Speakers

Greg McKeown, BJ Fogg


Transcript

Greg McKeown     

Here we are with the great, BJ Fogg, legendary Stanford professor, the great king of Tiny Habits, both the phenomenon and the book, but also behind it, The Habits Academy, a place where people can come to change if they want to, in tiny easy ways. I suppose I should just say welcome, first of all, welcome to the Essentialism podcast.

BJ Fogg     

Thank you, Greg, what an interesting way to get started. Thank you so much. I’m happy to be here.

Greg McKeown   

It’s so good to have you and I love all the genius tiny habits stuff, but I want to continue going in an unusual way perhaps. 

BJ Fogg  

Let’s do it. 

Greg McKeown  

Given that it is the Essentialism podcast I want to start with a question right to the jugular of the issue. Are you game for this? 

BJ Fogg  

Ready, go. 

Greg McKeown  

BJ, tell me something that is really important to you highly important essential to you that you’re currently under-investing in?

BJ Fogg   

Under-investing in? Oh my gosh.

Greg McKeown  

Yeah, first thought.

BJ Fogg  

Oh, prioritization. I spend, I have so many efforts to prioritize and I do that, but I still think I can up my game there. It just it’s, that is for me the you know, I’ve talked about I prioritize till it hurts and it does hurt. But still, there’s more to be done. So even though I spend a lot of effort in that, and I think I have a really good system. I still think I can help my game there.

Greg McKeown  

Well, this is this is interesting, you, you would feel and hope that you’d come to the right place with exactly but, but this is really interesting to me. So, there’s a few things there to unpack the first you said that you already have a system so can you just tell me what your current system is?

BJ Fogg     

Yeah. So, it breaks down. You know what I do kind of for the grander scheme, I’ll talk about the details, because this is what I’ve worked on a lot. I mean, there’s bigger things like, you know, what, what am I really trying to achieve, and so on. But on a daily basis, what I do is I have these stickers and these cards, I have a card for every project that matters to me, and the stickers are tasks for that project. And so, every day I assess, okay, what are the key things that I need to get done today that I want to get done, and I select those cards. For each of the projects, I prioritize the stickers, there’s many things I don’t have to do that day, so they sink to the bottom, and the ones that are essential, get a pink tab to them. And I try to be realistic each day about how much I’m going to be able to get done. And by the end of that process, it’s like okay, here’s my game plan for the day. I can forget about everything else. I cannot be stressed. I don’t have to be stressed by everything I’m not doing but these are the main things I’m doing today so that’s what happens on a more granular level as a daily habit. 

Greg McKeown  

You do that today?

BJ Fogg   

Yes, I did.

Greg McKeown  

And so, tell me just precisely, I got the whole flow, but then these pink tabs?

BJ Fogg  

Well, the way it works is there’s the stickers you can buy. They’re sort of like post-its, but they’re a little smaller and they’re plasticky. So, they hold up, and every action item that comes into my inbox or that I think I  there’s four colors, usually it’s yellow. But if something is urgent, then it gets either I write it right onto a pink sticker, or the pink sticker goes over the yellow one as a signal like oh my gosh, this is vital somebody you know, something that’s really important to me. This has to happen. For that, and then if it’s just sort of a priority, there’s an orange sticker that kind of says, Yeah, this would be nice to do today. And then if it’s just a regular yellow sticker then about get to it fine, but I don’t have to. So the color pink is one I do not like, Greg. So it’s sort of like, ahhh I got to get rid of all these pinks. And that feeling of knowing that I’ve prioritized at least my day very well. And I got all the pink ones done is a very nice feeling, then it’s like, okay, but then everything else is extra credit after that.

Greg McKeown  

What was one of the pinks today?

BJ Fogg  

Oh, it was to get ready for a meeting that I had. So, every day, every once a week, we meet about the Tiny Habits 5-day program. I have a team that we meet once a week and we say how do we make this program better and better and better? And being prepared for that meeting is a priority. Because that’s where we do both sort of the strategy and also the tactical stuff, like how do we improve it? So, it’s getting ready for that meeting and showing up to make it efficient.

Greg McKeown  

You want to use it well for you, but you want to use it well for them, you want to get the most out of that meeting. So that’s why it’s so pink. And of course, it aligns, as you already said, with the bigger objectives that you’ve already set the bigger ongoing projects. Okay, so I understand that system. But you said something curious at the beginning of this, which is that this continues to be a pain point. So, I’m listening to this and I see the substance to what you’re already doing. I can see that you’re being thoughtful and you’re being deliberate about it. But it’s still a pain point talk to me about the pain point. 

