How to Design for Behavior Change

How do I quit smoking, or start a running program? Drink tea instead of coffee, or eat more vegetables and less sugar? What about focusing on one task at a time instead of checking my RSS reader every 20 minutes?

If you are facing questions like this in your life or as part of your company, self-tracking can help bring awareness to patterns that you want to change. But what happens if awareness on its own is not enough to alter your behavior?

That’s where this guy comes in.

This is BJ Fogg, founder of Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab. His basic answer: make it super easy to do the new behavior or stop the old one. Sounds great, but as Fogg starts to deconstruct the elements of behavior change, it gets complex to keep things simple.

At a recent keynote I attended, Fogg talked about his model for behavior change. The takeaway for me was this: Put hot triggers in the path of motivated people. “Hot triggers” are things like structural or location changes where you literally bump into the thing you need to remember on your way out the door, or calls to action from friends that tag you in a photo on your favorite social network where you then spend the next 20 minutes poking around.

Creating triggers assumes a basic level of motivation and ability, of course. Triggers also need to be kept as simple as possible. During his keynote, Fogg even went so far as to say that the future belongs to those who control the hot triggers.

Another fascinating part of Fogg’s model is his Behavior Grid, which outlines 15 ways behavior can change, and the paths you can take to get to the result you want. An interactive version is also available, called Behavior Wizard.

Using the behavior grid to map out my own recent wheat-free experiment, I see that I went from a “grey dot” (decrease a behavior one time) to a “black span” (stopping a behavior for a period of time). If I like how I feel without wheat, I’ll want to move myself down to the “black path” (stopping a behavior from now on).

I’d be curious to hear from people out there who are changing their own behavior or helping other people change their behaviors. Is BJ’s model of designing simple, hot triggers to navigate through the grid helpful in designing your behavior change?

July 17, 2010, 8:16 PM 9 Comments

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