BJ Fogg teaches how any behavior is a combination of three simple factors: motivation, ability, and a trigger. Whether we’re trying to adjust our own behaviors or design products, services, or processes for others – the Fogg behavior model is incredibly useful.
First, let’s define each factor:
Trigger: the prompt that starts the behavior. The trigger transitions a person into action.
Motivation: at the extremes, either a person wants to do something or they don’t. Think of motivation as scaling from highly motivated to not at all motivated.
Ability: at the extremes, either a person has the required skills to do some task or they don’t. Ability can be measured from low required skill/simple to high required skill/complex.
Where Fogg’s model gets interesting is when we start to combine variations of the factors:
A young child wants something on a countertop and can’t reach it. Trigger (see the object) + motivation (really want it, high motivation) + ability (can’t reach it, low ability) = behavior (meltdown).
When we encounter high motivation with low ability we can either let a meltdown occur or provide an offset to the ability factor, aka make it easy on the person. In the example, we might just hand the child the object of their desire from the countertop to avoid a meltdown.
An adult wants to get in shape and decides to wake up early to go to the gym. The problem is its winter and they’re tired in the morning. Trigger (alarm goes off) + motivation (so dark and cold, low motivation) + ability (should be easy to get out of bed, capable of this every day after all) = behavior (skip the gym, stay in bed until normal wake up time).
When we encounter low motivation with high ability, we can either let inertia occur or we need to offset the motivational factors, aka find some morning inspiration. In the example, we could strategize around rewards (a vacation after a month of 3x per week trips) or punishments (no coffee until after the gym). We could also tweak the process to get to the goal (do a workout at home if the drive to the gym is too much pressure), or better define the goal (what does “in shape” mean? Beach bod or run for 10 minutes without wanting to die?).
These are lite examples but think of processes and behaviors we encounter every day for work in particular. If we have something a client should do but can’t seem to find the time to do, how can we make it maximally easy? If we have something hard for a colleague to complete and they aren’t motivated to get it done, what are we doing to inspire them?
High-quality behavioral design is one of the easiest ways to work smarter and not harder. Fogg’s model gives us a tool to deconstruct behavioral puzzles and determine how they internally operate. We want to notice more than the behaviors going on around us, we want to notice the triggers, the motivations, and the abilities present and required. There are multiple answers to every behavioral question, Fogg’s model gives us a method to solve for them.
*h/t to Nir Eyal’s ”Indistractable,” which is where I learned about Fogg’s behavioral model.