What You Know About Habit Formation is Wrong!

career assessment career change career success habit formation habits tiny habits Feb 26, 2020

New Research About Habits from BJ Fogg, PhD, Stanford University

When I was doing research for our Life Coaching, I really wanted to understand behavior change, especially the habit formation part. I’d read and heard about habits being formed in 21 days but could not find any research supporting it. One study I found said that the 21 days contention was a myth. Phillippa Lally, health psychology researcher at University College London, contends in that study that it takes 66 days to form a habit and as much as 354 days for it to be fully formed. Ugh.


After reading more research, I was not satisfied with any of this. That is when I was referred to Dr. BJ Fogg at Stanford University which changed everything we know about habit formation…


I Had to Meet BJ Fogg to Get Out of the Habit Formation Fog

 When I was doing my research, I ran into a company that is hired by medical insurance companies or large corporations to assist patients and employees in taking their medicine and doing so when prescribed. Weight loss fits in here, too. They help with encouragement, reminders and other effective techniques. It turns out, patients not following doctors’ orders is a huge and expensive deal. If there was a better understanding of this issue, millions upon millions of dollars and lives could be saved or extended.


I was able to get some time with Mazi Rasulnia, President and CEO of Pack Health, and he was very helpful as was his staff. They told me that they learned a lot from a Dr. BJ Fogg at Stanford, and he taught leaders at selected companies how to help their clients in the behavior change area. After being interviewed, Dr. Fogg accepted me into his very exclusive seminar because he liked our mission. What I learned at his seminar in early 2019 made total sense, but let Dr. Fogg speak for himself.


Here is an excerpt from his book Tiny Habits + The Small Changes That Change Everything (Copyright 2020, p. 137) on how emotions create habits.


“There is a direct connection between what you feel when you do a behavior and the likelihood that you will repeat the behavior in the future. When I unearthed this connection between emotions and habits in my research on the Tiny Habits method, I was surprised I had not seen this truth before. Like an answer to a riddle, it was suddenly so obvious. I wondered why this insight was not already common knowledge.


For too long people have believed the old myth that repetition creates habits, focusing on the number of days it requires. Some of today’s popular habit bloggers still talk about repetition or frequency as the key. Just know this: They are recycling old ideas. They have not done groundbreaking research.


In my own research, I found that habits can form very quickly, often in just a few days, as long as people have strong positive emotion connected to the behavior. In fact, some habits seem to get wired in immediately: You do the behavior once, and then you don’t consider other options again. You’ve created an instant habit. For example, if you give your teenage daughter a mobile phone, her emotional response to using the device will wire in a habit very quickly. No need for repetition.


When I teach people about human behavior, I boil it down to three words to make the point crystal clear: Emotions create habits. Not repetition. Not frequency. Not fairy dust. Emotions.


When you are designing for habit formation – for yourself or for someone else – you are really designing for emotions.”




I have personal experience with a behavior done once that became a true habit – hearing Sunday preaching by David Platt at the Church at Brook Hills in 2012. The emotional impact was profound and far beyond what I had been experiencing elsewhere. So now you know one of the main ways how habits are formed.


So how might this apply to those pesky New Year’s Resolutions that fail. Well, we haven’t been designing for emotions and that is one of the main reasons they fail. Another of the many reasons they fail is that they are too big, but that is a big story for another blog.


Charlie Haines

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