limit me. I avoided people; I avoided love; I avoided connection. I avoided friends, family—everyone. My natural state is an adventurer, explorer, extrovert, and I love people—but I became a hermit. I stopped exercising and socializing, which I had done all my life. I barely left the house. I told no one, not even friends or family or even my mother, what was going on. I didn’t show up to things when I said I would, though I prided myself on my reliability and reputation before this.
I took approx 12 types of medication—anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, pain relief, sleeping tablets, sedatives, nerve medication. Otherwise, I could barely move, and I looked kind of like I had MS as a result of my collapsed spine pressing on my nerves.
In the beginning, it was so bad I needed help to remember to do basic things, like take a shower. I’m grateful I didn’t need to learn to read, write or walk again—I was fortunate to have a mild TBI. Space and time seemed to merge into one for me. I had an excellent memory before the incident—it was one of my superpowers. Afterward? I couldn’t remember anything, but I was too embarrassed to tell anyone, so I wrote down what I did each hour of each day in my iPhone calendar in case someone asked me what I had been up to; otherwise, I couldn’t recall.
I gained a lot of weight as I was recovering, which was the least of my worries, to be fair. I didn’t look in a mirror anyway as I couldn’t look at the woman who stared back at me. Who was she? I didn’t recognize her at all. I relived the trauma day after day. I had flashbacks and was often terrified to go to sleep. My hair fell out. I never felt safe. I installed locks on every window, deadbolts on my doors, and locks on each internal door inside the house. I checked the locks countless times each day. I had the consistent pestering thought, “You’re not supposed to be here.” I felt endless shame and guilt that my recovery/getting back on track was taking so long. I felt like an utter failure day after day.
I was abducted. And that makes me an abduction survivor.
I narrowly escaped with my life.
My spine did collapse, and I did have a TBI (traumatic brain injury) from the experience.
And yup, I was violently and repeatedly assaulted.
Yeah, it did take several years, teams of people, and emptied my bank accounts to recover.
No, I didn’t tell many people when it was happening as I was so ashamed.
Dad drowned in a boating tragedy, check.
Mum went to prison; I had a violent stepfather, a tumultuous upbringing, check.
My best friend died while this was happening. My marriage ended. Yeah, I can tick those boxes too.
Each of us has a story to tell.
Our own version of these types of struggles and challenges.
Each of us has a life filled with trials and tribulations, ups and downs, highs and lows, the good times and the bad. Some of us have had horrific experiences as part of our destiny, some of us have had a life filled with shiny, magic moments, and most of us have some sort of combination.
What each of us takes out of these experiences — whether consciously or unconsciously — will ultimately shape our future.
We may not get to choose what happens to us, but we decide what we will make things mean.
What we decide shapes our experience of the world and our identity.
I have never worked so hard in all my life to overcome my obstacles, but at some point, I thought there has to be a better way, there has to be something I can do, and this is where Tiny Habits entered my life.
How the Tiny Habits Methods helped me overcome obstacles
At the time, I barely wanted to leave the house. Starting exercising seemed insurmountable.
I wasn’t lacking motivation; I was so terribly full of fear and feeling unsafe that I felt I couldn’t face people.
But walking to the letterbox and back? Now that I could do.
Getting my exercise clothes ready for a workout? Now that I could do.
The Tiny Habits Method was helping me achieve both Fogg Maxim #1 & #2.
Fogg Maxim #1: Help people do what they already want to do.
Fogg Maxim #2: Help people feel successful.
So, where did I start? Where you can begin, too:
Start way smaller than you think you need to. Set yourself up for a win.
Tiny Habit Recipes for Wellbeing, Exercise & Weight Loss
After I prepare my PJs in the evening, I will prepare a set of exercise clothes/shoes and put them in the bathroom and celebrate by smiling and thinking, “I got this!”
Why this works: I was already getting clothes ready to wear after my evening shower—my PJs and robe. So it was very easy to open another drawer and take exercise clothes to the bathroom with me. I even moved my exercise clothes to live in the drawer next to my PJs, so it was super, super easy.
I recommend this—making things easy to do, rather than relying on memory or motivation.
The pairing: Well-being stuff in the bathroom always works well for me (and my clients & fellow coaches too.) The only thing I needed to do was open another drawer and take a set of clothes out. I also started storing exercise gear in ready-to-go sets—rather than tops/shorts separately.
