Tiny Habits Wisdom Pt.1: Fogg Behavioral Model


I’m in the process of reading a book called “Tiny Habits” by BJ Fogg (a behavioral psychologist) and while the book is primarily about changing your own personal behavior through the method of using tiny habits to anchor them, it also has a lot of wisdom to offer our community and our product. I’m going to start this series of topics with some basics of behavioral vocabulary and concepts for the following topics to build on.

Basic Vocab

So what are habits? Habits are repeating behaviors. A thing we do repetitiously. We have a lot of habits in our lives already, both intentional and unintentional.

So what are behaviors? Behaviors are actions, something we actively do. This is different from aspirations or outcomes which are more abstract. (Eg: “Have better oral hygiene” is not a behavior, you can’t suddenly do having healthy teeth. It’s an aspiration/outcome, made up of behaviors like “floss my teeth once a day” or “brush my teeth every time I shower.”)

Behaviors are made up of three crucial components: a Prompt, the Ability, and the Motivation.

You can think of it as: B = MAP (Behavior happens when = Motivation, Ability, and Prompt converge at the same moment)

Motivation is how much you want to do something. Fogg highlights emphatically that motivation is the most fickle of the three, and that motivation is the least reliable way to make behaviors happen. Sometimes we want to do things, sometimes we really don’t. That feeling of wanting to do is motivation, and it’s natural to not be able to control it or direct it with an iron fist. Motivation is always the last aspect you should try to modify when trying to create a new behavior, always work through Ability and Prompt first (more on that later).

Motivation can come from three places:

  1. Person - the person already wants to do the behavior

  2. Action - an external benefit for doing, or punishment for not doing, the behavior

  3. Context - motivation from the context you’re in

Ability is how capable you are of doing a behavior. Maybe you don’t have enough time, or money, or energy to do something you feel totally motivated to do. I really wanted smoothies every morining but felt really ashamed that I couldn’t get it together enough to make myself a daily smoothie. Then I realized that while I totally have a prompt in my routine (making tea) and I have the motivation (I’d love to have an easy, nutritious meal) I didn’t have the ability. It was too much mental/physical effort to make a smoothie every morning, let alone do prep before hand. So I solved for ability. I have the privilege of enough resources to purchase a subscription to wholesome smoothie ingredients in different combinations, and now the only effort required is dumping the cup of ingredients into the blender. Now I have fresh smoothies every morning AND I don’t have to feel like I was failing!

Ability Chain: What makes this behavior hard to do?

  1. Time (I don’t have enough time to do the thing!)

  2. Money (I don’t have enough money to do the thing!)

  3. Physical Effort (My body is too tired to do the thing!)

  4. Creative/Mental Effort (My brain is too tired to do the thing!)

  5. Current Routine Compatibility (The thing disrupts my daily flow!)

Prompt is your cue to do the behavior. You may have motivation and ability, but if you never remember to do the behavior then it still won’t happen. A good prompt reminds you at the right moment, in a way that is helpful, and is a part of your routine already.

Visual Example

Let’s bring it home visually. Think of a behavior you’d like to do and/or a behavior you’d like to stop, and let’s look at it through the Fogg Behavioral Model.

First, there’s your motivation to do the behavior; low desire or high desire. Place your chosen behavior somewhere on the vertical motivation axis.

Second, there’s your ability to do the behavior: hard to do, or easy to do. Take that same behavior and move it across the horizontal ability axis.

Which quadrant did your behavior land in?

Let’s look at the example of two behaviors like Working Out in the Morning, and Scrolling Facebook in the Morning.

There’s an invisible line on that graph called the “Action Line”. Below the action line, behaviors probably won’t happen and even good prompts won’t help. Above the action line, the behaviors are far more likely and prompts way more effective.

Did your chosen behaviors fall above or below the action line?

In later topics I’ll share more about how to design effective behaviors so that they make it above the action line.


Those are the basics! Hopefully this helped illustrate how Motivation, Ability, and Prompt come together to create (or hinder) Behavior. I’ll continue to build on this vocabulary to make ties between what I’ve learned from this book so far and how it could relate to SourceCred in the following “Tiny Habits Wisdom” topic series.

1 Like

I saw the third image on my walk last night, I visualized the upper right hand corner of it.

So far tiny habits is the equivalent to whittling which is not mentioned in any books that I know of.

Neuroplasticity for hobby sport!

Looking forward to reading all that comes from your current book binge.