BJ Fogg     

Can I tell you and I think I know the reasons its painful. It’s from three things. Number one, I’m a huge optimist. So I think oh, I can do that. And I can do that. So, I’m a huge optimist. Number two, I’m a nice guy. So people email me and they want this and that and I’m like sure I can do that. And then number three, and this is going to strike some people as funny is I’m very creative. And if you are not super creative, you do not know what a disability that is. Creativity has two sides to it. One is great, like, boom, you can change the game. But the other side is, all these things will come to you. And when you combine that with optimism, oh my gosh, that’s why it gets so painful to say, nope, nope, nope. This is a great idea, but I can’t do it now and so on. So that combo adds up to make prioritization quite painful.

Greg McKeown  

You’re actually describing a sort of perfect storm. 

BJ Fogg  

Yeah.

Greg McKeown  

Because first of all, there’s a curse of capability. Secondly, you signal out to the world, I’m approachable. When you say your door is open, people believe it.

BJ Fogg     

Yeah, and I do that’s important to me.

Greg McKeown    

So that increases the attraction, the number of things that will come. And then you added that this. 

BJ Fogg

Yeah.

Greg McKeown  

It is optimism. And I’m sure that really is what it is. But it’s also the planning fallacy. The planning fallacy is juristic that says that humans in general, underestimate the amount of time it will take to do with it. So that’s what I think you mean, when you say optimist. You say, Well, not only can it be done in general, and so this is a positive going into the world, you know that things can happen, and you can make things better. But also, the sense of I can fit this in.

BJ Fogg     

Yeah, yeah, I can do this. And, you know, this will be a good thing for the world, and it aligns with what I’m all about. Sure. So yeah, a perfect storm of those things coming together. And you know, Greg, I’ve worked for years and years on prioritizing, I think. I was raised Mormon. So, thanks, Steve Covey and Mormons are really about being efficient and productive and helpful in providing services. And so even from a very early age, thinking about what your goals are and how you’re going to get there, and prioritization is part of that. And so, I’ve just evolved and evolved the way I prioritize. But I’ve also recognized these three things that in one sense are a weakness or a created this challenge. You call it a perfect storm. I think it’s a good way to think about it.

Greg McKeown     

Well, it’s a positive storm. But it doesn’t make it less of a storm. So, let’s go one level deeper to this. Now you identified it as something important, essential. You said that you’re under investing in it. It’s a pain point, like why does it matter? Why not just continued to live forever the same? Like why does it matter to you to improve this even further?

BJ Fogg     

Quality of life, just quality of life where I’m not working every day, all day, you know, through the weekends and so on. Quality of life, my partner’s getting older, I’m getting older, you know, recognizing that our time on this planet is finite, and having better friendships that go outside of work. And so, it’s for those reasons’ quality of life. I love being in nature, I love playing music, and there’s creative endeavors I have as well and all of those get compromised when I’m working all the time.

Greg McKeown     

Something that I have experienced myself in life is that quality of life equals quality of relationships. There is sort of a simple equation and what I heard you say your description is that work just consumes more and more of you.

BJ Fogg   

Well it has, I’ve had to take steps and but it’s an ongoing it’s almost like it’s this feeling of it creeps up on you, and then you push it back down and it’s so that’s why it says ongoing prioritize, prioritize. It’s painful, because I’m saying no to things where I feel like I could really help people. But I’m trying not to just work constantly. And then it goes against my, you know, being a nice guy. It’s like, sure I could answer this email and give somebody personal help on this. But oh, that means I won’t be hanging out with my partner for the next 20 minutes.

Greg McKeown     

Yes, you’re saying you’re trying to be more aware of the inherent trade off in every yes.

BJ Fogg     

Yes, and I think I’ve been aware of that for a long time. But there’s these tensions. So, you know, the way I think about it from a behavior perspective, and my behavior model, one way to understand motivation is you have conflicting motivations. Part of you wants to do a part of you doesn’t and those are like vectors that push on each other. The stronger the tension, I mean, it’s like a tension. So, I really want to but there’s really reasons I shouldn’t be doing this. And so, you got motivations pushing on each other. Like, in the book, Tiny Habits I show this. And it’s like, it’s pressure and the stronger those errors are, the more the pressure is at the contact point. And that’s what I’m trying to minimize. And that’s kind of what I’m talking about here.

Greg McKeown      

Well, and what reading into your story and your recent, the book coming out, I would imagine that the number of things coming at you now has increased again. 

BJ Fogg  

Yes, yes, and I built in some delegation, things that I do where it’s like, bam, you know, you have different email addresses for different things and people take care of those. But even so, it just, you know, keeps mounting. It’s bringing people to me that are trying to do good things in the world, and my work can help them and all of that great. But as you know, there’s a real cost not only for writing a book, but then for being responsive. After it’s done. I mean, once it’s done, it’s not done. In some ways. That’s when the real work begins.

