How to Design for Behavior Change

How do I quit smoking, or start a running program? Drink tea instead of coffee, or eat more vegetables and less sugar? What about focusing on one task at a time instead of checking my RSS reader every 20 minutes?

If you are facing questions like this in your life or as part of your company, self-tracking can help bring awareness to patterns that you want to change. But what happens if awareness on its own is not enough to alter your behavior?

That’s where this guy comes in.

BJ Fogg on Simplicity from BJ Fogg on Vimeo.

This is BJ Fogg, founder of Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab. His basic answer: make it super easy to do the new behavior or stop the old one. Sounds great, but as Fogg starts to deconstruct the elements of behavior change, it gets complex to keep things simple.

At a recent keynote I attended, Fogg talked about his model for behavior change. The takeaway for me was this: Put hot triggers in the path of motivated people. “Hot triggers” are things like structural or location changes where you literally bump into the thing you need to remember on your way out the door, or calls to action from friends that tag you in a photo on your favorite social network where you then spend the next 20 minutes poking around.

Creating triggers assumes a basic level of motivation and ability, of course. Triggers also need to be kept as simple as possible. During his keynote, Fogg even went so far as to say that the future belongs to those who control the hot triggers.

Another fascinating part of Fogg’s model is his Behavior Grid, which outlines 15 ways behavior can change, and the paths you can take to get to the result you want. An interactive version is also available, called Behavior Wizard.

Using the behavior grid to map out my own recent wheat-free experiment, I see that I went from a “grey dot” (decrease a behavior one time) to a “black span” (stopping a behavior for a period of time). If I like how I feel without wheat, I’ll want to move myself down to the “black path” (stopping a behavior from now on).

I’d be curious to hear from people out there who are changing their own behavior or helping other people change their behaviors. Is BJ’s model of designing simple, hot triggers to navigate through the grid helpful in designing your behavior change?

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10 Responses to How to Design for Behavior Change

  1. Noumenon says:

    The grid is a nice definition, but the triggers are the secret weapon… and it seems like they’re not available. There’s a form where you can request the “premium resource guide” “when it becomes available.”
    From the 2009 paper I see only three trigger options: “do X whenever you see a Y”, “do Y for 30 minutes every day at time T,” and “whenever you do X, do Y, where Y may be just “more of X than normal.”
    Triggers have worked in my life on two occasions: “Never go to bed without flossing your teeth” and “whenever the drainer is full, empty it; whenever it is empty, do the dishes.” It seems like a sound approach though.

  2. kare anderson says:

    Also look at the books Sway and (especially) Nudge. Nudge has a blog that covers current nudges.

  3. Brent Klokis says:

    It seems another benefit here is bundling, or teaming up with others that have varied factors. So if the top of my hexagon has “Time”, but the bottom has “Money”, I can then look to partner up with someone who has a lot of money but no time, and come up with a ‘simple’ solution that would benefit both parties more than each party would have benefited individually.

  4. Alexandra Carmichael says:

    @Noumenon – great point. My understanding is that the triggers are still in development, and BJ does seem willing to talk to anyone who is interested.
    @Kare – thanks for the suggestions!
    @Brent – interesting. So adding a layer of complexity (the right person) might actually make things simpler.

  5. Brent Klokis says:

    @Alexandra – Precisely. This description reminds me of Matt Ridley’s TEDtalk “when ideas have sex”: No one person knows how to build the technologies we use, from start to finish. We depend on many other people to produce bits of the technology that many other people know how to put together – making the ultimate task of building technology much simpler.
    It seems reasonable to swap ‘build technology’ for ‘change behavior’ and argue you might similarly get further with a social-network.

  6. Bart Hufen says:

    Interesting stuff guys.
    I agree with Dr. Fogg especially about the influence of Context. It would be interesting to learn what the impact of each different factor is on simplicity (for instance time = 15% and money = 5% of influence)…
    Keep it up!

  7. Artur says:

    @Alexandra re: brent’s post.
    I think you’re right, I think it(adding layer of complexity) is called ‘shooting higher’ or wanting more :)

  8. Robert Dold says:

    The more People try to make life efficient outside of the Brain the less effective the Brain is trained to be. Triggers is a BIG BIG WORD.
    People who lose the ability… No. People train themselves to have the loss of Internal Triggers. Accomplishing very easy tasks becomes seen as milestones. A Person who writes themselves a note at night to remember some thing seems normal because society has accepted the abnormality.
    At an early age >WhenWhenWhenWhen

  9. Laura James says:

    You might also be interested in Dan Lockton’s work on Design with Intent, which is about product and system design to change behaviours. It is worth noting that motivation can be hard to get – for instance, motivating people to use less electricity is hard if cost is not an issue.
    You can buy or download free teh toolkit for design with intent.

  10. Pingback: Five ways to generate data | Quantified Self

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