How to Change Any Behaviour: Trigger, Ability, Motivation

How to Change Any Behaviour: Trigger, Ability, Motivation

I came across the work of consultant / Stanford Researcher BJ Fogg this week, and I think I’m in love. His lab studies what it takes for people to change behaviour, and in the past 20+ years, he and his team have discovered 3 requirements present across all behavioural changes:

  1. Trigger: A specific event or cue that precedes an action. Get out of bed? Eat breakfast and have a shower. Go to see a movie at the theatre? Buy popcorn.
  2. Ability: In order to do something, it has to be possible. You have to have money to buy a car. You have to walk before you can run.
  3. Motivation: You need to know why  you want to do something. I have a shower because I don’t like being smelly. I need a car because I need to drive to work to pay for my car.

In order to effect a change in behaviour, all three have to be present simultaneously. If a charity asks you to donate money (trigger), for example, you might have all the desire in the world (motivation), but if you don’t have any money (ability), then the whole thing can’t work. Likewise, if you see an ad for a car (trigger), even if you can afford it (ability), you obviously won’t buy it if you think it’s ugly or not worth it to you (motivation).

Now for the fun part. You can use this in any area of your life to:

  1. Start any behaviour by making sure that a trigger, the ability, and a motivation are in place. Fogg recommends making big changes by first forming “tiny habits.” This could be flossing one tooth or doing two push ups every time you use the washroom.
  2. Stop any behaviour by removing one of the three — Ability is easiest. If the addictive/negative/annoying thing isn’t present, you can have all the motivation and triggers in the world and won’t be able to do squat about them.

This is the tip of the iceberg in a field Fogg has dubbed Behaviour Design and it rocks. I’ll probably try out some experiments and report back going forward but for now, check out Fogg’s page for more info!

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