Formula for behaviour change

An interesting model for looking at behaviour change is BJ Fogg’s formula for behaviour change. This simple model will be referred to as the Fogg Behaviour Model or FBM in the rest of this post.

The FBM is made up of three core elements referred to as motivation, ability and triggers. In summary, the model claims that for someone to carry out a behaviour, that person must have the right level of motivation, a suitable ability and a trigger to do so. The model states that all three of these elements must be present simultaneously and this is what is referred to as the formula for behaviour change:

Behaviour = Motivation + Ability + Trigger

The model is represented visually below:

Model for behaviour change

As the diagram indicates, there is an “activation line” determined by the relationship between motivation and ability. If we are highly motivated to perform a behaviour, no matter how hard it is, we are likely to do it. For example, if we really want to pass our driving test and we are struggling to demonstrate a behaviour required to satisfy the examiner, we are likely to work hard to carry out that behaviour.

Similarly, if we have a low motivation to perform a behaviour, but we make it easy to do, we are still likely to do it. For example, getting people to turn the lights off when they leave a meeting room might be hard if the switch is on the other side of the room from the door. If we move the switch to next to the door, we are likely to make the behaviour easy to do and therefore increase the chance of it happening.

The importance of “Triggers”

The final element of the formula for change that is the FBM are triggers. If the trigger is not present, the behaviour will not take place even when there is a high level of both motivation and ability. A trigger is (as the name implies) something that sparks the behaviour to occur in the first place… the catalyst if you like.

Let’s look at an example of a trigger. I aim do at least 60 press-ups every day. I can do 60 press-ups quite easily (high ability) and enjoy doing them so my motivation is high. However, what’s sometimes missing is the trigger. I need something that says “why don’t you do your press-ups now while you’ve got the chance?”.

Triggers come in all “shapes and sizes” (and not just for reminding you to exercise) – an alarm on our phone to remind us to put the waste bins our, feeling hungry when we need nutrition, a poster telling us to turn off the light in the office, a road sign when we are driving etc. However the trigger presents itself, to be successful it has to have three characteristics:

  1. We have to notice it.
  2. We have to associate it with the behaviour we are targeting.
  3. It has to coincide with when we feel motivated and able to carry out the behaviour

Application of the Fogg formula for behaviour change

Thinking about the FBM in the context of changing behaviours and encouraging new behaviours in the workplace, here are a few thoughts from us:

  1. Accept that in most cases, motivation will be low: Whether we are asking someone to change the way they carry out a procedure or use a new piece of software, the likelihood is that their personal motivation will be low. We can increase the motivation be sharing context and helping them to see the bigger picture of where this change links to the success of the organisation, the team and/or the individual.
  2. If motivation is low, we need to make it easy to do: It goes without saying, we need to make it easy for people to adopt and try new behaviours when motivation is low. Removing unnecessary barriers, making it simple and increasing ability through training and coaching are all techniques which make it “easier”. Another key factor here is social acceptability… if everyone else is “doing it” this make it easier and requires less effort.
  3. Don’t forget the triggers: Remember, nothing happens without a trigger. The easiest way to create a trigger is to link the new, desired behaviour to another behaviour that the person you are targeting routinely does. Examples include “turn the lights off as you leave the room”, “when going to make yourself a coffee, take a minute to do a small safety check in the kitchen area”. In my earlier example, I do my 60 press-ups when I get out of bed in the morning before I have a shower. I’m able and motivated to do it then and it’s a good time to do it.


In summary, the FBM is a good framework for any manager or leader to audit how to make a target behaviour change happen more readily. Thinking about the level of motivation and the ability of your targets to carry out the behaviour then finding (or creating) suitable triggers to stimulate them is a sensible approach to take.

If you’d like to talk to us about the work we do with clients helping them to change behaviours in their teams, get it touch with us via our contact us page.