Tracy Winchell

Use science to crush negative self-talk & start building tiny habits

publishedabout 2 months ago
4 min read

Hey Reader

Last week's friction-busting lesson shared 4 truths about journaling.

Truth 1: Digital self-reflection is effective.

Truth 2: Any time of day beats not journaling at all.

Truth 3: Consistency beats perfection every single day.

Truth 4: Journaling about the same junk repeatedly can make things worse.

The link, in case you want to review the entire Week 2 lesson

This week, I'm sharing a lesson that has helped me so much during the past 2 years or so that I'd shout it from the rooftops if I could.

If you struggle with negative self-talk, especially when failing new habits, sit down & feel the tension lift from your jaw and shoulders.

You're gonna love this.

Science is the enemy of negative self-talk

*Atomic Habits* by James Clear is one of the bestselling books.

It's a terrific book, and when you read carefully -- between the instructions -- you see that tiny habits tell us who we are.

Tiny Habits by Stanford professor B.J. Fogg doubles down on identity and habits.

Side note: another well-known author has told me that Clear used much of Fogg's research for his blog posts & his book.

Before Fogg dives into the habit models he's built, he issues a specific set of operating instructions that continue to change my life.

To design successful habits and change your behaviors, you should do three things:
1. Stop judging yourself
2. Take your aspirations and break them down into tiny behaviors.
3. Embrace mistakes as discoveries and use them to move forward.

--BJ Fogg, Tiny Habits: Ths Small Habits That Change Everything

"Self-criticism," explains Fogg, "is its own kind of habit" that can be broken when we take a different approach to designing our habits and implementing the Fogg Behavior Model.

The FOGG Behavior Model

After years of research into human behavior, Stanford Professor B.J. Fogg developed a formula.


"Behavior (B) happens when Motivation (M), Ability (A), and a Prompt (P) come together at the same moment."

If you’re like me, when I procrastinate or stop doing a thing I know will help me, I immediately attack my Motivation, character, and anything else the lying side of my brain throws at me.

Fogg’s research indicates that motivation is the last place we should look when our new habit fails.

Are your shoulders beginning to relax?

Habits typically fail when we:

  • Don’t understand how to do the thing (Ability)
  • We don’t yet have the right anchor (Prompt)

What I love most about Fogg’s teachings in Tiny Habits is that not only does he give us permission to experiment and have fun with our new habit designs, he deems it necessary to see building new habits as an experiment.

Shush Your Inner Critic

With the advent of brain imaging that shows researchers how our brains --in real time -- respond to specific situations, we're learning about the impacts of our inner thoughts.

University of Michigan professor and researcher Ethan Kross has written a marvelous book about what happens to our brains when negative self-talk (chatter) rules our actions, emotions, and brains.

Countless studies reveal its debilitating effects.

It leads students to perform worse on tests, produces stage fright and a tendency to catastrophize among artistic performers, and undermines negotiations in business."

-- Ethan Kross, Chatter

Sounds a lot like crack to me. Or, in my case, a sugar binge.

Further, Kross ties chatter to health issues.

"One of the most chilling discoveries I’ve had in my career is that chatter doesn’t simply hurt people in an emotional sense; it has physical implications for our body as well, from the way we experience physical pain all the way down to the way our genes operate in our cells."

--Ethan Kross, Chatter

Isn't that something?

Journaling can help us with all of these expensive problems.

The problem is that until we build a simple habit of daily-ish self-reflection, we can't even access the self-reflection that will reveal the self-limiting beliefs we don't know are there.

This is why most of my teachings for non-journalers include the Fogg Behavior Model.

Shoot for Consistency

Remember lesson 2 of this series (Truth #3 is about consistency).

Let's show you what consistency looks like in terms of habit design.

B. J. Fogg defines consistency:

When you are designing a new habit, you are really designing for consistency. And for that result, you'll find that simplicity is the key. Or as I like to teach my students: Simplicity changes behavior.

--B.J. Fogg, Tiny Habits

Years ago, when I was a reluctant participant in a holiday gratitude challenge, I captured simple gratitude lists 3 to 4 times per week for about 60 days.

What felt like failure to me at a 40ish percent clip was enough for a coworker to notice.

Your results, of course, may vary.

The point here is to plan for imperfection.

Take some deep breaths & relax your shoulders. Unclench those fists. Remind yourself that you can't "mess this up."

This is mind-blowing stuff, so I think you've digested enough for now.

This Week's Reflection Questions

Think about how the person you want to become differs from your most exasperating behavior.

What is your inner critic telling you about why you won't ever become the person you want to be?

Next Week

Next week, you will learn to apply the Fogg Behavior Model in your life, so if you haven't already responded to the reflection questions in Lesson 2 of this series, now's a good time to get that done. You will need them for next week.

  • Worst time of day to insert a new habit
  • Most reasonable time of day to insert a new habit
  • Journalers: How and when do I typically log a journal entry?

As always, holla with thoughts or ideas.