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Building habits and behavioural change

This post was written by David Rogers and first appeared on the Epic blog on 23rd January 2013.

building habits andHi, I’m Dave Rogers, Production Manager in Epic’s New York office. Next week, I’m taking part in a sort of experiment to see if I can build habits and change some of my behaviours. The experiment is run by BJ Fogg, a social scientist at Stanford who also works with industry in the field of persuasive technology. He argues that changing behaviour is all about teaching yourself new habits, and that the best way of doing this is to develop the new habit by taking baby steps and by embedding these in your existing routine.

So, here’s one of the new habits I’m going to try to teach myself. I’d like to do more creative writing of my own outside of work, but it’s hard to find the time and I never get round to it. I’m sure many people feel the same about their hobbies or attempts to learn skills, whether it’s learning a new language or doing more exercise.

This is how the process works: I’ve agreed that when I sit on my sofa after getting in from work, I will write one sentence. Just one. And then I’ve got to celebrate that as a success. In this way I take baby steps (writing one sentence is no big time commitment, so I’m more likely to do it) and it becomes part of my daily routine. At some point after I come home from work I will inevitably sit down on the sofa, so I should have a chance to practice my new habit every day.

The small steps to embed the habit in the routine are important. If I try to write for 30 minutes a day, it won’t happen – soon I’ll miss a day, get frustrated, miss again and quickly give up. The idea here is that every day I will write my one sentence, and sometimes, I might write more than one sentence, and maybe in time I will write that novel. Who knows? If nothing else it will be interesting to see if the habit sticks and whether by following his system I can make changes in my behaviour.

What’s also really interesting is whether or not these ideas can be applied to what we do in the learning field. After all, much of what we do is about trying to get learners to change their behaviour in some way. This might be getting people to lock their workstations when they step away from their desks, helping to keep information secure. It could be getting them to change how they pick up boxes so they don’t injure themselves. It might be getting them to change how they interact with colleagues to create a better working atmosphere. Fogg’s method may not always be practical for the workplace, but it’s certainly worth giving some thought to.

Keep a look out for another blog post from me in a week or so to see how I got on, and also to let you know if I’ve had any further thoughts about potential applications in learning.

Click here to read BJ Fogg’s ‘3 Tiny Habits’.