Soul Sculpting Project: Playing with Habit Design

Soul Sculpting Project: Playing with Habit Design

The most depressing day of the year is almost here. The third Monday in January. That’s the day when the hopes of keeping our New Year’s resolutions begin to die.

To keep my hopes alive this year I am pulling out my biggest power-tool for behavioral change.


  • Motivation is fleeting. Will-power is limited. Habit is long lasting and effortless.

Like lots of folks I have an exercise goal this year. I want to stick with it. So here is my plan.

Form a Tiny Habit

To form my tiny habit I needed 3 things: A Tiny Action, a Trigger, and a Reward.

First, a Tiny ACTION to support my goal. I selected two sit-ups.

Two sit-ups? What’s that worth? Plenty. Consistent tiny exercise can launch big changes.

And frankly once I do two sit-ups I always keep going and do more.

But my habit ONLY requires me to do two.

Why? Because two sit-ups takes almost no motivation or will-power on my part. As much as I wish I was always deeply motivated and had gritty will-power, the reality is that I am like most humans.

  • Motivation is a great way to launch, but it will not keep us going. It is like an ocean wave. Catch it when you can and have a great ride. But motivation will ebb.
  • Will-power is like a muscle. We can build it up, but it gets tired. This happens even throughout a day. Most of us have lower will-power later in the day.

When I keep my action very tiny I am no longer depending on motivation or will-power.

  • Habit is our mode of operation for at least 40% of our day.
  • Habit requires very little energy to maintain.
  • Habit keeps going even when motivation ebbs and will-power wimps.

The second thing I need to form a tiny habit is a TRIGGER to launch my habit.

We use triggers all day. We set alarm triggers to wake-up or to take the cookies out of the oven. The smell of the cookies will trigger our body to feel hungry. Sights, sounds, smells, actions, time of day all send us triggers for habits. A street intersection will trigger us to turn our vehicle, even when we are not thinking about it.

What is a good trigger for sit-ups?

That depends on how many times a day I want to do sit-ups. The best triggers are ones that happen at the same frequency of my desired new behavior. For once a day sit-ups I can pick getting dressed in the morning as my trigger. For three times a day sit-ups I might pick meal times as my trigger.

I began this year playing with once a day so I am using getting dressed as my trigger.

  • Tip: A trigger can more effectively become a trigger by using the When(if)/Then Method. I say “When I finish dressing Then I will do two sit-ups.” Research has found that we are two to three times more likely to succeed if we use When/If-Then statements.

I am now playing with the idea of doing my two sit-ups more frequently than once a day, so I am exploring the possibilities of new triggers.


Playing, may be the most important element in my new Tiny Habit. To create a tiny habit we need to revise until we get a good fit.

When a tiny habit fails it is not a will-power or motivation failure. It is a design error.

Perhaps the action is not tiny enough. Perhaps our trigger is the problem.

To redesign my tiny habit I need a spirit of play.

I have tried several triggers to find a 3 times a day trigger. Nothing has been a good fit yet. No problem. I will just keep playing with the design until I find the design that will work for me.

The spirit of play keeps me from becoming discouraged or too hard on myself.

The third element in forming a tiny habit is REWARD. Our mind and body respond to rewards. Rewards are a tool for training. A tiny habit can have a tiny reward. A simple thumbs-up – “good job” can do the trick.

  • What are your dreams for this year?
  • What do you sense God inviting you into?
  • What tiny habit could you form to carry you there?

Soul Sculpting Project: Playing with Habit Design

  1. Invite the company of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Begin with a goal. What are your dreams for growth/change? ____________________
  3. What Tiny (really tiny) action could support your dreams/goals?___________________
  4. What will trigger you to do this tiny action?________________________
  5. How will you reward yourself? _________________________
  6. When/If – Then statement: When I ______________ then I will _________________.
  7. PLAY to redesign until you create a good fit for you.

Thanks to the work of Stanford behavioral scientist Dr. BJ Fogg. Check out his work on Tiny Habits.

Keep playing. The tiny can be the road to the enormous.

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