08/08/2012 03:53 pm ET | Updated Oct 08, 2012

How to Build an Olympic-Sized Habit

Getting to the Olympics takes more than great genetics and natural ability. With many aspiring Olympians spending as much as the Phelpsian eight hours a day practicing, and most practicing at least 20 hours per week reliance on sheer willpower isn't enough for the long haul. Training must become habit.

Though it's safe to say most reading this article's closest connection to the Olympics will ever be is the couch, their bottom, and a TV set, in the spirit of the games I asked leading behaviorist Dr. B.J. Fogg, director of Stanford's Persuasive Technology Lab, how us Average Joes can develop "Olympic-sized" habits.

Start Small.

When it comes to developing a new habit, Fogg suggests starting with the smallest possible action of the new habit. Want to floss your teeth? Start by committing to flossing just one tooth. I know it sounds silly, but he's got the research to prove it.

Anchor It.

Once you've identified the first small step, you must now commit to performing it immediately after something you already do, something Fogg calls an "anchor." Using the flossing example above, you might want to commit to flossing just one tooth after you brush your teeth at night.


Successful habits are cemented by the positive emotion that comes after completing it. This "self-celebration" is a MUST. So go ahead and pat yourself on the back and shout "Yes!" after you've flossed just that one tooth. Will your partner or roommate think you're nuts? Probably... but you'll have an entire mouth of healthy, pearly whites to gloat back at them with.

It all sounds so simple, doesn't it? That's because it is. Humans are masters of habit. We create them all the time, without even knowing it. Using this process can be a "hack" to establishing the habits you want in your life (breaking the ones you don't... well that's a whole other story!).

The Path to Gold in 2016

While it's more likely than not you won't be donning gold on the Olympic winner's podium in 2016, it is possible to have created golden habits by the summer of 2016, which you can celebrate having done for the past four years!

In action, this might look like:

Exercise Regularly: Try walking around the perimeter of your house (or for one minute on a treadmill) after you've had your morning coffee, making sure to "Bolt" like Usain afterward.

Eat Better: Have a bite of one vegetable immediately after you sit down to dinner. And just after swallowing, you better celebrate with more flair than Guy Fieri's hair!

Reduce Stress: Meditate for just 30 seconds in your car immediately after you park at work. And why not continue celebrating as you walk into the office; a positive attitude may just result in a bigger paycheck.

Now, create your own habit goals and formulas, and just remember to follow this format:

1. smallest possible action of the new habit +
2. done immediately after an existing habit/behavior +
3. directly followed by self-celebration.

Please share with me your successes at creating Olympic-size habits using the formula above!

Note: I have put B.J. Fogg's methods into practice, resulting in 1,500 Newark High School Students going from sedentary to moving a cumulative 1.5 million minutes in just eleven weeks. My point: it works!

For more by Jeff Halevy, click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.