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Tiny Habits is a culmination of BJ Fogg’s 20 years of human behavior research at Stanford University. He learned that there are only three things that will change your behavior in the long term. Of these three, only two can be easily controlled by you. Firstly, you can change your environment. Secondly, you can engage with tiny behaviors. In Tiny Habits, Fogg explains why humans commonly fail to implement healthy habits, like a new diet or regular exercise. Crucially, he then provides a solution to these problems by relying less on motivation and more on things you can control.

About BJ Fogg

BJ Fogg founded the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University, where he directs research and innovation. In addition, he teaches industry innovators how to use his models and methods in Behavior Design. Fogg has a B.A. and MA. in English from Brigham Young University. Plus, a Ph.D. in Communications from Stanford, where he served as a teaching assistant to Philip Zimbardo.

Where Tiny Habits Stems From

Fogg had been interested in changing his behavior for a while. However, it was a specific tiny habit that offered the inspiration for his model of tiny habits. It was an odd habit, but it stuck and actually helped him improve his life. Every time Hogg needed a wee, he would do two wall push-ups before heading to the toilet. This behavior became a tiny habit and was one factor that helped Hogg lose 20 pounds and become healthier and stronger. Additionally, his mental strength improved, leading to him being more productive and effective. 

The effectiveness of these tiny habits is that their difficulty levels are so low that they only require minimal motivation to engage with them. Fogg provides an action curve in the book, which suggests that we only engage with a behavior when our motivation levels are above the curve. This curve suggests that we only engage with very difficult tasks, such as running into a burning building, if we have a very high motivation level. For example, our child is still in the building. Comparatively, brushing our teeth every evening is so easy that it requires minimal motivation. The utility of tiny habits is that they reduce the motivation required for you to engage with action, as the behavior is moved further down the curve towards the ‘easy’ task end.

The Challenges of Developing Healthy Habits

Challenge No. 1 – Judging Ourselves for Failure

The first challenge of developing healthy habits is we are particularly harsh on ourselves when we fail. Arguably the most common example of this is when people pick up a new diet. Just one example of breaking the diet can lead to people spiraling out of control. They exaggerate this failure and let it take over the healthy habit. This cycle is often repeated over and over by serial dieters. You will never change your habits by feeling bad for yourself. 

Challenge No. 2 – Mistaking Aspirations for Behaviors

Fogg describes a behavior as something that you can do at a specific point in time. This could be right now or at a clearly defined point in the future. Comparatively, an aspiration is not something you can achieve at a specific time point. Aspirations require you to implement several healthy behaviors. For example, the aspiration of improving your sleep quality may rely on the behavior of not eating within an hour of your bedtime. 

Challenge No. 3 – Relying on Motivation to Help us Achieve Goals

There is a common misconception that we should set ourselves lofty goals and then expect our motivation to help us reach these goals. However, Fogg highlights our motivation levels are highly variable. Therefore, we cannot rely on motivation to keep us on track with our goals. We need triggers to encourage greater motivation. However, we also need the skills required to achieve these goals. Instead of setting high goals and relying on unreliable motivation levels, Fogg recommends you create tiny habits. 

The Three-Step Formula for Building Tiny Habits

Find an Anchor Moment

Fogg introduced anchor moments as an existing routine or an event that happens frequently. Examples include getting dressed, or the sun rising every morning. These anchors are stable, so they are effective in reminding you to engage with a Tiny Behavior. 

Make Behaviors Tiny

Fogg suggests you focus on small actions that you can complete within less than thirty seconds. These tiny behaviors should be positive, like doing ten star jumps. Plus, the tiny behaviors should also immediately follow the Anchor Moment. 


Celebrate Accomplishments With Shine

If you have done something with creative, positive emotions, then do not wait and hold them for a more ‘perfect’ moment. Instead, respond immediately with a celebration of your accomplishments. This might simply be a statement, such as ‘Fantastic!’, or treating yourself to a leisure activity you enjoy. Crucially, though, this activity cannot be hours or days later. Instead, it needs to be directly after the tiny behavior. 

Fogg believes that habits are like a tree. We must nurture and feed the habit until it grows and forms strong roots in your life. Providing your habit with some shine will help the habit grow into something huge. Fogg describes shine as the feeling you get after an accomplishment or ‘authentic pride.’ We often struggle to develop habits because we are only willing to bring some shine to our lives when we accomplish something massive, like getting a new job. Fogg explains that it might seem odd at first, but you need to learn to celebrate every small accomplishment. This is the key to developing habits. Like training a dog, you must reward every positive behavior rather than only rewarding the dog when it does something remarkable. Rewarding those small positive behaviors, such as waiting before crossing the road, will allow your dog to develop habits that are crucial for success. The same is true for you. Giving yourself shine after engaging with tiny habits will help keep you above the action curve.

The Fogg Behavior Model

“You can disrupt a behavior you don’t want by removing the prompt. This isn’t always easy, but removing the prompt is your best first move to stop a behavior from happening.” – BJ Fogg

Fogg believes behavior can be conceptualized as a formula. Specifically, behavior is a combination of your motivation, ability, and a prompt. Fogg provides an analogy to support this formula (B=MAP). While exercising, Fogg received a text from the Red Cross asking for a donation. Fogg had already considered donating to this charity, so he already had the motivation for this behavior. The donation merely required him to reply to the text, so he clearly had the ability to actualize the behavior. Finally, Fogg had been prompted to donate by an external source: the Red Cross texted him first. This example shows behavior relies upon the alignment of each of these factors. If one factor had not been sufficiently met, then he would not have engaged in the behavior of donating to the charity. 