Greg McKeown     

Yes, a book is not an entirely dead thing. It has a life of its own, and you want it to have a life of its own. You want it to make an impact residually out there, residual goodness that it can bless lives, whether you’re there or not. That’s the upside. That’s the reason to do it in the first place. But what you’re finding, I’m reading into it, but what you’re finding is that the life of it comes back to impact you made when in ways that you hadn’t fully anticipated.

BJ Fogg     

I think you’re right. I mean, there was some sense of I mean you don’t know what will happen, but it’s a good problem to have. Imagine if you wrote a book and it was just crickets like nobody followed up, nobody cared. Nobody reached out in appropriate ways. So, it’s a nice, it’s, it’s what you want. 

Greg McKeown 

Let me take you one level deeper for the question we started with. You’ve said why it matters. You said it was about quality of relationships, and quality of life vs. allowing a really good thing, which is your career, your work out there to just consume every part of you that this just this is the why and let me just go one level deeper. Why does that matter so much? I mean, you gave a clue because you said, well, there’s only so much time left. You know, however much time we have left. It’s less than we want. So, there’s an urgency to that give me just a little more one level deeper?

BJ Fogg     

Well, one is and you said this earlier I for two decades, at least, I deeply believe that the quality of our closest relationships is directly connected to our happiness. And it was about 20 years ago, I was speaking at Stanford, kind of denouncing email saying, hey, people, email is ruining our closest relationships because it’s making us accessible. We need to respond to hundreds of strangers, my deep commitment or belief in that quality of the closest relationships matter. The second piece of that is I just really believe that spending time in nature and connecting with nature is really important, at least for my own happiness and health.

Greg McKeown   

You’re saying that you work hard to keep a balance to keep this tension at the right level. I think you’re also seeing that the tension has shifted to some extent due to the book success due to that increasing the audience just due to the to the momentum that all of that builds. So, it’s a good problem, but still a problem. And you want to adjust this so that you can continue to have happiness, health, strong relationships, quality of life, and still also be able to continue making a contribution professionally. If you can get the tension, right, you get to end up with both. If the tension gets off for too long, you might end up losing one or both.

BJ Fogg     

Yeah, or at least feeling like I’m not being as effective in one or the other. Yeah.

Greg McKeown  

Yes. Let me ask you this. Now, what does success look like in terms of this adjustment? Not perfect. But progress, where you would say something else to me if I asked you the question.

BJ Fogg  

Well, let me describe what success looks like in terms of what I’m doing what I figured out, and then what’s still lacking. What’s not good is Saturday comes and I do the same thing. Sunday comes and I do the same thing. And then some part of me goes damn BJ once again you did not get a weekend. Yeah, you surfed. Yeah, you swam in the ocean again. But you didn’t go to Haleakala. You didn’t Drive to Hana. You didn’t take a flight over to the Big Island, which you could have done, but you didn’t you worked you did a regular workday. So that’s the part that it’s like, man really? Am I gonna never have weekends or even half a day? So sometimes I carve it out, but it hasn’t been very reliable because of these other motivators that we talked about. In some ways, Greg, I feel like I’m about four to eight hours away from optimizing if I had 4 to 8 hours on a weekend free, I wouldn’t be I wouldn’t probably have started this interview like we did. You know, that is so hard.

Greg McKeown  

Yes, I hear you. But maybe we should even reduce that just a little more and say, okay, it’s like four hours over the weekend. It’s two hours more per day free. If you back that back, how would you feel would that feel like successful progress for you.

BJ Fogg  

It’d be progress. But I really think, well, ideally, I would like to have three-day weekend. It’s like, bam, three-day weekend. Nobody expects me to respond. I’m not feeling pressure. So, I’m done. End of Thursday, and I pick up Monday. I mean, that’s the ideal scenario.

Greg McKeown   

You just up the ante, didn’t you?

BJ Fogg   

Yeah, I’m ambitious this way.

Greg McKeown     

When I tried to make it easier on you, you said well really full three days is what I’m going.

BJ Fogg     

Well, I mean, so that’s the aspiration. I’ll get there someday. But at this point, especially, like you said, with the book and the incomings. Yeah, I think if I had four to six hours free on the weekend, I’d be feeling like yeah, BJ for right now in this part of your life in your career. Bam, you’ve cleared out enough free time, that you’re not feeling that you’re compromising your relationships with people or with nature.

