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Discussion Forum > BJ Fogg -- More than Tiny Habits

BJ Fogg is famous for Tiny Habits, but that is only a sound-byte summary of his earlier work.

I've tried to separate my own thoughts from his, often putting them in [], but no promises. His work is spread over several websites, TED talks, and YouTube.


Behaviour Map Model
(very important diagram.)

<<The Fogg Behavior Model shows that three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: Motivation, Ability, and Trigger. When a behavior does not occur, at least one of those three elements is missing.>>

B = M A T

Motivation is rarely worth working on, but it is the one most start with. It is rarely sufficient, and is usually very hard to change -- just ask any cardiologist. Attempts to motivate people are often seen as coercive or creepy. Core motivators include Sensation (pleasure/pain); Anticipation (hope/fear); Belonging (social rejection/acceptance).

Ability is the most useful place to start for most behaviour change. Make the behaviour simpler to do. You can do this by training (the harder method) or by making the behaviour easier. "Simplicity is a function of your scarcest resource at that moment." It includes time, money, physical effort, mental effort, social deviance, and routine. [Cricket adds comfort and fear.]

Training is one way to make things easier, but this is often difficult.

Other ways to make things easier are to choose a different first step (locate dental floss; floss one tooth), and to make the environment support the behaviour. (Place dental floss beside toothbrush. Buy pens you enjoy using. Avoid friends and places where you drink too much.)

Triggers must arrive at the right time. They can be internal or external (lunch whistle vs feel hungry), cycle or cue (before bed vs friend waves at us and we wave back). Ideally, couple with existing habit.
March 31, 2018 at 22:25 | Unregistered CommenterCricket
Motivation Wave
Talk at Health User Design Conference, 2012

"Facilitate behaviour change" is more useful than "motivate behaviour change." (See above comments on motivation.)

Very important diagram at 1:35. Motivation vs time. Are many lows, just a few highs. Average is pretty low.

(Diagram is also at )

"Peaks are a temporary opportunity to do hard things. Troughs are natural periods when people cannot do hard things."

It is more effective to accept the wave as it is than to try to change it. Use the highs well, and accept that (in accordance with B-MAT), most of the time we have low motivation and can only do easy things.

**** Help people succeed on the most desirable health behaviour that matches their current motivation. ****

Current Motivation -- can change within minutes. Slippery. Hard to manipulate. When you manipulate it overtly, people feel uncomfortable.

You can always get people to do something if it is easy enough. No amount of motivation is enough to do very hard things. (I will not run a marathon tomorrow, even if you offer me $1M. I will walk to the end of the driveway for $5.)

Desirable Health Behaviour --

- beneficial habits.
- positive change in environment. This is the only way to change behaviour long term and quickly. Includes the built and social worlds.
- structured behaviours. Default/ preset. Appointments, commmitments, cut up carots, remove decisions.
- different for different people.
- often the next step in a process.
- desirable behaviours come in a range of difficulties. Eg choose a pair of running shoes to buy, vs train for two hours every day all winter.

When Motivation is High --
(How to tell when it's high is a good question.)

1. Start with having them do a hard thing that structures future behaviour. Eg contact, schedule, pay for trainer to come daily.

Echo Behaviours: Behaviours which are set in motion by earlier behaviours.

2. Then reduce barriers to behaviour / make future behaviour easier. Eg fresh veggies for snacks. (This is almost #1, since forcing structures can backfire. However, if done well, structuring is the most powerful use of the high-motivation time.)

3. Finally, increase skill capacity. Eg learn healthy recipe.

Do not use this time for simple one-time behaviours or tiny habits. You can do those during the lows. [Instead, use this time to set up those tiny habits.]

Doing a one-time thing that is hard is not in the top 3 for high-motivation times. It's 4,5, or 6 -- unless it leads to something else in the process.

Harness whatever motivation exits in the moment. Do not rely on artificially amping motivation.

Guide people in creating structured behaviours. They rarely know how or what to do without help.

