Intentionally developing good habits can be a challenging feat for anyone. It can be especially difficult for a teen to set, practice and maintain good habits. If you’re a parent who wants to encourage change, consider micro-habits for teens.
As the name suggests, micro-habits are small steps that require minimal effort and act as building blocks towards bigger goals or more consistent habits. For teens, these can be especially effective as they prevent big goals from seeming intimidating at the outset. They also don’t require high levels of sustained motivation in carrying out the minute tasks, thereby cutting out any excuses or barriers.
The main benefit of micro-habits comes not from the small amount of work itself, but from gaining momentum and confidence by succeeding at smaller goals, slipping the new behaviors into your existing habits, and making the behavior feel automatic.
B.J. Fogg, a psychologist and researcher at Stanford University and a director of the Stanford Persuasive Tech Lab. His positions have found him studying behavior change for more than two decades. He’s also the creator of the Fogg Method, a three-step system which, according to Quartz, aims to help individuals turn new behaviors into routines.
Micro Habits for Teens Using the Fogg Method
The Fogg Method, which applies the same idea as micro habits, is based on various psychological theories. It boils down to the following steps, which you can help walk your teen through.
- Identify a specific desired outcome or big picture goal.
- Identify easy-win behaviors that will act as small steps toward achieving the goal. The Quartz article emphasizes this will vary from person to person and must be determined by your teen. Something you might deem effective might not be the same for your children. Guiding them toward their own answers is important.
- Find a trigger — an already established habit — and attach the new behavior to it. In an NPR interview, Fogg gives the example of simply putting an apple out on the counter every time you start the coffee maker if your goal is to eat better. Like the previous step, consider limiting your input to a suggestion, but let your teen settle on the trigger.
Building On the Foundation
Fogg and his sister, Linda Fogg-Phillips, offer a free online course called Tiny Habits, that guides participants to change or create new habits in the area of productivity, relationships and health.
In the course, the organizers send followers simple tasks such as flossing only one tooth after brushing. The idea is to set an ultra achievable goal that will not only encourage the person to follow, but will likely lead them to go one or two steps further.
“The more you succeed, the more capable you get at succeeding in the future,” Fogg tells NPR. “So you don’t start with the hardest behaviors first, you start with the ones you want to do and you can do and you persist.”
Over 28,000 people have completed the course and, according to Fogg-Phillips, participants have shared their experience of the ripple effect. They start with their stated goal and go several steps beyond.
Fogg-Phillips explains one theory is these small victories help people consciously, or subconsciously, break down barriers in their lives. This is one reason behind an instruction participants are given in the Tiny Habits online course. After completing the tiny tasks, they must give themselves a pat on the back by saying “Yay” or “go me!” By doing so, she explains, “you’re rewriting your identity as someone who succeeds.”
While this approach can work for all ages, teens, in particular, can benefit from this confidence-building routine before negative self-image ideas set in or can help undo any that are starting to take shape.