Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

Creating SUSTAINABLE Behavioral Change Part 9

Creating SUSTAINABLE Behavioral Change Part 9

by James Porter March 12, 2022

Remember the 2008 financial meltdown when experts were claiming that certain banks were too big to fail? Well BJ Fogg’s approach to behavioral change is exactly the opposite. He talks about creating habits that are too tiny to fail: The whole idea is to pick a goal that at first glance seems so ridiculously easy you could do it in your sleep.

He talks about flossing just one tooth, or meditating for 1 minute a day or eating one salad a week. His whole approach focuses on creating the habit first and worrying about expanding it out later. Successful habit formation fosters self-efficacy, and self-efficacy is the TRUE driver of ALL behavioral change.

In the 6th installment I wrote about a new habit I cultivated of brushing BETWEEN my teeth (which I did at the recommendation of my dentist). The behavior seemed hard to do at first. I had to use an anti-bacterial solution that tasted terrible on a tiny (inter-dental) tooth brush, that I’d never heard of before. I wasn’t even sure how to use the brush at first. But I persevered through all these challenges because I was highly motivated. However that’s NOT the way BJ Fogg says we should go about making a behavioral change: “Relying on motivation doesn’t always work. Motivation is a slippery slope. Sometimes you have a lot of it and sometimes you don’t.”

Motivation chart

Motivation levels fluctuate throughout your day, usually peaking in the morning. We’ve always known that people who exercise first thing in the morning are much more likely to stick with the program. Now you know why. But we can’t always make our schedules fit within our willpower peaks.

In this last installment we showed you this graph and explained how it worked in detail:

Fogg Behavior Model


This is BJ Fogg’s behavioral change graph: A trigger is anything that reminds you to do a behavior. The beeper in your car reminds you to put on your seat belt. Sometimes triggers like this work and sometimes they don’t. If you didn’t know anything about automobile safety, the presence of a beeper alone is not going to be enough to get you to put on your seat belt. So, in that case you’d fall BELOW the curved blue line above where triggers fail.

By telling you how putting on your seat belt could save your life we could move you vertically UP the graph to where your motivation, PLUS the trigger, plus your ability to do so (which in this case is never in question) would get you to put on the seat belt and put you above the curved blue line where triggers succeed.

Fogg encourages wellness professionals to teach their clients to take a different tack: Focus less on motivation and more on simplifying what it takes to do the behavior successfully even if that means making it super easy to do. (Years ago I had a Ford Escort with automatic seat belts that were half-way in place as you got in the car and then AUTOMATICALLY pulled tight after you closed door. This is an example of making the behavior easier to do, thus moving the behavior to the right of the graph where you are above the curved blue line where you experience success every time.)

So, if you want to eat more salad, have your salads already made, sitting in a  container when you open your refrigerator door.

By pre-making the salad you’ve made it easier to choose that option. You’ve moved eating healthy from below the curved blue line on the left side of the graph (if you had to get out all the ingredients and make the salad from scratch that would be hard to do) to above the blue line from point A to point B by moving the behavior straight over to the right side of the graph where it’s easier to do. One place it’s hard to do and the other place it’s easier and that makes the behavior DOABLE.

Behavior Graph


Most other approaches to behavioral change try to move you up the graph vertically (by amping up your motivation) rather than horizontally where it becomes easier to do. “That’s what differentiates me from all the other people in the behavioral change space,” Fogg explains.

James Porter
James Porter