Greg McKeown     

Yes, and it’s something I was just rereading. The exact definition of is that you know, diminishing returns. And the point that each unit of input you’re putting in, you’re still getting something out but less than you used to get per input. And so then of course, beyond there, you have negative returns, which is every unit you put in, you get less from, then if you didn’t put it in at all, you’d never want to get to that point with work. What I hear from you is that maybe there’s a certain place here where it’s maybe diminishing returns where you’re going well, I think I’m giving extra hours over the weekend. I’m getting something back for that. But I’m losing more than I would if I didn’t have that hour to work all your life.

BJ Fogg     

Yeah, and you know how this works. It’s kind of a paradox. It’s like the time I’m away from work is when I have some of my best ideas about work. And I know that, so the tiny habits method is not about discipline or willpower, but there are points in our life when we do need to use willpower and discipline. And one of those might be no, I really am taking the whole afternoon off on Sunday. And just use that moment of discipline to turn off your computer or turn on auto responder and go off and go to the beach or go see beautiful things or just, you know, sit around and read, trusting that even though you are relaxing that from a career impact perspective, that that’s the best thing you could be doing. So that is something I have to remind myself and use discipline to do.

Greg McKeown   

You know, even putting aside the word discipline for this moment, just there’s an assumption here. And that fields that play, and this is the idea that one hour more work will equal one hour more productivity, that’s the one side. The other side there’s this other thing that I have definitely experienced in my own life, which is that if you unplug completely, you actually have eureka moments. 

BJ Fogg

Yes. 

Greg McKeown

These actually bigger thoughts.

BJ Fogg

Yup.

Greg McKeown

That help you to change direction trajectory, the longest I’ve been in my sort of adult life away from technology that since smartphones were a thing at least was about two and a half weeks. And I wasn’t online one time at all. No email. No web, no anything with my family did vacation. 

BJ Fogg

That’s great. 

Greg McKeown

And my children still talk about that vacation and we’ve made time together a priority. And we’ve done lots of things and lots of great memories. They still talk about that one. And there’s more than one reason but I think part of it was that I was so unplugged. So it really, for them and for me, but professionally to the most important strategic change of direction that I’ve made in the last, you know, whatever number of years came from that period as well and it wasn’t because I went into a with that intent that space creates, you know, an opportunity for your mind to do it other kind of process.

BJ Fogg     

I love that, but you ‘re kind of killing me, Greg saying this, my partner a few weeks ago, said, okay, next month, you’re going to take the entire month off. And it’s like what he says, Yeah, take the entire month off. And it’s like, yeah, I can. I mean, the fact that I work so hard. Nobody’s telling me I have to work this hard. But it’s like, can I really? So, this is what I’m debating right now. Can I really take an entire month off? Now I think I still would have, you know, my mobile phone and I would text friends and maybe handle some emergencies, but I’m right. That’s why you’re killing me. I’m right in the middle of deciding whether I’m going to take that leap to do a whole month, which maybe I scale it back to two weeks, or maybe I’d scale back to three-day weekends. You know, next month. I’m taking three-day weekends and see how it goes. 

Greg McKeown     

Here’s my first point of view for you. Is that, I mean, it’s actually I’m gonna quote back your own book to you write this. Help people do what they already want to do. 

BJ Fogg

Yes. 

Greg McKeown  

And let me tell you what I think you already want to do. And I know there’s tension, but you already want to do a three-day weekend. 

BJ Fogg

Yes.

Greg McKeown  

You want that now. That’s what I sense in you because when I tried to make it easier and excuse this, because I’m not at all knocking this but I tried to make it a little tinier. And your reaction was, no, no, I don’t want to go for a couple of extra hours on each day, Saturday and Sunday. I want at least 48 hours I want to do a you confessed it. You said I want three-day weekend. That’s the dream and my question to you is and there’s an assumption in it and belief I suppose I have, which is why not do that? It seems like you are in a position that you could do a three-day weekend.  

BJ Fogg  

Absolutely, I could. 

Greg McKeown   

So, it’s not external factors.

BJ Fogg   

It’s me. I love this, Greg. It’s like, send me your invoice, dude, you’re helping me so much. Okay, it’s decided so at least next month, at the very least is three-day weekends. And then I’m going to think of I can scale it up. Now the reason the difference between the two hours and the three day thing just felt like you know my intuition what my heart was saying is no, the three day is so much more refreshing than yes, the two hours will help you but three days without even looking at email and think that’s the game changer.

Greg McKeown   

Well, that’s exactly right. What two hours per day sounded like to you if I could put words to it. is not real it’s like I probably already do two hours I mean I go for periods where I’m not on checking and not connecting. Maybe I have my phone still with me but I’m not really you know doing work for that period so to take a couple of hours it doesn’t feel like a change and what I you are actually hungry for feel conviction around I want to actually design this life I haven’t saved I’m not like the habit design one finding their life I thought about this, you know, a little and, and I will it he design of my life that if I have a three day weekend, and I really unplug, I will at least get to experiment. 