Focus on baby steps for long-term change. Big leaps almost always fail. Only two realistic ways to get long-term change. 1) Change environment. 2) Baby steps. People naturally find a way to change their environment that had trapped them into bad behaviour. [BJFogg's most famous example is floss one tooth. It sounds easy, but in order to do that we have to find the floss. Once we floss that one tooth, we can leaven the floss by the sink, aka change the environment. And once we've flossed one tooth, we often floss a second.]

Trust that tiny habits grow naturally. Success leads to success -- and other good things. If you start doing something very small and it's truly a habit, you do it every day, automatically, that little habit will grow and grow to its natural size.

There is something really magic about tiny successes. The feeling of success is disproportionately large.

Be wary about the phrase "motivate behavour change." This makes a huge assumption, and its mostly wrong.

Facilitate: Harness the [existing] motivation and you make it easier to do desirable behaviours.

*** When we create products or services for behaviour change and people fail, if they feel like they've failed, we have done them a big disservice. It's not neutral. We have made them less capable of succeeding in the future. Their motivation drops. Learned helplessness. ***
March 31, 2018 at 22:31 | Registered CommenterCricket
Behaviour Grid.

He hasn't worked on this for a while. Lots of broken links. Even so, it's a useful way of looking at behaviours. What works for one type won't work for another. Much of the advice here is logical progression of Motivation Wave, but some seems to conflict it.
Very important chart. Click on each cell for details.

Green: do new behaviour / Blue: do familiar behaviour / Purple: increase behaviour intensity // Gray: decrease behaviour intensity / Black: stop existing behaviour.

Dot: One time / Span: Period of time (eg daily for two weeks) / Path: From now on.

Different cells require different strategies. Most habits naturally move left to right. It's usually easy to move downwards. Moving both across and down at the same time is hard. Starting anywhere but green dot (new, one-time) is almost impossible.

Ability is key for new behaviours, much less important for familiar or increase. Motivation is important for some types of behaviour [but, as described in Motivation Wave, not useful to target]. Triggers are very important to move down, from one-time to span to path.

Cricket adds: When motivation is high, focus on moving between cells, and things that will keep you in the new cell. When it's low, focus on maintaining.

Clicking on each cell in the grid opens details for that behaviour type. I found them interesting but not worth summarizing. Learning to look at different behaviours in light of the MAP and Grid models was more useful than summarizing what he says.
March 31, 2018 at 22:36 | Registered CommenterCricket
And I was hoping for a summary.
April 1, 2018 at 19:43 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
LOL. Yeah, it's more of a transcript. Remember when we had to take notes in real-time? We had to find and catch the key ideas, and flag sections we needed revisit. Now it's too easy to re-play and get everything.

I'm trying to pay attention to how well I'm following his advice, and whether it works. So far, the results are mixed. When I notice I have high motivation and/or energy, I'm asking myself what the most powerful use would be, rather than doing something hard. I used to say that cutting a week's worth of veggies was for low-motivation, low-energy times, and it rarely got done. This week, I used precious peak time for it, and am eating veggies at every lunch! I'm less successful at choosing when to do other tiny habits. I suspect I'm not making them tiny enough, or assuming I will be more motivated than I actually am.
April 4, 2018 at 16:11 | Registered CommenterCricket
Blindingly obvious, once I realized: I'm more productive on days when I bother to look at what I want to accomplish and do a bit of planning. Therefore, that looking and planning high-leverage activity, and worth doing when I have the motivation to do so. It's also worth finding the tiniest of habits that will do the job.

Unsorted lists work well for capturing. Behaviour: Record idea. Trigger: Idea occurs. Ability: Very easy, just write on the next line. Motivation: Irrelevant, since behaviour is very easy.

AF1 is a very tiny habit. Look at a single page of tasks and pick something.

Fancy complicated systems: Useful if they increase motivation (eg you enjoy using them, they give you confidence, they provide time pressure), or if they make something easier (all the things to buy are on one list; all the interconnected tasks are easy to see at the same time). Not useful if they are difficult to use. Idea: System must work well enough most of the time in simplest form. Save fancy parts for difficult projects or busy weeks or when I feel the need to hyperfocus on numbers and planning.
April 4, 2018 at 17:27 | Registered CommenterCricket
I on the other hand find that I'm most productive when I just work my list according to the rules.
April 4, 2018 at 18:43 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Another important takeaway from Dr. Fogg's work is that the behaviour you are most likely going to do is the one furthest from the action line. (Reference: )

If given a choice, the easier / more motivated option is going to win.

