Triggering the right behaviour

A trigger is a cue, or a call to action. It’s something that says, “Do this now.”  But there can be different sorts of triggers depending on your motivation and ability.

Considering my preferred model of behaviour  developed at Stanford University by B.J. Fogg, the trigger is a criticla part of the model.  As we have seen behaviour is based on both your ability to perform the behaviour and your motivation to perform the behaviour… but to actually behave in that way you need a trigger.

While all triggers are pretty much the same- they initiate behaviour. Fogg looks at three types of triggers in his Behaviour Model, depending on where you perceive your audience to be on this graph:

Spark — is a trigger which is applied when there is high ability but low motivation.

Consider designing a trigger in tandem with a motivational element rather than a pure cue or reminder. As an example, it’s easy to wake up in the morning when you’ve gotten enough sleep, but you may not be motivated to leave your comfortable bed. If that’s the case as I find thinking about going for my long morning walk- I arrange for the air-conditioning to turn off at a pre-arranged time and put the aircon remote in another room… that motivates me to get out of bed, and once up I go for my walk.

Facilitator — is trigger that is applied when there is high motivation but low ability.

This trigger seeks to simplify the benefits of the task. As an illustration, suppose that you’re trying to eat healthier but you’re not very organized. You can sign up for a newsletter that is delivered every Saturday morning to your inbox with easy-to-make, delicious recipes for healthy meals for the rest of the week. This will prompt you to sit down with the newsletter and plan your meals for the upcoming week, right there and then and follow up by going shopping for the ingredients.

Signal — is a trigger that can be applied when both motivation and ability are high, but memory is low.

This is just a prompt that serves as a reminder. It can be something as simple as a post-it note; i use these a lot there’s one placed on my computer to remind me to check my bank account if my salary has been banked and I transfer money in the right account.  Using your calendar or reminders to prompt behaviour is a signal in the same way.

The insight here is to keep in mind that the trigger has to occur at the “right time”. That is, it has to occur just before the target behaviour is supposed to take place.  In my example of long morning walks, I have high motivation and high ability so all I’ll need is a signal. The air-conditioning turning off is less a spark now and more a trigger for my behaviour. It’s become a habit now, I wake, I brush my teeth and change into my exercise clothes… now all I can do is exercise. Its become a habit.

As a reminder (yes I’m triggering your behaviour after reading this) If you’re having trouble getting yourself, or others, to adopt a certain behaviour, ask yourself the following:

  • Is there a motivation problem? If so, how can I fix it? Maybe check out my post on this here.
  • Is there an ability problem? If so, how can I fix it? How can I make the behaviour easier or simpler? Which resource is the most scarce (time, money, physical ability, and so on), and how can I address that?
  • Am I using the right type of trigger? Am I applying the trigger at the right time, just before the behaviour needs to occur? Am I linking this behaviour with other, previous habits.