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The Behavior Design Equation


BJ Fogg founded the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University.

He’s one of the world’s leading authorities on the science of behavior change and has deeply influenced how we think about habit change—on both a product development level and a personal level.

(To put it in perspective, his former students created Instagram.)

He’s also the author of Tiny Habits—a great book that’s all about “The Small Changes That Change Everything.”

Mastering the process of changing our behavior is, arguably, THE most important skill we can acquire in our lives—for ourselves and for our families, colleagues, clients, etc.


You could make a VERY strong case that this subject should be at the top of your list of most important subjects to master.

And, by extension, this book would be as close as it gets to a must read. (While you’re rocking the Habits theme, I also HIGHLY recommend the uber-best seller Atomic Habits by James Clear and Mini Habits by Stephen Guise.)

Now, back to BJ Fogg.

He’s THE guy all the other aspiring habit experts go to.

Here’s what he has to say: “You can change your life by changing your behaviors. You know that. But what you may not know is that only three variables drive those behaviors.

The Fogg Behavior Model is the key to unlocking that mystery. It represents the three universal elements of behavior and their relationship to one another. It’s based on principles that show us how these elements work together to drive our every action—from flossing one tooth to running a marathon. Once you understand the Behavior Model, you can analyze why a behavior happened, which means you can stop blaming your behavior on the wrong things (like character and self-discipline, for starters). And you can use my model to design for a change in behavior in yourself and in other people.


Behavior happens when Motivation & Ability & Prompt converge at the same moment.”

Those are the first words from chapter #1: “The Elements of Behavior.”

Want to understand WHY we do any and everything?

Well, BJ tells us that we need to understand this simple formula: B = MAP.

Behavior is a function of our Motivation + Ability + Prompt.

As BJ tells us: “A behavior happens when the three elements of MAP—Motivation, Ability, and Prompt—come together at the same moment. Motivation is your desire to do the behavior. Ability is your capacity to do the behavior. And prompt is your cue to do the behavior.”

One more time: B = MAP

In the book, he presents a super simple and equally powerful little diagram to bring the point home. You can find his model here.

As it turns out, I walked Emerson through this model the other night while we were talking
about how to rock a Digital Sunset. More on that in our next +1.

For now, let’s take a quick tour through the primary elements of that diagram.

First, on the Y axis, we have our Motivation. It can be either High or Low. Then, on the X axis, we have our Ability. That can be either Low or High as something can be either Hard to Do or Easy to Do.

Then we have a Prompt. The Prompt can show up either above or below what BJ calls the “Action Line.” If our Motivation is High and our Ability is High (aka, it’s Easy to Do), the Prompt will fall above the Action Line and we’ll do it. If, on the other hand, we have Low Motivation and our Ability is Low (aka it’s Hard to Do), we won’t do it.

That’s it.

Super simple and equally powerful.

You can run ALL Behaviors through that model.

Of course, BJ spends the entire book walking us through how to use that model to install the habits we want to rock while deleting those we want to get rid of.

For now, how about you MAP one of the Behaviors in your life on that handy-dandy model?

Sketch out the Y axis for Motivation. And the X axis for Ability. Draw the Action Line. Notice the potential placement of your Prompt.

Pick a Behavior you’d like to to analyze.

How’s your Motivation? High or Low?

How’s your Ability? Is it High (making the Behavior Easy) or is it Low (making your Behavior Hard)?

And, where’s the Prompt show up? Below or above the Action Line?

Remember: B = MAP.

Here’s to using wise MAPs to -1 -1 -1 and +1 +1 +1 our way to Optimized awesome.