Tiny Habits

17 Jul

Start small, dream big.  That’s the thrust of Stanford Psychologist BJ Fogg’s course on building good habits, called Tiny Habits.  The basic idea is that when we’re trying to start a routine, the most effective way to begin is with one, small, step.  Too large, and you’ll never get started (this is where that, “I’ll go the gym 4 days a week” New Year’s Resolution gets most of us), but start with something small, and chances are you’ll actually do more than you ever imagined.

Fogg’s example is flossing.  His tiny habit?  Floss just one tooth a night.  One tooth was manageable and tiny.  But once he was flossing one tooth, he often flossed every tooth.  Just one tooth was a tiny goal he could stomach starting, but once you start something, most people feel compelled to finish the task.  And voila!  Every tooth flossed.

The rules of tiny habits are simple.  A tiny habit is something:

  • you do at least once a day

  • that takes you less than 30 seconds

  • that requires little effort

Fogg has a list of examples, as well as more details about how to start a tiny habit, here.

Can you see the application for students?  There are so many huge habits we want them to form–study habits, social habits, healthy living habits–but it’s notoriously difficult to create a new habit, even for a 9 year old.  If little Johnny has been stuffing his papers in his backpack or desk for 5 years, telling him to, “Get organized!” isn’t going to help much.  But what if we tried a tiny habit?

Tiny Habit: Johnny will check that he has a sharp pencil when he sits down at his desk.

Pencil by Arda Balkan



  • he does it at least once a day

  • it takes him less than 30 seconds

  • it requires little effort

Notice I said that Johnny will check that he has a sharp pencil, not that he’ll get two sharpened pencils, or have all of his papers out on his desk, etc, etc.  Tiny habits need to start tiny.  But if Johnny gets in the habit of checking, he might just go ahead and sharpen if he notices it’s dull.

Tiny Habit: Grace will check the end of her writing for a period when she finishes her work.

  • she does it at least once a day

  • it takes her less than 30 seconds

  • it requires little effort

Again, we’re not asking Grace to check all of her writing for punctuation, even though that’s the ultimate goal.  But if she checks that last line, we know we’ll have one period in the paper.  And maybe she’ll begin to check a little more, and a little more.

My own tiny habit?  Closing the closet door at night.  I tend to leave everything open–drawers, cabinets, doors.  I can’t be bothered to close them, but my husband hates the site of everything wide open.  This week my goal is to close the closet door (just the closet door) each night before bed.  I do it every day, it’s less than 30 seconds, and it requires little effort.  So far, I have 3 days of success.  And all of my kitchen cabinet doors are closed too!

What would your tiny habit be?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


A world of film, a house of stuff.

Literacy Changes Everything!

Teaching and Parenting as a Dedicated Reader and Writer

To Make a Prairie

A blog about reading, writing, teaching and the joys of a literate life

sunday cummins

Experience Nonfiction

Shanahan on Literacy

Literacy in Education


A meeting place for a world of reflective writers.

The Quick and the Ed

Literacy in Education

Shanker Blog


Free Technology for Teachers

Literacy in Education


Smarter Charts from Marjorie Martinelli & Kristine Mraz

%d bloggers like this: