3 Things to Motivate Behaviour Changes

What things in your life would you want to make easier to do? What things would you like to start to start doing now? With these questions in mind,  I’d like to share 3 deceptively simple things to help develop better skills, behaviours, and habits faster.

Quick background: I (re)learnt these principles when I did an amazing course on behaviour change with BJ Fogg in California in June last year. BJ’s an acclaimed consultant, professor at Stanford, and counts Instagram cofounder, Mike Krieger, amongst his past students.

Motivation

Late last year, I realised I was exercising regularly, but daily cardio was missing. I knew how good regular daily cardio felt, from lap swimming 1km everyday for a few months. That had been a few years back, and I was not yet ready to jump back in the pool to that extent!

So how do you start doing “daily cardio”?

1. Make what you want to do easier

Daily cardio is not specific enough for me to action. So I made it more specific, by asking myself

  • what exactly do I want to do? (Which exercise activity)
  • where will I do it?
  • how long should each workout be?

To make it as easy as possible, I chose to sprint on the spot, at home, for 1 min.

Only one minute you say? Well think about how many times have you said you would start a new skill/diet/training program/etc where you asked yourself to commit say 30min or more per day? Did it become a habit? Or did you give up after only several weeks?

Sheer willpower can sometimes (well, more like often) be unpredictable enough not to be relied upon. This is why BJ Fogg’s Behaviour Model does not rely on increasing motivation. For consistent progress and eventually big results, start small. Very small. As small as one minute of sprinting on the spot.

I had made my behaviour easy enough to do. Next, I had to ask myself in when/in what situations will I do this? What will trigger me to do this behaviour?

2. Use an existing habit as a trigger

A trigger for a behaviour that works is one that, when cued, will consistently result in the behaviour happening.

To start new things, I knew that the most motivated time of day for me was in the mornings before work. I decided the most reliable trigger for me would be waking up. Plus, committing just one minute in the morning is hardly going to make me lose sleep, or disrupt my morning routine.

So the behaviour I actually applied to start doing daily cardio was:

After wake up, I sprint on the spot, at home, for 1 minute, everyday.

Results

I always felt great after I did my new morning minute cardio. I had more energy to focus on the rest of the day, by focusing on doing a small, very achievable step.

Just to be clear, I would start at a slow pace jogging on the spot, lifting my knees to chest with each stationary stride. By the end of the minute, I had built up my knee lifting pace to be as fast as possible. Also, I didn’t time the minute exactly. I almost always ended up doing more.  The key was that such a seemingly tiny step actually motivated me to keep doing it

Not only that, my daily dose of heart pumping has motivated me to do other types of cardio training, at other times of day, far more often.

3. Make it feel great

Cardio can be its own reward, and acknowledging the good feeling from the endorphin rush reinforces progress. If the behaviour you want to start does not make you feel great, do a mini celebration straight after doing it. This could be a smile to yourself, exclaiming “woohoo!” or “yes!”, a little dance on the spot – whatever works for making you feel good about it.

Notice motivation is not one of the 3 points I covered. The act of doing something that makes you feel great, at the time and afterwards, seems to be self-reinforcing. It can boost your motivation to do that behaviour again, and other behaviours you would like to do.

Hope this post, my first on here, helps you towards an easy-to-do-and-trigger behaviour for you to do. Check back to this blog as I share more insights on productivity, learning and play!

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3 Things to Motivate Behaviour Changes

6 thoughts on “3 Things to Motivate Behaviour Changes

  1. I love this concept. Thanks for sharing!
    What if you are a person who is most energetic at night?
    In the evening I prefer to do something like Yoga or tai chi to wind down.
    On the other hand if I force myself to do cardio in the morning I feel much better for it, but this could be very challenging initially …

    1. Great question! The best triggers are the ones that work for you, using an existing habit you are familiar with to cue the behaviour. So at night, after you feel very active, would be a great trigger for you to exercise :).
      But if you want to start a morning workout habit, it only takes one minute to get started!

  2. Hi Tsung, nice post! Your sprint routine actually reminds me of the way I first began my habit of daily yoga practice. I made a commitment to myself that every single day, I would roll out my yoga mat and stand at the top of it for ten seconds. That was the only commitment – if I then rolled it back up and went on with my day, it still counted. But of course usually when I did that, I realised how much I needed yoga and had a great practice 🙂

    1. Love it! Great example of feeling great about tiny habits. What makes it even better is that since then you have become a yoga teacher 😉

      Small steps, when done with some awareness, do lead to much bigger things!

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