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drawing of behavior change Fogg model

❝I like to walk around and act like I don't know what it is. But I know what it is, I just never wanna commit.❞ -NF, "Change"

How many people do you know that have something they want to do, but haven't been able to do it? Maybe they spend money on things they don't need. Or, they spend money they don't have. Maybe they have a habit they don't want to keep up, like smoking cigarettes, but they continue smoking. Or they never exercise even though they keep making New Year's resolutions to start walking.

For a lot of our problems, it's not an information problem. Usually, we know what we're supposed to do. The problem is we can't get ourselves to do it.

All the information, knowledge, and logic in the world won't help us if we are unwilling or unable to actually do it.


Many of us know what we're "supposed to" do. Take diet and exercise, for example. I know that I need to consume fewer calories than I take in if I want to lose weight. I also know what kinds of foods (and beverages) have more calories. And yet, that knowledge doesn't change my behavior.

With money, the basics of good personal finance are pretty simple; spend less than you make and save some for the future. Still, those basic instructions are difficult to follow.

There are countless examples of things we know we should do, but we don't actually do.

drawing of not doing what we should

There is a difference between simple and easy. The examples above about diet, exercise, and personal finance are all simple - at least the basics are. But knowing how to do something and actually doing something are quite different.

Simple isn't always easy.

drawing of simple is not easy


One of the reasons it's difficult to implement the things we know are good for us is the type of motivation we feel. Motivation is the reason we do something. Sometimes we do something because we think we're supposed to or because someone told us to do it. This is called extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation can work; it's just that if we're motivated extrinsically, anything will stop us.

drawing of extrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is when we are motivated to do something for the sake of doing it. We would do it if we couldn't tell anyone about it.

When we are motivated intrinsically, nothing will stop us.

drawing of intrinsic motivation

Complicating matters is the fact that we can be motivated to do two or more things at the same time, and those can sometimes conflict with each other. I might be motivated to go to the gym, and also motivated to go to happy hour.

Experiencing multiple, conflicting motivations at the same time is called ambivalence, and it's a normal part of life.

drawing of ambivalence

Money is the number one source of stress in people's lives, above work, health, and kids. People with money disorders typically have faulty beliefs about money and cannot change their behavior even though they know they should.


With motivation in mind, we can think about behavior change and motivation through a model created by author and professor BJ Fogg.

In his book Tiny Habits, he writes about his model for behavior change, which he describes as B=MAP. This isn't a mathematical equation; A variable, B, isn't equal to M times A times P. The equal sign is a little misleading.

Instead, it means that a Behavior (B) will happen when there is motivation (M) and ability (A) when we are prompted (P).

You can visualize this as showing motivation on one axis and ability on the other. There is a line, called the change line, that represents where change happens.

drawing of BJ Fogg model

A prompt is anything that reminds us to do something. It could simply be a thought that pops in our head. It could be a reminder on a calendar or an alert on our phone.

When the prompt happens, we have to both want to do the behavior and be able to at the same time.

In terms of the model, prompts will work on the far side of the change line.

drawing of Fogg model where prompts work

The flip side is that if we lack motivation or ability, then we'll be on the wrong side of the change line.

drawing of Fogg model where prompts don't work

For example, I might remember to go to the gym (prompt) and have nothing else going on so I could (ability). And yet, I just don't feel like it (no motivation).

drawing of being able to change but not wanting to

Another example is that I could get a notification on my phone (prompt) telling me to go to the gym and, truth be told, I really want to (motivation). But if I'm currently in a meeting for work, I can't (no ability).

drawing of wanting to change but not being able to

Sometimes, we both don't want to do it and couldn't even if we wanted to!

drawing of inability to change


The obvious question becomes, "What do we do about it?"

Here's where it's helpful to see the model in action. If we have a behavior that we want to start doing - or conversely, something we want to stop doing - it means we are in the no-change zone.

To get into the change zone, we can think back to the model B=MAP. B is the behavior we want, and if we aren't doing it, we can use these three variables to improve our chances.

The easy one is to think about your ability to do it (A). If there's any friction in the way, remove the friction. Make it easier. If working out is too daunting, find a sport you like playing. Put the good foods in the easy-to-reach parts of your refrigerator. Automate your savings, or at least systematize it.

If it's a behavior you want to stop, do the opposite. Make it more difficult. Add friction.

drawing of change by making it easier

If you have something you want to start doing, finding intrinsic motivation can be helpful. Finding reasons for you to do it includes making it feel more important. You could think about increasing your confidence in your ability to do it. Perhaps you can realize how much you need to do it.

Increasing motivation gets you into the change zone.

drawing of changing by making it more important

Finally, you can manage the prompts (P). You don't have to rely on just remembering to do something. You can schedule reminders. You can set up notifications. You can even pair the behavior you want to do with a different one you already do.

Thinking about motivation in terms of your motivation and ability when prompted can help you make the changes you've been trying to make.

You get one life; live intentionally.


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Clear, James: Atomic Habits Fogg, B.J.: Tiny Habits Miller, William: On Second Thought Miller, William & Stephen Rollnick: Motivational Interviewing Motivation & Goal Achievement Masterclass



About the Author

Derek Hagen, CFA, CFP, FBS, CFT-I, CIPM is a speaker, writer, and coach specializing in financial psychology, meaning and valued living, resilience, and mindfulness.


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