BJ Fogg    

I like this, yes. 

Greg McKeown   

Whether that’s the balance need to be able to get this sort of optimal, dynamic equilibrium between these two areas of life that I’m trying to keep.

BJ Fogg     

Well, and let me put what we’re doing into the context how I think about in behavior design. So, and this is great, you know, in the book Tiny Habits, you always start with an aspiration or an outcome. Some people would call that a goal, and that’s fine. But I think goal is ambiguous. So, I say you start with an aspiration or outcome, and you’ve got to get clear on that. And that’s your starting point. Once you know that, then you go into behavior design mode, what I talk about my book, what I teach professionals at boot camp, but the aspiration is not part of behavior design, somebody has to determine that and that’s exactly what we’re talking about. Here. You are clarifying my aspiration. Once I know what it is, then I just use my system and I know how to make it a reality. It’s like boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. But getting clear on your aspiration or even setting the aspiration is outside the domain of behavior design. That’s the starting point and you get clear on it, you don’t set it, so it takes some wisdom or some guidance. Or somebody who’s setting strategy say this is our aspiration, then behavior design begins. So, once I’m connected to this, bam, it’s a three-day weekend. I know how to design for that. I know how to create habits for that I know how to make it a reality.

Greg McKeown     

Well, first of all, I love the distinction, right? Because really Essentialism is about what’s the right thing, one, and out of all these options, what is the important one, or two, or few? You know, what’s essential? And then you’re saying really tiny habits is about the execution.

BJ Fogg

Yeah. 

Greg McKeown

It’s saying how do you actually do this in a life that’s already got lots of moving parts to it, and it’s already always complex. So you just made a perfect transition because now what I want you to do is walk through the specific behavioral adjustments that maybe you’re doing automatically in your head already, but lay that out for us for how you go from now this clarity this decision, this, you know, this clear intent, what we’ll do now to make this decision a reality.

BJ Fogg   

Good. And I’ll just walk through the steps of behavior design. Now I walk people through this in the book, Tiny Habits, and there’s just a process. It’s a system. So, once you’re clear on the aspiration, I actually draw it in a cloud. It’s like, here’s this intangible thing that we’re designing for. So, I’ll say, take a three-day weekend, every weekend, next month, and then I’ll go next step is called magic wanding. And that is a creative mode and I say if I could wave a magic wand and get anybody to do anything that would result in me taking a three-day weekend. Who would do what? I can get anybody do anything. Oh, I’d have myself set up autoresponder. Then then you say great, what else and you just keep coming up with different behaviors. I’d have my partner do this. I’d have my close colleague, Stephanie, do that. So you come up with a huge range of behaviors, each of which would help you with that aspiration the three day weekend. So that’s step two.

Greg McKeown     

But before you move on to step three, what would you do for step two? Let’s come up with a few things.

BJ Fogg     

Well, some of them would be one. So, within magic wand, you can further break it down and say, what would I have people do one time? Well, I would write an email to my closest colleagues and tell them when I get myself to write the email, I would potentially hire somebody to do some pieces that need to be done over the weekend, great. That’s a one-time hire. I would sit down with my partner and discuss it. So, one-time discussion. So those are one-time behaviors, then you can think about what would be that habits or the repeated behaviors? Well, every Thursday night, I’ll turn on my autoresponder. I would, you know, check in on you know, Monday afternoon, my right-hand person and see what went wrong over the weekend if we need to make adjustments, so then you would explore the kinds of repeated behaviors. And then the third type is what kind of behaviors would I stop doing? And so, I would say, Okay, if I get anybody to stop doing the behavior, well, I’d have people stop emailing me, that’s not gonna happen, and, and so on. So, say there’s 50 behaviors that come out of that magic wanding, you don’t do them all. What you do then is go to the next step, and you prioritize those behaviors. And I have a system that I call focus mapping, where you basically prioritize in three dimensions. One, how impactful would it be, if this behavior happened, would it really help me take these three-day weekends, and it’s on a two-dimensional landscape and so each behavior would be written on, you know, those little stickers I talked about. I also write them on these on the little sticker, and the nice sort to the top, the ones that would happen lots of impact that would be very effective. And it’s a top to bottom dimension. So, I would arrange things on the landscape, then I would shift modes. The second part of focus mapping is to look at the reality of things. And on the right-hand side, you draw an X axis, and you move things toward the right that you can get yourself to do over on the right I write yes, I can get myself to do this. For example, can I get myself to turn on my autoresponder Thursday evening? Yes, that would go way to the right. Things that you can’t get yourself to do, you move to left, so you’re sorting. So, these are continuous dimensions, top to bottom right to left. And then when you’re done with the sorting, you look in the upper right-hand corner. And those are what I call golden behaviors. They have high impact.