In a catch all list, if you only work on each task for as long as you like, I think of this as moving the task barely to the right of the action line based on your current motivation.

If you give yourself a choice of what task to work on in a catch all list, according to Fogg's behaviour model, the tasks you do are the ones you can complete before you want to stop working on them, they are easier to do. Hence, they are further to the right of the action line than all the other tasks.

I think the solution may be to make the tasks that stand out most as I want to get this done, the easiest, so they outweigh the easier, not as important, options.
April 9, 2018 at 5:06 | Unregistered CommenterConnor
Fogg's Behavior Model is interesting, but it doesn't seem to account for dynamic situations, dependencies, sequencing, momentum, etc. Mark's systems don't just account for those dynamics, they leverage them: little and often, attenuation, repeated exposure, etc.

Maybe Fogg gets into those kinds of dynamics elsewhere in his writing.

For catch-all systems, simply seeing all the tasks together in a list and repeatedly reviewing and comparing them dramatically changes the dynamics of motivation, ability, and trigger.

For no-list systems, I think an argument could be made that the only things that appear on the list are items that already have motivation and ability -- but might not have a trigger other than internal motivation.

Anyway, it was interesting reading, thanks for sharing.
April 10, 2018 at 23:26 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
While on the subject of motivation here's a Youtube video I came across recently: the Sovereign's Parade at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst in 1962.

Bear in mind that the vast majority of the people on this parade were teenagers. I was 18 at the time, and you might just be able to spot me somewhere in the rear rank of the new Sovereign's Company!
April 11, 2018 at 0:13 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
The precision in the parade is amazing, especially the wheels (is that what they are called?) and the white horse. Couldn’t quite pick you out in the line. Thanks for the link.
April 12, 2018 at 5:28 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Yes, "wheel" is the right word. It's a difficult manoeuvre. The man on the inside has to virtually mark time while shifting his alignment very gradually. while the man on the outside is nearly running - all the while keeping the line completely straight.

I confess that I haven't actually identified myself in the video - everyone looks much the same in that uniform - but I know I was there!
April 12, 2018 at 12:27 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

I agree, the behaviour you are most likely to do (assuming you list it as an option), is the one furthest from the action line. All too often, we ignore these easy actions, and focus on the end goal and the big picture, trying to take big steps (and failing to take them). (Not that I'm saying the big picture isn't important. The first step towards the wrong goal is a waste of time. However, once we know the end goal, we need to shift focus to steps we are likely to take. Opening the folder is a step in the right direction, and it's one I'm likely to take.)

Seraphim, between the Behaviour Model, the Behaviour Grid, the Motivation Wave, and Tiny Habbits, Fogg does account for dependencies, sequencing, and momentum.

he best use of a high motivation time is setting up structures. The best use of a low motivation time is the next step in a sequence (either repeating a habbit or setting up a structure). He also describes echo behaviours that set up the next behaviour.

You're right, he doesn't account for situations where the environment and goals change drastically. He focuses more on habbits than flexibility.

He does account for changing situations, though. The motivation wave is constantly changing, and he focuses on the current motivation. "Help people succeed on the most desirable health behaviour that matches their current motivation." Triggers can be internal (I feel hungry) or external (dinner bell), routine or not.

Seeing the tasks on together on a list and repeatedly reviewing and comparing them does change motivation, and it can be a trigger, but it doesn't change the ability. For that, we need think more about them, in ways this forum has already discussed: Start with a verb. Define the Next Action. Open the folder. These are things I try to skip. Surely after all these years I don't need to actually think of and write a verb, and I can go right to reading the contents of the folder without explicitly saying I will open it. (Ok, maybe "open" is a bit too small. Use "Observe anxiety level, as first step in anxiety-reduction exercise" as the next step.)

When I'm stalled, I discount the importance of simple steps, and don't give enough importance to building a good structure and environment.
April 18, 2018 at 15:40 | Registered CommenterCricket