Tiny Habits

Where does the day go? 

I’m settled at the kitchen table, with the remains of dinner around my computer, a solitary burning candle to keep me company and the lights of the king Span Ulster rugby stadium in my up-ward gaze. I’ve opened the window too to let in nature’s airy breath.

As a mother of a little baby, there’s a lot more time to think, not that I’m twiddling my thumbs-oh no, it’s that I spend a lot of time lying down breast feeding our littlest one. So, unless she is being fussy and challenging my often shaky mother radar, there’s nothing else to do but think!


I’ve been thinking a lot about motivation, in particular motivation to do with exercise.

Exactly five weeks ago today I began an exercise challenge to myself- six weeks of cycling six days a week for six minutes each day, I coined it 6x6x6. Doesn’t sound like much, but the main thing was I felt six minutes was doable.  

At this stage I hadn’t come a across Dr BJ Fogg and his tiny habits TED talk.

During my challenge, an interesting behaviour developed which I had not planned or anticipated: I developed a new habit of cycling while watching our evening TV show. Suddenly, and without warning my little tiny habit turned into a bigger habit. Around week four I started cycling for 20 minutes each night.

Dr Fogg is a behaviour scientist based at Stanford University in the USA. He describes two ways to succeed with behaviour change. One is to change your environment, if possible, and the second is to make a tiny habit which only requires low motivation levels.

In order to start the tiny habit, we need a trigger. For me that was putting our littlest-one to sleep.

“We our more likely to succeed if our tiny habit comes ‘after’ something we regularly do, like brushing your teeth”.
— Dr Fogg

 Dr Fogg believes we our more likely to succeed if our tiny habit comes ‘after’ something we regularly do, like brushing your teeth.

 The final step in Dr. Fogg’s path to making a new habit last is to celebrate it, and I did that. On completion of my cycle I would automatically say “yes!”, mostly to myself, raising my arms in the air as if I’d scored a goal and some evenings I would post a photo on social media. 

When beginning this exercise challenge, I doubted my motivation. I thought my motivation probably came from wanting to get healthier, but I was wrong. Motivation is fickle and even though most people want to be healthy, changing behaviour is not easy. 

Dr Fogg believes tiny habits lead to bigger habits, long term habits, and this has been the case with me. I now cycle for 15-20 minutes-including my six sprints- and this week which marked 12 weeks since my caesarean section, I began running. I ran five minutes to the post office and five minutes back! 

So, my lesson from this is make a tiny habit that is achievable, do it after something you do every day, like going to the toilet, putting on your shoes, making a cup of tea. And, most important of all celebrate it – arms in the air with a double fist pump to finish! 

Happy exercising!