Greg McKeown     

By definition, you’re highly confident that they’ll work and also you can do them. 

BJ Fogg     

Yes, I’ll make a guess. But, Greg, what I’ve learned over the years and so these are methods I’ve developed over 20 years, what I’ve learned is I need to trust my own process. So I know that so even though I think I know the answer, for important things like this, it’s like no, just you go through the steps, you do the steps, you magic wand, you come up with all these behaviors, and you just, you know, sort top to bottom, don’t overthink it sort side to side, and then you I really look in the upper right hand corner, because most of the time what you thought would be the answer ends up not being the answer. 

Greg McKeown

Interesting.

BJ Fogg

So, but in real time, I’ll make a guess. So, the point though, here is I rely on my process to really find the answer. So even though I think I know what it is, I’ve done it enough that the process will have the answer. So, I suspect it would be things like being very clear signaling that I’m not online and I’m not responding to anything till Monday afternoon. I’m pretty good at going off email and not checking. I mean, once I go swimming in the ocean for the night, I never get back on email. So that’s just extending that behavior. It’s probably for sure letting my colleagues know. I’m off the radar for these, you know, don’t expect me to be there. 

Greg McKeown

You can just send them this episode. 

BJ Fogg

Yeah, please listen to this most unusual podcast I’ve ever done with Greg. It’s awesome.

Greg McKeown   

It’s the Essentialism podcast.

BJ Fogg   

And then probably on the positive side, create a routine, a habit or ritual, whatever you want to call it on Friday morning with my partner. I already have a list of all the fun things to do on Maui. I’ve already created that out and guess what they’re written on little stickers on the blue ones. I already have my like, here’s fun things to do on my own probably Friday morning. Sit down with a partner say, great, but should we do this weekend?

Greg McKeown   

I mean you like lists. And I can tell that first answer you gave was about the way that you use lists. But what you’re really saying is that this will be part of your design for the three day weekend to protect it, to keep it from just slipping back to well, one time it was three days, and then it was two and a half days, and then it’s just pretty much what it was before. You’re saying if I can proactively positively plan it, then it’s easier to say no to the other stuff. Because you got clearer, more joyful. Yes. Already. Strong in front of you.

BJ Fogg     

Yeah. Well, and there’s the flip side of that though, too, is sometimes not having a plan. Like just getting in the car and going is awesome. So this happened. My partner thought there was a farm market up country I didn’t think so. But I got in the car and said, let’s go. We go up and it’s not that day. It was the wrong day. And guess what we did? We just drove around all over on all these roads, that was great. So, it was sort of great. Just to wander around, explore, the flipside is to have the space to be spontaneous and explore and not know what you’re doing. And that’s also very satisfying for me. So maybe I need to make a sticker that says, just get in the car and go.

Greg McKeown     

I actually think there’s something to this I for some people listening to this, they’ll say, Well, this is not how I run at all, and that’s fine. It doesn’t have to be you know, it works the same for everyone. But I think for some people having actually decided and scheduling, this is exploration, I am just going to leave. I’m going to go and have an adventure and it’s scheduled for, you know, eight hours of adventure but outside. Something about that can be helpful because at least it creates intention. Instead of a feeling sometimes you have I know it’s happened to me on vacation, before where you have the time, but then you start to sort of just use it on anything and it feels it’s a term I just came across recently, like the dark  playground, where, you know, it’s not actually enjoyable and you maybe feel like something else. And but if you construct space, then you say, look, I am purposely going to play, I am purposefully going to just have time, from this point to this point, to see what happens, I think is a reasonable way to go about this to avoid over scheduling, and over designing, you know, every minute. 

BJ Fogg     

Yep. You know, and I think that’s right on and I think everyone listening to this has had that experience to some extent, where that unstructured time really has led to some of the most delightful things or, you know, going back to the breakthroughs or the insights or just for me back to the nature thing. I’m a little obsessed with nature, when I go out when I’m done with work and head out to the ocean, so it has to before it gets dark. I don’t exactly know where I’m going, but I know I’m walking. So, I go out, I fully get in the water. And oh, all the stresses of the day are gone. And I don’t know why think of it as baptism, but it’s like fully get in the water. And then I come back and, and I’m good. And I just yeah, it’s a great I just aspire for everybody to find that thing. And I think nature is a big opportunity that just fully refreshes you, that resets you.

Greg McKeown     

There’s something in the magic of it, of just being aware of being in the moment of helping you to not just be out there but to be present out there. I love that. 

