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A Complete Guide to the Fogg Behavior Model

A Complete Guide to the Fogg Behavior Model

Last Updated:  
March 18, 2024

♻️ The Fogg Behavioral Model Explained

A few years ago, I stumbled upon an uber interesting behavior change formula from a super brilliant doctor out of Stanford. The doctor’s name was BJ Fogg and he founded the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University.

I was so enamored with the thesis that I signed up and attended his in-person workshop. Best money I ever spent :)

The formula for the Fogg Behavioral Model is simple (not simplistic), but incredibly effective. The thesis of the FBM states that for a target behavior to happen, three elements must be present simultaneously; motivation, ability and prompt.

Fogg Behavior Model |
Fogg Behavior Model |

This is expressed in the following formula:

Behavior Change = Motivation * Ability * Prompt

B=MAP for short hand. Now why is this so powerful? Because this formula allows you to deconstruct the anatomy of a desired behavior into three levers.

The Fogg Behavior Model (FBM) highlights three principal elements, each of which has subcomponents. Specifically, the FBM outlines Core Motivators (Motivation), Simplicity Factors (Ability), and the types of Prompts.

Let’s explore each of the three core elements in greater detail.

Starting first with motivation.

The 3 Elements of the Fogg Behavior Model Element

🏁 Motivation - Core Motivators

The FBM contains three principal motivators: Sensation, Anticipation, and Belonging. What is fascinating about the motivators is that they are dichotomous.

Sensation manifests in pleasure or pain.

Anticipation manifests in hope or fear.

Belonging manifests in acceptance or rejection.

The Core Motivators are applicable to every human; they are hard wired into our psyche. Our brain’s natural instincts if you will.

Building upon the core motivators; Dr. Fogg identified a unique phenomena, specific to motivation, known as the “motivation wave.”

One key idea is that when motivation is high, you can get people to do hard things. But once it drops (the wave subsides, then people will only do easy things).

This is visualized by the curved action line (see above graphic). The reason the action line is curved is because motivation and ability have a compensatory relationship (fancy way of saying there are trade-offs between motivation & ability).

Put another way, if you have high motivation, but low ability you can still complete the desired behavior or vice versa.

Let’s take an extreme example to illustrate the point. A mother gets into a car accident, and her child is pinned under the car. The motivation is incredibly high, but the ability isn’t. However, remember the compensatory relationship between motivation and ability.

So in this moment, she lifts the car off of the child aka the desired behavior is accomplished. Sorry for the extreme example, but it helps illustrate the point.

The Tl;Dr here is that motivation is fickle and hard to sustain.

It is also insanely contextual (aka environment dependent), so while you are at the health conference, you are motivated to workout, eat right, but once you remove yourself from that environment, the motivation evaporates faster than ROAS on FB post iOS 14 🤣.

🧠 Ability

The Fogg Behavior Model is comprised of three main elements, in this section we will go into the ability element.

In order to complete the target behavior, one must possess the ability to complete the behavior.

Not exactly dropping the biggest revelation with that nugget, but the key takeaway is most products or services endow people with much more ability than they actually possess. Leading to misuse or under use of said product/service, leading to high churn…no bueno.

There are three ways you can increase ability.

1️⃣ Make task easier e.g. instead of writing a book, write an 250 word essay. This is the tact Dr. Fogg takes in his awesome book the Tiny Habits® method.

2️⃣ Increase ability with a tool e.g. hard time understanding your paid media performance, sign up for Triple Whale.

3️⃣ Train People. This gives people more skills and by extension more ability to complete the behavior. Of note, training people can be incredibly costly, time consuming and a lot of times the trainees will be resistant to the new training. Def not the path if you can accomplish one of the first two options of making the task easier or giving someone a tool to increase ability.

Ability Chain -

Ability Chain -

Another cool aspect of ability in the FBM is that you can simplify a behavior to increase ability. Those simplifications can be broken into five distinct areas of ability, known as the Ability Chain.

