Make things easier

For the last few days I have been learning about the behavior model of BJ Fogg. I find it quite simple and interesting and now I see it everywhere.

So the model goes like this. Every behavior is a function of 3 variables – Motivation, Ability and Prompt. All three have to happen at the same moment for the behavior to occur.

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In other words if you are highly motivated, you will be able to do hard tasks, at the edge of your ability. Of course no matter how motivated you are, some tasks will remain elusive. You probably can’t run a marathon without training.

Similarly, some tasks might be easy but you might not be motivated at all to do them, like donating to your alma mater.

Finally according to the model, you always have a prompt to trigger your actions.

The author presents ringing of the phone as an example. The ring is the prompt. When you don’t pick it up, it may be because you don’t want to (a call from a boring friend?) or because you are not able to.

I found this interesting in the design of… Dutch dustbins. I have been living in the Netherlands (I come from India) for around 3 years and Dutch cities and public spaces are almost always clean.

One part of the equation is of course the culture of being clean – which feeds the motivation part of the equation. I read somewhere that the Dutch are more tolerant of homosexuality than an unclean house. And according to this paper, the habit has historical and economic reasons – linked to cleanliness required for producing butter and cheese.

But for our discussion, it’s enough to know that the overall culture adds to the motivation part of the equation. However, motivation is tricky, it’s not consistent and according to BJ Fogg, should be addressed last. We should focus more on prompts and ability.

And I love how Dutch cities address the ability part of the equation. There are dustbins almost everywhere. I am sitting in a train right now and there are dustbins near every set of seats.


Almost anywhere you are in a public space, there is a dustbin in sight. They are paced outside malls, at bus stands, at the railway station, and in parks.


Since they remain always accessible, people find it very easy to throw the trash in them. Even people from other cultures (who might lack the motivation part of the equation), do this with ease. And motivation is fickle anyway.

I suspect they also act as prompts subtly reminding people that they are accessible – and hence encouraging people to keep the spaces clean.

Finally, this probably leads to a positive loop. The more you get used to things being clean everywhere, the more you want to keep them clean and the cycle perpetuates. So the behavior of a whole society changes for the better.

There are of course many example where the Fogg model has been applied well in digital products and I would recommend googling them. Mostly consumer internet companies seem to have nailed this.

But beyond these products, this model has implications for our culture. I find myself conditioned by ideas like ‘think big’,  ‘do the hard thing’, ‘go big or go home’, and tend to think in terms of big victories, and might actually feel bad if I get just small ones. Whereas, according to this research, one is far more likely to reach big ones if he or she starts small. And things which are too big at the start are more likely to fall. Can we look beyond this cultural conditioning? Something worth thinking about.

4 thoughts on “Make things easier

  1. Pingback: They will make you smarter – Curated Intelligence

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