The frequency? Once per day
Time the recipe takes? 15-30 seconds
It also made me feel prepared, future-focused, and on top of the next day, in advance.
After I pee for the first time in the morning (final step: washing my hands/hanging the hand towel up), I will get dressed in my exercise clothes/shoes and celebrate by doing a Serena Williams fist pump.
Why this works: This Tiny Habits recipe made me feel like someone who worked out—it started to shift my identity and how I saw and related to myself. Also, once I was in my clothes and shoes, I felt like I needed to do something before getting out of them.
The pairing: Wellbeing stuff in the bathroom
The frequency? Once per day
Time the recipe takes? Approx 15 seconds.
After I finish the last mouthful of my first coffee, I will walk to the letterbox (and celebrate by clapping my hands).
Why this works: I was in action. Tiny, simple, action—walking.
The pairing: Coffee is a feel-good morning ritual, so I wanted to anchor exercise in here.
The frequency? Once per day
Time the recipe takes? Approx 15 seconds.
Want to earn extra credit? Keep walking! Just remember to practice your celebration first.
Focus on Celebration
Celebration is how we make our habits automatic. It creates a feeling of positive emotion right after we practice our Tiny Habit recipe—our new behaviour—or while we are doing it. It teaches us how to be our own BBF and to be kind to ourselves.
Focus on Creating Success Momentum
Rather than doing one big thing once, do small things lots of times. This gives us lots of small opportunities for success, which is actually more important than one single opportunity for larger success.
“It’s the frequency of success, not the size of success, that matters.” – Dr BJ Fogg
5-30 seconds a day using the Tiny Habits method have resulted in some massive changes.
I’ve reduced my body fat by 12%.
I’ve reduced my weight by 25lb and kept it off (approx 100-200g fat loss per week.)
Last December I could only lift a broomstick, and now I can Olympic lift.
I’ve used the Tiny Habits Method to stop taking all medication. I’ve now been medication-free for 12-months.
I’ve used Tiny Habit Recipes to assist with overwhelm, anxiety, and PTSD flashbacks.
I couldn’t jump around at all when I began with Tiny Habits. I was so scared my spine would collapse. I started skipping in 2020, and now I dance every day.
I move my body 12,000 steps (10-15km) every day, even without going to the gym, by using Tiny Habits Recipes. I’ve consistently averaged 13,000 steps per day for two years now (I track this using Oura.)
Want to learn more?
After I put on my seatbelt, I will push play on my audiobook.
This has been my most successful Tiny Habit to date! I can quickly finish 1-2 books a week. But this habit didn’t start this way.
My aspiration was to read at night after putting my kids to bed. During family dinner conversations, I would express my frustration with not getting the books read that I wanted to and how my pile was stacking up. There were nights of me commenting that I bought another book, and my kids would laugh because they knew my lack of success at reading was real.
After a couple of weeks of not completing this habit, I realized I needed to troubleshoot it instead of continuing to whine.
There was an aha moment one day… I am in the car for multiple hours a day running kids around.
And that was when this super successful habit was created. I was learning the content inside the books (which had been the aspiration the whole time). My kids heard and saw the process (I had wanted something, created a habit, it didn’t work, so I adjusted instead of giving up.)
While I was focused during this, I hadn’t realized the lesson I was teaching to my kids until one night at dinner, my middle son started to explain a habit that he had designed and needed to troubleshoot it.
He kept hearing about the importance of gratitude and wanted to create a habit around it.
He told me that initially, he was going to sit at his desk and write down three things he was grateful for. That hadn’t been working for him, so he moved to his bed.
He said, “Mom, I thought that after I sit on my bed, I will open up the notes on my phone and type out three things I’m grateful for.”
He explained that many of his teachers at school have him do stuff with an app on his phone, and then he dreads that, and he didn’t want to dread this habit. So time to redesign again. He liked the location of the habit (his bed); he just needed to design the gratitude part to be easier for him.
His habit ended up being, “After I sit on the end of my bed when I am done playing guitar, I will close my eyes and think of one thing I’m grateful for.”
I was excited for him. I had no idea this habit was being created and that he was doing it on his own.