BJ, I have a one final important question for you. It’s a it’s a perfect Stanford question because everyone at least who goes to the business school has to answer the question. What matters most to you? And why? And it’s a torturous question in a way. I certainly tortured over it when I was writing the essays. But it’s over to you what matters most to you and why?

BJ Fogg     

Wow, it is really hard. Here’s what, and I know the answer. It’s not the answer I really want but I know the answer. And I tell the story in the last chapter of Tiny Habits, so I was having a dream, but I didn’t know it was a dream. And I was flying along in a plane and the plane was going to crash. And I knew the plane was going to crash, you know, in the dream, and I fully believed it. And my reaction to what I thought was for sure going to happen was wasn’t fear wasn’t sorrow. It was deep regret, deep, deep regret, that I hadn’t yet shared. The work in behavior, design and tiny habits and behavior change that I felt has been given to me. I’m not active Mormon, but I was raised Mormon. And there’s this strong notion that you are given things and much is expected from you.

Greg McKeown     

What you’re saying is that you feel that obligation in that sense right now.

BJ Fogg     

Still feel it. Now, this was the wake-up call to then write the book like, Okay, I ‘ve got to clear my schedule, I got to reprioritize projects, I got to ramp down some research at Stanford so I can get the book done. That was very, very clarifying for me that in that moment, and I woke up until my partner I said, oh my gosh, the thing I thought about was, it was regret, I’ve got to share my work. And I think that’s still true today that the book is sharing a lot of new stuff that hasn’t been shared before, in this way. But I still feel this deep obligation to share what I know and what has come to me about both through research and inspiration or however you want to think about it about how human behavior works and how you can help people be happier and healthier. And that really is. Its Yes, sharing that but it’s also me feeling like I’ve done what I need. need to do to share it, which are slightly different things are related?

Greg McKeown     

Yes, it is different because one is to do with a general intent. And the other is a completion. 

BJ Fogg

Mmhmm, yeah. 

Greg McKeown  

I did it. I’m finished. I get to bow out.

BJ Fogg   

Yeah. And related to that. So, when my book became a New York Times bestseller, I was like the response to that. I was like, check. I did it. Agent publisher, I did it check. Now I get to do what I really want with it, teach my stuff. I don’t have to chase these numbers anymore. I don’t have to worry about the rankings that now it’s out there. I did. But you know, what people want to do in publishing. And now I get to teach my stuff, which was a surprise, but it was very also refreshing. It’s like, Okay, I’m gonna do all these zoom sessions. We’re going to do this. We’re gonna do this. And I didn’t feel like I had people cracking the whip saying you got to sell books, you got to sell books. And that’s great. Because as you know, before the book ships, there’s pre sales as all this stuff that was certainly not fun for me to do. But hitting that milestone and then I shifted gears like good, it’s out there. Now I get to just help people apply it and expand on it. Awesome.

Greg McKeown     

You felt some release in that moment. Because what you really want to be is doing the teaching. One thing I wonder about for you is how can you get to the point where the things that you’re currently teaching, not just the book, but the most recent findings and the new discoveries and the tweaks can get automated to the point that once you’re done right, once you bid farewell to this life, the work continues and even expands in your absence. 

BJ Fogg

Yeah.

Greg McKeown

It’s a different kind of challenge as a teacher who cares about impact. It’s a quite a paradoxical challenge, because you’ve got to take you out of the teaching completely in order to solve the problem. Whereas in so much of teaching is the enjoyment of seeing the light in the eyes, seeing the chain, seeing the impact and to remove oneself completely, is necessary to be able to create a truly residual teaching impact.

BJ Fogg     

Greg, if I ever go back to therapy, I’m going to ask you to be my therapist. You’re so you get it, you get the kinds of things I’m facing. And yeah, and I’ve created a teaching team. These are handpicked people that have done my boot camp and so on. And then I’ve taught them how to teach some of my stuff and I hope to expand that the tiny habits coaches to be able to get certified in my methods and so on, but still it’s there’s not a perfect alignment between you know what I know what I could teach and then how that carries on. So, you kind of nailed it right there and coming up with a system for that. And something that has broader coverage and can scale even better. I don’t yet have.

