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Is Human Behavior Really Just... Math?!

Updated: Dec 1, 2021

You would love it to be true, right?! Or not!? But I am actually, sort of, kidding! 😜 There is, though, an equation to it, and that is exactly what we are going to cover today. Human behavior is far from being something totally logical like math. Our behavior is influenced by so many internal and external factors that there is not only one answer to how we do things or how we don't do things. Luckily for us there are smart people out there studying a lot about this topic and doing some incredible discoveries that are practical and easy for us to use on our own daily lives. BJ Fogg, Phd is the director of the Behavior Lab at Stanford University and he came up with a model that makes behavior look simple and fun to mess around with. He called it the Fogg Behavior Model, and it goes like this:

B = M A P

Behavior = Motivation Ability Prompt

The model states that: Behavior happens when Motivation & Ability & Prompt converge at the same moment. In other words, when the three elements of MAP - motivation, ability and prompt - come together at the same moment a behavior will occur. Motivation is your desire to do the behavior. Ability is your capacity to do the behavior. And Prompt is the cue to do the behavior. Let me give you an example: Imagine you have to take vitamin capsules once a day after breakfast. You set an alarm to remind yourself and put the vitamin bottle right next to where you eat every morning. When time comes and the alarm goes off, you grab the bottle that is just by your side and take the vitamins, right?! Very intuitive! Let's break it down: Behavior you want to perform: take the vitamin capsules Motivation (M): you want to be a healthier person Ability (A): it was easy to take the capsules that were right next to you Prompt (P): you were prompt by the alarm going off during your breakfast In this example the three elements of the model converged, so you performed the behavior; you took the capsules. But if one of the three elements hadn't been sufficient, there is a good change that you wouldn't have.

Another and more visual way to look at this model is through a two dimensions graph with two continuum axes:

Your level of Motivation for a behavior is represented on the vertical axis and it can range anywhere from low to high. Your Ability to do the behavior is represented on the horizontal axis. We have low ability on the left, in other words behaviors that are "hard to do", and high ability on the right, where behaviors are "easy to do". There is an interesting relationship between motivation and ability. The curved line, called Action line, shows that relationship. If a prompt happens when motivation and ability for a behavior meet above the Action line, the behavior will be performed. But if it happens when bellow the Action line, the behavior will not occur. Our goal then is to make sure that when we want to do a behavior that we are prompt when we are above the Action line, and that when we do not want to do a behavior that we are prompt below the line. Let's use the same example with the vitamins. If, when the alarm goes off you have no idea where the bottle is, your ability to do the behavior, at that moment, is low. The behavior will be "hard to do".

Depending on your level of motivation you could still be able to perform the behavior, but you and I both know better than to depend on it. To be certain that the next time we will take our vitamin capsules, and not depend again on our motivation, we can simply make the behavior easier to do. Like the first example, if when the alarm goes off you have the bottle close to you, the behavior will happen:

Amazing right?! So let's get into some real action. Stop the reading right now, grab a piece of paper, draw the graph and test it out for yourself. Choose any behavior that you want to be certain that, the next time you are prompt to do, you will do it. Stop now! I am seriously. Only continue to read after you have done it! 😉

"There is only one proof of ability ---> ACTION." - Marie Ebner-Eschenbach

Did you do it? Awesome! You are one step closer to doing the things you desire, and you probably learned something right now that is going to change your life forever. Didn't do it? That's ok. You still going to learn something right now that will also probably change your life forever. Why didn't you do? Did you lack on motivation? Too lazy? Not interested? Was your ability to grab a piece of paper low? Too hard to do? What could have made you do it? What specific action could you take right now to be able to make this exercise in the future?

Conclusions of the model

There are four, right to the point, conclusions that you can take home today from the Fogg Behavior model: 1) The higher you motivation, the higher your chances of doing a behavior. The opposite is also true. 2) The easier the behavior (the higher your ability) the probability of you performing the behavior is gigantic. The opposite, also true. 3) Motivation and Ability works as a team. The quantity of one determines the necessary quantity of the other for the behavior to occur. If you lack motivation you need more ability. If you lack ability you need more motivation. 4) No behavior will occur without a prompt. If you have motivation and ability to do a behavior but you are not doing it, check if you have a prompt to act. Without the cue there is no action. This model has the capacity to truly transform every aspect of your life. Use it wisely and you will start to notice big change in no time! Human behavior is no math, but this model makes it look darling close. Let me know in the comments your thoughts and if you feel like you would like some help in creating healthier habits in your life I am always happy to connect! Until next time my friend, Talk soon!

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