The first and most powerful way to teach your kids the Tiny Habits method is by modeling positive habits yourself. Be the example and explain behaviors that you would like to have as habits for yourself. Involve your kids in the process. Let them hear what you would like to accomplish, how it’s working out, or how it isn’t. Letting them live through you and your explanations so that their thoughts can follow the process and see themselves within it.
My absolute favorite way to teach my kids about habits is with the Swarm of Bs.
To say I love doing this with my kids is an understatement!
It creates a moment for me to understand their aspirations and desired outcomes (sometimes it’s for a long-term desire, and sometimes it’s to solve a current problem).
How I to do the Swarm of Bs with my kids:
I love this because I get to hear their thoughts. We get to spend time together brainstorming all these fantastic possibilities of behaviors. Often there are ideas I would not have thought of.
One of my sons used this exercise to solve our family’s problem of not playing enough board games. I had no idea this was something he had wanted to have more of.
When I did this with my oldest stepdaughter, she wrote “confidence” in her swarm. Again, I had not realized this was something she wanted. Talking through how she (& I) could help her grow her confidence was playful, creative, and fun! It also allowed me to understand her and be aware of how I can help her be successful.
After Liv and I did her Swarm of Bs, she decided that mirror affirmations would be the most successful for her.
Awesome! We had a starting point.
From there, we talked through what time of day she wanted to say an affirmation. (Morning while she was brushing her hair. This was her anchor). Then we talked through what her affirmation would be (behavior).
Her Tiny Habit:
When I am brushing my hair in the morning, I will look in the mirror and say, “Today is going to be a great day!”
Recipe for a Tiny Habit:
Anchor + Behavior + Celebration
I have noticed that for kids, celebration comes pretty naturally.
A celebration is an emotional reaction. It can be verbal, physical, or in your mind.
One of my kids does a dance shimmy; another says “yeah!” in their mind.
My third and last suggestion for teaching your kids how to use the Tiny Habits method is to get their “buy-in.”
Fogg Maxim #1: Help people do what they already want to do.
Designing habits around things your kids already want to do is fantastic.
However, I have found I want them to do habits that they might not be stoked about.
Forcing them is one option, but that is not a long-term solution; it won’t necessarily help them as adults. So explaining to them what behavior I would like for them to make a habit and talking through it with them has been successful.
As we talk, I can hear something that they want that aligns with the behavior I am hoping for.
An example of this is making their beds.
I have yet to find a kid that is excited about this.
I remember a particular dinner conversation that came from my frustration of my kids’ rooms being trashed by the time school started each morning. I realized what I had been doing wasn’t working, which was getting mad at them, and I decided to take a different approach. I asked them why making your bed might be important. It was helpful for them and me to understand where we all were coming from. I then asked them how they felt after school when they came home and saw that their bed was made (they all agreed that they felt happy and there was peace). I took some time to explain how simple it could be. I also explained my expectations of what a “made bed” could be (aka it didn’t have to be perfect with blankets tight & pillows lined up, etc.). I explained how it could be done in 30 seconds or less. The final part was designing a habit around this:
After my feet hit the floor first thing in the morning, I will flip around and pull up my blankets.
It was fascinating how literally overnight this habit was magic. They understood the behavior and have invested their ideas into the habit of designing.
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The rain started pouring and splish-sploshing on my window. Should I? Shouldn’t I? It isn’t part of my plan today, and I am on a deadline with my commitments. It isn’t part of my diet plan either. When was the last time I had one? I tried to remember.
I sat inside my car, parked right outside of my house with the engine of my white Audi A1 Ambition running while I was lost in thought.
Fasting beach walk done? Check. Errands done? Check. Gym workout done? Check. Groceries done? Check.
Yeah, I deserve it; I’ve worked really hard this week and been consistent with my workouts; I’ll go now and get one. I did a cheeky u-turn and was on my way.
A burnt salted-caramel slice. All of this mental energy, procrastination, time-wasting over a caramel slice.
I knew I would feel guilty about it later and yet, over the past few weeks, I had been craving cakes, cookies, and slices far more than usual. How much time was I spending lately thinking about food? Dreaming about it? Arguing with myself over whether to eat this or not? Trying to justify the sweets, burgers, and other non-nourishing food choices, which had tightened my waistband slightly of late?