Key insight: Simplicity is a function of your scarcest resource at that moment. Think about time as a resource, if you don’t have 10 minutes to spend, and the target behavior requires 10 minutes, then it’s not simple. Money is another resource. If you don’t have $1, and the behavior requires $1, then it’s not simple. Your weakest link determines what makes a behavior hard to do.

📯 Prompts

The last, but arguably most vital element to the Fogg Behavior Model is Prompts. No prompt; no target behavior.

Prompts can come in different forms. For example, you might place your running shoes in front of your door every night. Or you might set an alarm to remind you to do X. Or the age old, “Hey Rabah, can you remind me to check my #‘s in Triple Whale when I get home?”

The FBM contains three different Prompts: Facilitator, Signal, and Spark. It is paramount that when designing a target behavior the right type of prompt is used. Let’s go through them real quick.

The Facilitator prompt should be deployed when the user has high motivation and low ability. So a great example of this is a login screen to a new product, the user has a ton of motivation to use the product, but really doesn’t know how to yet (low ability).

A Spark prompt should be used when the user has high ability and low motivation. Going back to our running in the morning example, I was a D1 runner in college aka high ability, but I hate running 🤣 (low motivation). Therefore, putting my running shorts and shoes out every night would be an example of a Spark prompt.

A Signal prompt should be used when someone has high ability and high motivation. Think an SMS sale to your top customers. They all have high ability (money) and motivation (they keep purchasing). Therefore, a signal prompt would be the most efficacious in driving the completion of the target behavior, a purchase.

Three Types of Prompts |

Three Types of Prompts |

One of the most magical things about prompts is they can cause a cascade of behaviors compounding the impact of the original behavior.

For example, in Triple Whale, when people download our mobile app and connect more than 2 integrations, their daily usage explodes.

The takeaway message for designers is to map out the behavior chains you need — the user flow you want to happen. (You will likely have more than one.) Then figure out how to get people to do the first behavior in a chain. If people don’t naturally take the next step in the chain, then figure out how to get the next step to happen. Step by step. Continue this process, until the chain works.

Build your behavior chain and then identify the best time to prompt people, as well as deploy the correct prompt type.

☎️ Phone Call Fogg Behavior Model Example

Now let’s walk through a quick example to understand the interplay of all three elements of the Fogg Behavioral Model.

No Motivation: You are watching tv with your phone next to you (ability). The phone rings (prompt), but you see it is your Mother-In-Law and don’t want to talk to her (no motivation), so you decline the call. The behavior never completes because lack of motivation.

No Ability: You are in the shower (no ability) waiting on your real estate agent to confirm your offer was accepted (motivation). You hear the phone ring (prompt), but don’t answer the call because you don’t have the ability.

No Prompt: You are walking home with your phone in your pocket (ability) waiting on your significant other to call and tell you how their job interview went (motivation). Your phone is on Do Not Disturb (no prompt). You don’t answer the call because you don’t have a prompt.

🦄 Fogg Behavor Model Pro-Tips

Here are some pro-tips on how to leverage B=MAP more effectively:

1️⃣ Make task easier to increase ability e.g. instead of asking for email and SMS, just ask for email.

2️⃣ Increase ability with a tool e.g. hard time calculating 60/90 Day LTV, use Triple Whale.

3️⃣ Feel successful. #major🔑 Day 1 preferably. Sustainable change has to be pleasurable. This is something Dr. Fogg touches on in his workshop. There is a property called automaticity (how automatic a behavior is). The automaticity of a behavior skyrockets in direct proportion to how successful the user feels. The earlier this feeling of success (Dr. Fogg refers to this as “shine”) happens the more dramatic the increase in automaticity.

4️⃣ Focus on prompts and abilities. Motivation is fleeting and harder to impact than the other two variables.

Leveraging the Fogg Behavor Model

Well that’s it folks! Thanks for riding shotgun on this exploration of the phenomenal work Dr. Fogg has done on behavior design.

Now you have a firm understanding of the Fogg Behavioral Model and some ways you can leverage the FBM to improve your marketing, but also try it on the personal level. Sh*t works yo!

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