Designing Behavior Change — An Introduction to the Work of BJ Fogg

B. J. Fogg“In graduate school I realized that most traditional theories about human behavior were either inaccurate or impractical,” notes BJ Fogg, Ph D, a behavior scientist at Stanford University and consultant to businesses. “So I put tradition aside and looked for a better answer. It took over 10 years, but today I believe I’ve solved the puzzle.”

That’s a bold claim. And, it’s worth investigating.

One thing I know: If you write or speak about changing human behavior in any way, you cannot afford to overlook BJ Fogg.

What works — and what doesn’t

BJ wants to eliminate guesswork about changing behavior. We’ll do this, he says, by designing new behaviors for individuals or groups with three principles in mind:

  1. Get specific about the behavior you want.
  2. Make that behavior simple and easy to do.
  3. Trigger the behavior with an appropriate cue.

Perhaps that sounds simplistic. Actually, it reminds me of the old saying — simple, but not easy.

Most plans for behavior change are destined to flop, says BJ, because they ignore the above principles. Instead, those plans are based on failed strategies such as:

  • Presenting information with the vague hope that people will eventually change
  • Using persuasion techniques — such as threats of harmful consequences that will happen if people don’t change
  • Guiding people to choose a “big, hairy, audacious goal” and achieve it with motivation and willpower
  • Moving people through a series of psychological stages that eventually result in change

Start with Tiny Habits

The most concrete way to explore these ideas is to test them for yourself. Start with the free Tiny Habits course. This is a week-long series of short, daily emails from BJ that coach you to form three new habits. I found this to be fun and life-changing.

I’ve already posted an overview of Tiny Habits, described how to present Tiny Habits to readers, and suggested using Tiny Habits to write daily.

For now I’ll just note that Tiny Habits follow a precise syntax — a trigger followed by a simple and concrete behavior. For example:

  • After I brush, I will floss one tooth.
  • After I pour my morning coffee, I will text my mom.
  • After I start the dishwasher, I will read one sentence from a book.
  • After I walk in my door from work, I will get out my workout clothes.
  • After I sit down on the train, I will open my sketch notebook.

If you want to experience this at a much deeper level, check out the Tiny Habits Academy directed by Linda Fogg-Phillips, MS. You can join a virtual master class and even get certified as a Tiny Habits coach.

Where to learn more — information from BJ

I’ve never seen a person with more websites than BJ. He recommends that you start with his “dot org” site for an overview and then go to his “dot com” site for information about current projects.

If you want more from BJ, there’s plenty. Following is a partial list:

BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model states that behavior happens only when motivation, ability, and a trigger coincide. This site describes three core motivators, six simplicity factors (ability), and three types of triggers.

Design for Lasting Change ebook is my favorite source of practical suggestions from BJ.

The Behavior Grid: 15 Ways Behavior Can Change

Fogg Method 3 steps to changing behavior

Choice Model by BJ Fogg, PhD

The Behavior Wizard: Easy Access to Powerful Strategies

Behavior Wizard: A Method for Matching Target Behaviors with Solutions by B. J. Fogg and Jason Hreha (requires a purchase)

Think Like a Behavior Designer by BJ Fogg, PhD

Tiny Habits of Love and Affection

Go Tiny for New Year Resolutions that Work

A Behavior Model for Persuasive Design by BJ Fogg (PDF)

Behavior Design with BJ Fogg

Think Like a Behavior Designer

BJ Fogg on Behavior Design — Where Art Meets Science

Also search YouTube and Vimeo with the key words BJ Fogg and tiny habits.

In addition, BJ teaches an in-person, two-day Behavior Design Bootcamp in Healdsburg, California. Find out more here.

Where to learn more — information from others

BJ’s work inspires much interest. Again, what follows is a partial list of examples.

Simplicity Labs’ Recommended Resources for Behavior Design — another BJ Fogg link feast

Examples of recipes for Tiny Habits from Diana Hoppe, MD

How to get unstuck (new 1-hour mini-course with BJ Fogg) by Ramit Sethi (a former student of BJ’s)

The master of persuasion: Interview with BJ Fogg and Ramit Sethi

The new rules of persuasion from RSA

The No-Gimmick, Fastest Way to Make Real Change by Leigh Newman

What’s Next Health: BJ Fogg — a Pioneering Ideas podcast from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Stanford’s School Of Persuasion: BJ Fogg On How To Win Users And Influence Behavior by Anthony Wing Kosner

Tiny Habits by Jennifer Chang

Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab from Stanford University

Design Resources for Behavior Change from Stanford University

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