Tiny Habits and your ultramarathon training

What are tiny habits?

Tiny Habits is a behaviour change methodology created by BJ Fogg. You can read all about it on his website here, or read his book “Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything“.

In essence, the method assumes that creating behaviour changes is very very difficult to do, and that the only way to successfully change behaviour is to take baby steps towards your goals – hence the “tiny”. However, the key is not just to make new habits tiny, but also to root or anchor them in an existing habit, making the change in behaviour easier still.

How to create a tiny habit

BJ Fogg proposes a few key principles to identify and create tiny habits.

  • make it tiny – the new habit needs to take less than thirty seconds. So it can’t be “go for a run”, but it might be “get your trainers out”.
  • anchor it to an existing routine you have. If you already do something habitually, by coupling your new habit to the existing routine you have a far greater chance of success.
  • make sure you celebrate the little successes – it will encourage you to continue.

To paraphrase Fogg, here’s how it works. First, identify a routine you already do each day. For example: Turn on the coffee maker, boil the kettle, feed your pet, or turn on the shower.

Find existing habits you do every day to use as anchors

Second, find a *new* habit that would naturally follow your existing routine and is tiny enough.

Let’s suppose you turn on the kettle each morning. That’s your existing routine. Now ask yourself, “What new habit would naturally fit after I turn on the kettle?”

Explore options. Perhaps you want a new habit to set out vitamins. Or stretch. Do some squats. Or fill a glass of water…. the choice is yours.

Pick what you like most and write it in the Tiny Habits format. For example:

After I turn on the kettle, I will fill a glass of water.

With this written down, you are ready to practice your new habit.

How can this help?

Running an ultra is a big goal – thinking about some of the behavioural changes required to help you succeed and breaking them down so you can start to bake those changes into your daily routine will significantly increase your chances of success.

We’ve used tiny habits in multiple ways to bake in some of the behaviours that are more difficult to keep on top of into our routine. Some examples of areas we have created tiny habits to help us improve include:

Increasing your intake of water, leading to you being better hydrated during training and on race day
  • “After making a cup of coffee, I will pour myself a glass of water”
  • “After I look at my running watch, I will take a sip of water” (as an aside I felt this worked both ways… it stopped me looking at my watch so much and
    Is finding the time to stretch a challenge for you? Try a tiny habit to help incorporate it into your routine

    increased my water intake)

Ensuring you stretch more
  • “After switching on the kettle, I will stretch my calves whilst it boils”
  • “After I sit on the loo, I will do some toe scrunches”
Getting more strength and conditioning training, such as squats, into your routine
  • “After hanging up on a work Zoom call, I will do 5 air squats”
  • “After I start brushing my teeth, I will do 10 calf raises” (an added side effect here is making sure you brush your teeth for long enough)

Another core tenet of tiny habits is the concept of micro celebrations – if you succeed in your tiny habit, you should allow yourself a celebration. It’s well documented now in the ultra community that smiling even when you really don’t feel like it will help keep you going – it releases endorphins and even uses less energy than grimacing. So afford yourself a smile on the run after each successful tiny habit is deployed and you will run further faster.

Where to go for some free tiny habit coaching

At time of going to press you can sign up for a free 5 day coaching program on tiny habits, giving you the opportunity to create three new habits with the assistance of a tiny habits coach. There’s no commitment to anything else required for the 5 day program. Sign up here.

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