Greg McKeown   

This idea of infinitely scalable, or even just scalable. But let’s use the word infinitely scalable, is non trivial, well, vital challenge to solve because even the teach to teach model is so limited. You’re limited to who you can teach how effectively they can teach it. If you develop them to the point, they know everything, you know, which inherently it can’t be done. But even if it could be then you’ve got a sort of weird situation where they, they’re likely to want to go off and do their own thing. So, there’s that challenge. So, there’s all of these factors limiting the idea of just constant scalability. And at least a thought to maybe leave you on with this is. I remember when Steve Jobs was asked, you know, what’s your favorite innovation? What are you proudest of? Is it the original Mac? Is it the iPod? Is it the iPad, the iPhone, you know, all this? And his answer was Apple. And it was such a good way of articulating how he had been thinking about innovation. that at some point in the process, and I suspect it wasn’t at first, but at some point in the process, he realized he needed to shift from focusing on products and getting great products. Yes, he of course, focused on that and wanted to be focused on it but shifted to how can I create a system, a business that can create and innovate with or without me, and we could question how to what extent it’s been done, you know, what would have happened if he’d been around and so on. You can never quite make up for somebody like him. But it’s still an extraordinary to watch the smoothness with which Apple has continued to grow three x four x the size of the company. Now compared to when Steve was alive, and on it goes, at least something there feels relevant to the challenge facing you.

BJ Fogg   

Yeah, yeah. And, you know, I decided years ago and this might have been a bad decision that I didn’t want to grow a big company, I didn’t want to be the CEO. I knew that wasn’t my best role, and that I didn’t want to manage hardly anybody. So, I didn’t want to be like the IDO of behavior change. And so that was a decision I made two decades ago, probably maybe more like 15 years ago. And maybe it’s the wrong one. But I don’t regret it because I’d really don’t want to, you know, they, as you and many know, to be a CEO means you’re not actually doing at least the work that I think is fun, which is the research and innovation and the teaching. So, the balance I have right now is exactly what I want, you know, half my time at Stanford research teaching, half my time outside innovation, teaching and applying it. And I manage very few people by design, and I like it that way. So it’s a hard challenge, because I’m not gonna grow an Apple or a IDO, based on my work. At least that’s not what I think.

Greg McKeown   

I want to affirm you in that choice that you’ve made in the trade off because it’s all about knowing who you are and who you aren’t.

BJ Fogg

Mmhmm. 

Greg McKeown  

And therefore, which strategy for longevity you choose. You can do it by building a really big, large institution. And I think that’s an interesting path. It has really big downsides to it. So, if you simply go large, you’re likely to create an institution that doesn’t last very long. At least that’s what the evidence seems to be I mean, institutions, corporations are fragile things just in terms of survival, never mind just going up and down year to year or decade to decade, they just don’t last very long compared them to, for example, to cities or societies. These things just come and go. But as you think about trying to crack the code on the same problem, but in a different way, right, you’re saying I want to solve this problem still, but not that way. I think we live in a time where just some of the technologies we have available, make something plausible. That wasn’t available even 20 years ago, when you made that decision. And when I look at what some of the companies are doing with apps, for example, whether it’s thrive global app or the 10% happier app, or you know where people have taken ideas, and they’re creating platforms around them, technical platforms that are, you know, close to infinitely scalable. They don’t have to have a huge footprint of a massive company, they can still be streamlined businesses, they can still be small giants to use that term. So, that they have great impact without having a great footprint. I think that there’s a way to do it and certainly, at least as a thought experiment, the idea of creating a BJ Fogg second brain. That you create the brain trust and you start feeding into it. And of course, the book is a big part of having done that the book can last forever. But keeping on on that process, where each day you’re thinking about how do I invest in something that would exist without me versus today I will do something that directly has an impact, but would end if I wasn’t able to do it again tomorrow. I think it’s the right shift of a focus in order to achieve what you’re trying to achieve.

BJ Fogg     

I love that advice. And when this podcast ships, I’m going to come back and listen to that again. That is so smart. Thank you.

Greg McKeown   

It’s been a real real pleasure, BJ. And I so glad for the time. I’m so glad you were game to do this differently.

BJ Fogg  

Yeah. 

Greg McKeown  

And not just do the repeated, which you would have been I’m sure excellent. But repeated interview, you know, going through the best play list, greatest hits we’ve got to.

BJ Fogg   

Thank you. Yeah, this is you know, I’m always up for doing new, crazy stuff. And this has been one of the craziest podcasts I’ve ever done. Thank you. And thank you for giving me clarity. And guess what’s coming to my life is three-day weekend for a month for sure. And we’ll see where it goes from there. So, thank you, Greg. This has been a blast. 

Greg McKeown   

Thank you, BJ.


Essentialism Podcast

Greg McKeown

Wheelhouse Entertainment

Credits:

  • Hosted by Greg McKeown
  • Produced by Greg McKeown and Wheelhouse Entertainment
  • Executive Produced by Greg McKeown, Avi Gandhi, Brent Montgomery, Eric Wattenberg, and Ed Simpson
  • Edited by Emma Gladstone and Deanna Markoff