Behavior design with BJ Fogg

By Rock Health Intern Jess Hershfield

Watch the full presentation below, or read on for our recap.

Creating a healthier world is the goal that unites everyone in our ecosystem. However, perhaps the biggest barrier to achieving this end is motivation. Change toward a healthier lifestyle is often extremely difficult for individuals, but health technology can play a huge role in designing interventions to ease this transition. A very enthusiastic BJ Fogg joined us at Rock Health to teach the basics of behavior design, describing exactly how health tech entrepreneurs should think when designing their health interventions.

BJ began by demonstrating that often individuals who design for health behavior try to create something people simply cannot do.  He believes designers underestimate the steps necessary to change health behavior, and that focus needs to be shifted to step-by-step solutions.  He likens this to the metaphor of swimming. You wouldn’t expect an individual to just jump in the water and start swimming. Instead, you need step-by-step instructions and build up. BJ believes this is how we should approach health behavior; providing individuals small steps towards large success.

In order to provide these small steps, we need to take phrases such as “motivate behavior change,” out of our vocabulary and replace that with “facilitate behavior change.”  If we can simply make behavior change easier too do, more individuals will be likely to do so.  Simplicity changes behavior in the long term much more then motivation; by making it simpler, you are helping people do what they already want to do.

So, how do we approach designing a product that promotes this behavior change?  BJ suggests first sitting down with your team and utilizing what he calls the “magic wand technique:” if you could wave a magic wand and get your users to do anything, what would you want them to do?

Once you have these behavior changes in mind, it’s time to use BJ’s behavior model.  Here’s what it looks like:
In order for a behavior to transpire, motivation, ability, and trigger must all occur at the exact same instance.  According to the model, you have a meter of motivation, from very motivated to very unmotivated on one axis; and on the other how able the individual can perform this behavior. A trigger is a cue that alerts the individual to perform the behavior.

An activation threshold exists, such that triggers succeed when a balance is achieved so that motivation is high and it is easy to do. On the other hand, if it is too hard to do, and people are unmotivated, the trigger will fail. The goal is to design technology that enables people who are already motivated to easily succeed in the behavior once they are triggered.

Now that we understand how BJ wants us to approach design, he gave us some tips as to how to successful implement this model.

1. For every venture you are working on, first target those individuals who are already motivated and have the ability to do the behavior, but have not been triggered.  Then target those people who have the motivation to change, but it is too hard for them to do so.  And finally, target the people who have the ability to do so, but are not motivated to do so.
2. Motivation is slippery, i.e. you may get someone motivated enough to do a behavior one or two times, but soon that motivation will wane if the behavior is too hard to do.  Instead, making a behavior easier to do is a much greater investment.

BJ could not stress enough that the best approach is too help people to do something that they already want to do by making it easier!

Next, BJ moved on to the topic of habits.  The goal of any entrepreneur is to get their user to habitually utilize their product; but the transition from first time user, to habitual user is extremely difficult.  BJ describes two different approaches to habits:

  • Grind it Out Method: Extremely difficult to do, and takes a lot of motivation.  For example, getting people who do not exercise to exercise for 30 minutes everyday.  They may be motivated for the first couple of days or weeks, but once that motivation slips, they will go back to their old ways.
  • Tiny Habits Method: Instead, get people to do something that is so easy to do it is hard to avoid.  For example, have people who do not exercise to just walk 3 minutes a day or even just put on their running shoes each day.  Since this habit is so easy, they experience success and their sense of ability raises, motivating them to do harder tasks and allowing them to stay above the threshold.

Behavior is not as complicated as people think, according to BJ.  And if we make behavior easy to do and break it into many small steps, then encouraging healthier behavior is a very attainable goal.

If you want to learn more about BJ Fogg’s behavior design methods, feel free to visit his website, or attend one of his 2-day persuasion boot camps.