The more apparent these factors and the easier the behaviors are, the more likely these behaviors will become a habit. Hence, if you have a bad habit, you can work towards breaking it by removing one of the factors from the Fogg Formula. Similarly, if you want to establish a healthy habit, then you need to establish each of these factors. 

The Sources of Motivation

As previously mentioned, over-reliance on motivation is a mistake. However, this does not mean that motivation is entirely useless. It is still a critical factor in Fogg’s behavior equation. Hence, Fogg outlines the different sources of motivation.

  1. Yourself and what you already want.
  2. A benefit or punishment you would receive by doing the action.
  3. Your context, such as all your friends engaging in this behavior.

Your Control Over Ability

Fogg emphasizes the importance of tiny habits bypassing the unpredictability of motivation. 

Ability is something that you have far greater control over in your life. This is especially true for tiny habits, which are supposed to be relatively easy. As Fogg explained, he decided to start doing two standing push-ups before going to the toilet. This was a behavior easily within his ability range. Hence, he felt able to maintain this positive behavior. Comparatively, suppose he had set himself the goal of doing 50 push-ups per day. This might be physically possible concerning his abilities, but it would be incredibly difficult and would undoubtedly require motivation. Therefore, focusing on healthy behaviors well within your ability range will increase your chances of developing these behaviors into a tiny habit.

Fogg recommends asking yourself the discovery question if you are trying but struggling to build a new habit. The discovery question is:

What is making this behavior hard to do?

In Fogg’s research, he found at least one of five factors is frequently raised as answers to this question. He calls these factors the Ability Factors and developed five questions based on these factors:

  1. Do you have enough time to do the behavior?
  2. Do you have enough money to do the behavior?
  3. Are you physically capable of doing the behavior?
  4. Does the behavior require significant creative or mental energy?
  5. Does the behavior fit into your current routine, or does it require you to make adjustments?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, you need to make your chosen behavior easier and tinier. 

Making Your Behaviors Easier and Tinier

After identifying a behavior that needs to be made easier to become a tiny habit, you can adopt three approaches.

Increase Your Skills

If you have decided to build a habit but are struggling ability-wise, you can increase your skills. The result should be that the behavior you are seeking to implement becomes easier due to your increased ability. Ensure you decide to increase your skills when your motivation levels are high. 

Acquire Tools and Resources

As well as improving your ability, you must possess the resources to effectively engage with a new behavior. For example, suppose you want to get physically fit. In that case, it would be wise to invest in some sports clothing in a good pair of trainers. 

Make the Behavior Tiny

Finally, you can make the behavior smaller by focusing on the behavior step-by-step. Work on the starter steps, and you will be moving toward your desired behavior. As well as breaking the behavior into steps, you can scale back the behavior, so it is less challenging.

How to Utilize Prompts

The Three Types of Prompt

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

Fogg describes three types of prompts.

Firstly, there are person prompts. These prompts are internal and rely on something inside you to prompt a behavior. These types of prompts are more valuable for essential behaviors, like drinking water. Comparatively, you cannot rely on person prompts to create meaningful change in your life. 

Secondly, context prompts incorporate the cues within your environment. These cues should encourage you to engage with a specific behavior, like a mobile phone notification reminding you of your friend’s birthday. This context prompt would encourage you to engage with the positive behavior of contacting your friend to wish them a happy birthday. Despite the potential utility of context prompts, there are also limitations. For example, it can become challenging to manage several context prompts. 

Fogg highlights the third prompt, action prompts, as easily the most effective. An action prompt is a behavior that is already a habit that can remind you to do a new habit you want to cultivate. This type of prompt is more effective as it utilizes your behaviors that are already well-established. An example would be going for a run daily after dropping the kids off at school.

The Tiny Habit Recipe

Fogg calls this relationship between two behaviors your Tiny Habit Recipe. The template for this recipe is ‘After I (Anchor), I will (New Habit).’

When choosing your Anchor for the Tiny Habit Recipe, you should take three factors into account:

  1. Match the physical location – To do this, you need to find an Anchor you do in that location.
  2. Match the frequency – Decide how often you want to do your new habit. Then, once you have done this, you should identify an Anchor that matches your new habit’s frequency.
  3. Match the theme/purpose – Ensure that the Anchor has the same theme or purpose as the new habit. 

The Golden Behaviors

Fogg offers advice on how you can change your behaviors. He also highlights the importance of choosing the correct behaviors to change your life for the better. Crucially, these behaviors should match your goals and individual abilities. The behaviors that meet all these requirements are called Golden Behaviors. 

Fogg provides three criteria as a way of outlining what a Golden Behavior is:

  1. The behavior is effective in realizing your aspiration. This is the impact of the behavior. 
  2. You want to engage with this behavior. This is your motivation to do this specific behavior.
  3. You can do the behavior. This is your ability to engage with this behavior. 

Hence, golden behaviors are built upon Fogg’s Behavior Model.

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