B.J. Fogg on Behavior Design (5): Find a Good Prompt

The A in B.J. Fogg’s ABC recipe for Tiny Habits stands for Anchor. This is included because all behavior follows a prompt (which B.J. also calls an anchor). If you don’t design a prompt for your desired habit, says B.J. — well, that behavior won’t happen.

One of the many cool things about the Tiny Habits program is applying this to your own life.

Immediately I saw that I live in a fog of unconsciousness. I encounter countless prompts each day without noticing them. All those prompts are triggering behaviors, and the whole process unfolds beneath my awareness.

In short, I’m living like a machine rather than a human being.

B.J.’s program offers a way wake up.

Recognize anchors

Some common anchors are:

  • Starting a coffee maker
  • Brushing teeth
  • Turning on the shower
  • Waking up in the morning
  • Putting on shoes
  • Starting a car
  • Feeling the urge to snack
  • Starting up a computer
  • Starting a dishwasher
  • Plugging in a phone to charge

Most anchors occur in the morning, but look for them in afternoon and evening as well.

Choose effective anchors

When designing Tiny Habits, your best bet for anchors are existing habits. Find behaviors that you do consistently.

Also make anchors precise. Look for the trailing edge of an anchor — how the behavior ends. For example:

  • After I put down the carafe rather than After I pour coffee.
  • After I start the dishwasher rather than After I finish dinner.
  • After my feet hit the floor rather than After I get out of bed.

In addition, match anchors with your desired habit. Think in terms of:

  • Physical location. Design a new habit to take place in the same location as an existing habit.
  • Frequency. If you want to do the new habit twice a day, for example, then find an existing habit that you do twice per day.
  • Theme or purpose. Say that your aspiration is to be more productive. Link your new habit to an existing habit that’s about being more productive.

B.J. gives this example of an anchor and habit that do not match: After I brush my teeth, I will sweep the garage.

Some anchors involve pockets of waiting time during the day. B.J. calls these “meanwhile” anchors. Examples include:

  • After I turn on the shower, I will do two squats.
  • After I stop at a red light, I will, I will take a mindful breath.
  • After I get in line at the grocery store, I will think of one thing I’m grateful for.

Another interesting variation is the “pearl” habit. B.J describes these as “creating beauty from irritation.” For instance:

  • After I feel insulted, I will think of something nice to do for myself.
  • After I hear a car honk, I will smile.
  • After I get in line at the grocery store, I will relax my face and neck.

Start with a list

Mentally review your typical day for useful anchors. Look for habits that you do:

  • First thing in the morning
  • Right before lunch
  • During lunch
  • Right after lunch
  • At the end of the work day
  • Right before you go to bed

Creating this list of your existing anchors — and keeping it updated — will make habit design easier.