It wasn’t the cost of the tightened pants that was of most concern; it was how much time I was spending mentally and emotionally thinking about food and the pain, guilt, suffering, and shame I felt after eating it. That’s what was triggering alarm bells. And how did this even get started? What prompted this behavior?
I don’t usually buy my coffee. My life isn’t designed that way. I drink it black and at home. I have my home set up—my environment designed—so my coffee is specifically ethically sourced—I have a bunch of criteria—and I make it at home. I’m not usually tempted by the siren call of the cakes and slices that way. But then my coffee pot broke, and I wasn’t able to find an immediate replacement. I live in Australia, and with COVID-19, the replacement would be about 6-8 weeks. I also immediately ordered a french press, but since I’m not a huge fan of coffee that way, I started buying my coffee every other day, increasing my exposure to all things delicious that the stores put in front of their counters. Clever them, given food, has always been my contention point. Burgers. Cakes. Fries. Willpower? Forget about it. All the willpower in the world won’t keep me off a cake past 3 pm. Willpower is connected to a limited reserve of mental energy, and once we run out of that energy, we’re more likely to lose self-control. Psychological researchers even have a name for this phenomenon: ego depletion. With my daily coffee run sparking the siren call of cookies and cakes, it was time to deploy a strategy I’d learned years before.
When I was going through the most challenging time in my life, my go-to was cookies. I called it my cookie conundrum. I had an excellent nutritionist at the time. He said to me if I’m doing something over and over again—if my body is craving it, or it is causing some pay off mentally, emotionally, or physically—rather than making myself wrong, to instead incorporate it into my lifestyle. In this case, he created a meal plan where my diet plan was clean to meet my desired outcomes and aspirations—at the time, fat reduction and to increase my fitness & strength—but every day, there was an afternoon cookie and coffee ritual, which I got to indulge in. There was no need to feel bad as it was fulfilling a need and was pre-planned for. I didn’t know it at the time, but my nutritionist was practicing behavior design. My nutritionist was unwittingly living, teaching, and embodying Fogg Maxxim #1 & Fogg Maxxim #2.
Fogg Maxim #1: Help people do what they already want to do.
Fogg Maxim #2: Help people feel successful.
I also believe in eating food for nourishment and performance. Foods that will cause sustained uplifting energy, vitality, and aliveness help with my productivity, anti-aging, and long-term objectives, so all this cake and slice eating isn’t actually working. There is an absolute conflict between my values and goals.
Conflicting motivations are opposing drives related to the same behavior and can be a source of psychological suffering. “I want to eliminate non-nourishing, sugar-laden foods from my diet, but gosh, I really want to eat these cookies”. These conflicts can change depending on what’s happening around us, and we may not even understand where the desire to eat these specific foods is coming from. Rather than needing to figure out why or the source of our motivation—emotionally, mentally, or physically—we can design something workable for our life, right now, exactly as it is. We can figure out what’s prompting it.
What’s prompting my cookie-munching anyways? The mid-afternoon energy slump.
My mid-afternoon energy slump usually happens at 2 pm, and it’s a feeling for sure. I feel tired, low energy, mild fatigue, and want to lie down and take a nap—which I never do—followed by the overwhelming feeling of craving something sweet to eat—ala, the desire for cookies and cake. And I’m not alone.
A lot of us get a mid-afternoon slump.
A carb-heavy lunch can lead to a sugar crash. A rebound in fatigue that was temporarily held at bay by morning caffeine. Being mildly dehydrated can subtly yet negatively affect our energy levels. Also, insomnia and sleep deprivation are commonplace in the world today. If we are not getting enough sleep at night, small factors can have a large effect on our alertness in the afternoon.
Behavior happens in a specific context or environment when we are motivated, we have the ability to do it, and we are prompted.
B (Behavior) = (happens when) M (Motivation) & A (Ability) & P (Prompt) converge at the same moment.
If we know this is going to happen, we can research and plan ahead to achieve our aspirations & outcomes.
A quick google search brings up a plethora of nourishing choices which fulfill the same need, which we can pop into our pantries as better options when we are prompted.
A few of my favorites, and where to find them:
I love chocolate, fudge & brownies.
I love the Vanilla Nougat, Strawberry Cheesecake, and Marshmallow Chocolate Biscuit flavors.
