Image Credit: Fritz Cartoons

Vitamin B for BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model

When people talk about relationships, I often hear people say “You can’t change him/her. Either accept them or move on.” I somewhat agree with this, but the silver lining lies in that we can change ourselves starting with our behaviors.

A few months ago I participated in BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits program, and was astonished by how easy it was to change my behavior. The key was simplicity, because we know willpower is a limited resource. In my case, I wanted to build a habit of flossing my teeth every day, but instead of using that as the behavior, I committed to flossing only one tooth a day. Over time that built up to a row of teeth! (I’m not yet at the entire mouth, but I’ll get there.)

You can do it too. The behavior model is simple:

B = MAT (Behavior = Motivation Ability Trigger)

There’s no crazy mathematics here. BJ whittled our complex behaviors down to three key properties: how motivated you are to perform the behavior, how physically/mentally able you are to do the behavior, and the action/thought/scenario that automatically triggers the action.

In my example of flossing, I was moderately motivated to perform the behavior. My dental check-ups have always been fine, but I know it’s better for me to floss. I am physically able to floss, but picked only flossing one tooth because anything more felt like it would take too much time or effort. (This is really critical. Many times in the past, I’ve told myself I will floss today, but the image of having to floss 32+ nooks and crannies stopped me from even picking up the floss.) Finally, the trigger was brushing my teeth. As soon as I put my brush into the cup, I was ready to floss one tooth.

This model is fascinating to me because I can see countless applications in health. How many of you know someone who is trying to change their eating habits? Or sleep earlier? Or drink more water? I know I’ve aspired to do those all the time.

As a designer I am excited to explore ways of applying the behavior model to designing experiences (with or without technology) that improve people’s health. This post serves as one attempt to trigger some of you to try it out and discover how easy it can be to change ourselves for the better.

Apply It: Pick a tiny behavior you want to change and try to stick to the formula for a week. The trigger should be before the action. If you drop off, it’s OK. Just adjust next time — maybe the behavior is not small enough, or you have a less ideal trigger. Keep experimenting and you’ll find something that works.