Big Changes Start With Tiny Habits

Make big changes in your life by starting with tiny habits

“Forget big change, start with a tiny habit.” -BJ Fogg, PhD

Habits are unconscious, and habits are what get us through the day, whether we like it or not.

But habit formation, which is essentially behavior change, is so much bigger and harder than I ever imagined.

In his Ted Talk, Stanford researcher BJ Fogg, PhD, explains that 3 things must be present for there to be a behavior:

  • some level of motivation
  • ability to perform the behavior;
  • and a trigger.

Unfortunately, if the behavior we are trying to achieve is too hard, or we lack motivation, we are unlikely to do it.

Those of us with ADHD often lack motivation as well as the ability to persist in a task that we find difficult or unpleasant.

To use Mr. Fogg’s example, I am not motivated to run a marathon and doing so would be quite difficult. Therefore, I am unlikely to run a marathon now or in the future.

Because I have ADHD, but also because I am human.

On the other hand, I am slightly more motivated to do my family’s laundry. I recently started reworking my laundry routine using tiny habits. Now I get to experience small wins every single day.

Small wins are the secret to lasting behavior change when you have ADHD.


big changes start with tiny habits


Celebrate all of the small wins

You wouldn’t believe how happy I am with myself when I grab a pair of my husband’s underwear and carry them to his dresser. Not because of the action itself, but because I didn’t just walk past the laundry basket and ignore it.

Every time I walk down the hallway in my house I pick up 1 or 2 pieces of clean laundry to put away.  And every single time it is a small win and I mentally pat myself on my back.

According to Mr. Fogg I should be saying “I’m awesome!”  But that doesn’t feel natural to me, so I tell myself, “you are making progress with that basket.”

So the next time you grab that piece of mail that requires filing, or you pick up that lone sock your child left on the floor, celebrate.  It’s a small win.

Apply the same rule to habit formation – if you want a new behavior to stick, you have to make it easy to perform and easy to celebrate.

Trigger Yourself

Determine what behavior you are trying to produce.  Is it loading the dishwasher each night? Sorting the mail each day?

Whatever it is, you need to think long and hard about what other habits you already perform right before your desired behavior. Look at your existing behaviors, the things already in place.

For example, if you want to load the dishwasher each night, what do you do right before that?

Eat dinner.  Stand up and clear off the table. USE THAT.

Choose something really tiny to start with

Continuing with our dishwasher example – come up with something super small and fill in the blank below. (Totally stolen from BJ Fogg’s Tedtalk)


Big Changes start with Tiny habits

After I stand up from the table, I will put 2 dishes in the dishwasher.

For my laundry situation it goes like this: After I walk past the laundry basket, I will put away 1-2 items.

Fill in the blank below to practice, keep it really tiny. Your tiny habit should take no more than 30 seconds.

After I _________________________, I will __________________________________.

Start with just a few

When I enrolled in the tiny habits program I chose 3 tiny habits to start.  My habits were as follows:

  • After I wake up, I will take 3 deep calming breaths.
  • After I walk past the laundry basket, I will put away 1-2 items.
  • After I get to my desk at work, I will fill my water bottle.

Each day I got an email and I recorded how I did with my tiny habits.  Every time I performed my new behaviors I achieved a small win.

Over 5 days I became intrinsically motivated to keep going. I loved the way my small wins made me feel, so I kept at it.

Persisting in a new habit is a big deal for an ADHD’er. Intrinsic motivation is not easy to find!

Be Patient and tweak your tiny habits

I still believe habits and routines are the key to managing ADHD, particularly at home.

Forming tiny habits is much more manageable than trying to create some kind of rigid structure for yourself.

Small wins are the secret to lasting behavior change when you have ADHD.

Tiny victories are what will keep you moving forward toward your goals. You will be so happy with your progress you will build your own momentum.

Each time you choose to add a tiny habit, you might have to tweak it a little. You might have to make it even tinier.

Break it down into the tiniest possible baby steps – it’s still progress.

Finally, here is a clip of BJ Fogg explaining his tiny habits at a Ted Talk. It’s kinda long but so worth it!


Here is a link to some more info on Tiny Habits and BJ Fogg’s work.

Tiny Habits Website