Dream Big, Think Small: The Joy of YYY
Updated: Mar 16, 2021
2020 is a year that none of us will forget any time soon and, at the time I’m writing this (22 Feb.), 2021 is also off to a pretty dismal start. For me, though, despite living through the pandemic in the UK, one of the world’s worst-affected countries, there have been a number of recent days when I could honestly say I have never felt happier.
Don’t worry: This is not going to be one of those stories about finding silver linings or looking on the bright side or viewing challenges as opportunities. It’s not even a story about using the power of gratitude – wonderful as that is – to reframe our thinking. It’s also not a story about discovering one magic solution that makes everything ok, the key to realising all of your dreams and aspirations.
It is, however, a story about something like an "aha" moment, finding – at last – the missing pieces of a puzzle.
For many years, I’ve enjoyed reading widely in the fields of positive psychology, productivity, and personal development. I’ve had the benefit of being trained in NLP (neurolinguistic programming) and attending a range of coaching skills and leadership development workshops, many of them excellent. I have listened to informative, inspiring podcasts, and absorbed loads of fascinating ideas and helpful advice. All of this input has definitely had a positive impact, both on me and, indirectly, on my students, mentees, and coaching clients. There are specific ideas and techniques that I’ve been able to apply in my own life and pass on to others. And, perhaps even more importantly, I have developed the belief that whatever challenges we face, there are resources out there – somewhere – that can help us.
This blog aims to be one of those resources. It will give you a framework for taking useful or inspiring ideas and turning them into behaviours you can easily implement in your own life, following a tested, reliable formula. That formula is the Tiny Habits approach created by Dr BJ Fogg. Reading his book towards the end of 2020 was the first stage of my extended aha moment. Here at last was what I needed: both a theoretical framework and the practical steps for taking knowledge about what I could be doing to make my life better, and translating that knowledge into action.
I had read other books about creating habits, but none that had the same rigorous, academic claim to authority that Fogg has earned through his decades of peer-reviewed research. Yet there was more to my aha moment than simply realising that Fogg’s is the most authoritative book on how to create habits and, more broadly, how to understand and employ the principles of behaviour design.
One of the first things that struck me was the difference in tone between Fogg’s approach and so much of the advice handed out by personal development gurus. In the last few years I have been fascinated by the phenomenal success of Mel Robbins and the controversial Canadian professor Jordan Peterson, particularly the way their young audiences seem entranced by messages of tough love: stand up straight with your shoulders back (Peterson); get your act together; “This isn’t a Disney movie: no one is coming to rescue you.” (Robbins). The Tiny Habits approach is altogether more friendly, forgiving, and inspiring. From the first page, when Fogg proclaims that if you’ve tried, and failed, to make changes, “it isn’t your fault”, to the helpful appendix that lists "Thirty-Two Ways to Frame Success” (a wonderful tool for anyone who ever gives feedback, i.e. everyone!), Tiny Habits embodies a moral aspiration: “Strengthen other people in all your interactions with them.”
I read the book cover to cover. I published an article about it, and gave a lot of thought to how Tiny Habits could become the cornerstone of a new approach to religious and spiritual development. I looked at Fogg’s website, discovered his Coach Certification programme, and decided that I wanted to become a Tiny Habits coach – one day.
The one thing that I did not do during that period was to create any new habits myself!
I am a thinker by nature – my PhD is in philosophy after all. But I suspect there are many other people out there who have had the same sort of experience – fully embracing an idea at the theoretical level, yet unnecessarily delaying the implementation stage, sometimes indefinitely.
I knew that Fogg had created a free online 5-day Tiny Habits programme. But I was busy and chose to wait until I had a bit more time to commit. (To be fair, I didn’t realise at the time that participants can enrol in the programme as many times as they like.)
January 2021 came round, and with it a burst of fresh start energy. I launched a new project, which for lack of a better name, I simply called “Tamra’s Coaching Club”. I recruited half a dozen friends for the pilot project: a four-part series of online sessions in which I would teach them the key principles of positive psychology and give them homework to complete each week: keeping a gratitude journal; pausing throughout the day to “take in the good”; drafting a personal mission statement, and so forth.
At the same time, I signed up for the 5-day programme.
I had a great time creating my first three habit recipes and, particularly, choosing how I would “celebrate” each time I performed the habit. I enjoyed getting the daily, automated emails from Fogg, as well as the personalised responses to my questions from my coach. I loved the feeling of achievement when I was able to respond to the questions “did you do your habits today?”, and “do you plan to do your habits tomorrow?” with a string of “yeses” that looked like this:
I also knew that if one of my habits wasn’t working out, there would be no shame attached to responding with a “no” (N), and that my coach was on hand to help me revise or replace the habit.
At the end of the 5-day programme I signed up for the following week; and before I had finished round two, I was ready to make the leap and train as a coach. “Someday” had arrived, much sooner than I expected.
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