Here’s what they look like in my pantry.
The cookie conundrum? I turned it into a blissful Tiny Habits Recipe you can use in your own life too.
Step 1: Purchase some protein cookies, bars, balls, or slices you believe are healthy. Not sure where to start? Use the links I’ve included above.
Step 2: Figure out a good prompt. The behavior sequence might look like this:
After I feel my energy fade (in the afternoon), I will pour a glass of water and indulge in a protein cookie (bar or ball).
Step 3: Really enjoy the taste. Bliss out in the moment and feel happy and good about adding a healthy habit to your life.
My Recipe—The Tiny Habits Method
After I feel my energy start to fade (in the afternoon)
I will pour a glass of water and enjoy a protein cookie
And celebrate with a Serena Williams fist pump
The best way to learn the Tiny Habits Method is to get started practicing immediately. Don’t wait.
Our decisions define us. Our actions define us. Our habits define us.
So focusing on designing specific actions is where we start.
What action will you choose to take now?
I write things & stuff on Medium
A gratitude habit can create a seismic shift in the way you view the world. If you’re already listing the things you are grateful for each day, allow that habit to change the lives of others as well by taking the next step and expressng your gratitude for the ones you love. William Arthur Ward stated it well, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
There are many ways to express our gratitude to others. You might choose to simply tell them. Your habit might be, “When my spouse comes home from work I’ll tell her one reason I am thankful for her.” or “When I call my father on Sunday I’ll tell him one reason I appreciate him.”
Writing is another wonderful way of expressing gratitude to others, and can be as simple or complex as you’d like. For a while my habit was that after I dried off after a shower, I would text a family member and express my gratitude for them. A text, email or Facebook message can be a quick and easy way to reach out to a loved one.
In time my habit expanded to writing an actual note. I wanted to write a physical note to one person a day. This habit isn’t so tiny – it’s more of a bush, so I had to be sure to find a time in my day where my tiny habit would have room to grow, a time where I would typically have five minutes available to write. So my tiny habit was, “When I sit down at my desk for the first time each morning I will take out my notecards.”
There were some days when I didn’t actually write the note, when I pulled out my notecards but I didn’t have time because I had more pressing issues, but it would still trigger me to think of somebody and to think of my appreciation and gratitude for that person, and I found that it helped my mindset for the entire day. I was more appreciative of all of my family members and in general more aware.
Consider the following when expressing your gratitude:
One reason I think this tiny habit is really important is that unfortunately, there are tragedies that happen in our lives and we don’t know if the individual is going to be around when we do finally decide to show our love and appreciation for them. I’ve had a number of loved ones who have taken unexpected exits, and I look back and I think, I wish I could have been able to tell them one last time how much I love them and how much I appreciate them.
Expressing your gratitude can have such a transformative effect on your life, your relationships, and the lives of others. My aunt still comments on how much that note meant to her. When you express gratitude to somebody else it creates a ripple effect for you and the person you have thanked. You’ll be more aware of the good things others bring to your life, and in turn they’ll be more aware as well, and more likely to see the positive things in their own lives.
In the United States, November is the month for focusing on gratitude as we prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday. Celebrating an abundant fall harvest is a common practice in many cultures, and with good reason. There are many documented benefits to approaching your life with gratitude. Those who do:
Taking a moment to reflect on the positive can have far-reaching effects on many facets of our lives. As Eckhart Tolle stated, “Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”
When you’re working to cultivate a habit of gratitude, it’s important to formulate a recipe tiny enough that you will feel capable of completing it even when your motivation is low. The simplest version might be:
“When my head hits the pillow, I will think of something that I’m grateful for.”
Consider, also, the timing of the habit. Beginning your day with gratitude can be a powerful way of adjusting your mindset so you are more aware and appreciative of the good things that happen as you go through your day. Gratitude at night is good for reflecting on your day and the positive things you’ve experienced, and can set the stage for contentment and restful sleep.
Expanding Your Habit
In our next blog post we’ll explore some ways to take your internal gratitude habit and make it external. For now, here are some suggestions on ways you can make an internal habit more powerful.
Taking a moment to acknowledge the positive things in your life can color your entire day. When you choose to view your life through a lens of gratitude, you create a mindset that enables you to see the opportunity in a challenge and the many small blessings that are present in every day.