Not very motivated today? Good news: it won't stop you from taking action!

According to B.J. Fogg, a behavioural science researcher at Stanford University and founder of the Behavior Design Lab, lack of motivation is not a barrier to action.

Deconstructing the myth: Motivation is not the only guarantor of taking action...

Generally, we believe that it is because we are motivated that we take action. However, in his book Tiny habits (2019), B.J. Fogg explains that motivation is a complex psychological force, which is not the only one responsible for taking action.

Motivation is powerful, allowing us to project ourselves into the future, to choose our objectives (identifying the reasons that make us want to act) but also unreliable. Indeed, motivation works hand in hand with the emotional system: it is therefore very sensitive to context, which makes it fluctuating and therefore unpredictable .

One day, we are infinitely motivated to take action; the next day (or even a few hours later), not at all.

How can we ensure that we take action, given the variations in our motivation?

We would be able to take action when three ingredients come together at the same time: (1) motivation, (2) a sense of capability, and (3) triggers.

Behavior = Motivation + Ability + Prompt

In other words, in order for a behaviour to occur, one would have to be motivated by the action, consider oneself capable of carrying it out and be prompted to do so (by an internal trigger: a thought, or external: a reminder on the phone, a specific situation...).

Fogg's behavioural model can be read along 2 axes: horizontally, the feeling of ability which makes the action more or less easy and vertically, the level of motivation which is more or less important. In addition to this, there is the trigger, which can be successful (where the action takes place) or unsuccessful (where there is no action). The general idea is the following: in order to take action, simple (easy) actions should be favoured, which do not require much motivation.

Good news: according to B.J. Fogg, it is possible to take action with a low level of motivation, by insisting on the 2 other variables in the equation: on the one hand, making the action a simple behavior to increase the feeling of ability (the Ability variable) and on the other hand, making sure that the trigger (the Prompts variable) does not fail and actually provokes the action.

#Modify the sense of ability: make action a simple behaviour

With the general idea that the more ambitious a behaviour is, the less chance we have of achieving it, B.J. Fogg encourages us to simplify as much as possible the new behaviours we want to implement. According to him, the sense of ability(Ability in B = MAP) is the most reliable variable in the equation.

First of all, we must ask ourselves why the new behaviour, which is so difficult to achieve, is too ambitious and identify the obstacle (s): what are the reason(s) that prevent(s) individuals from taking action?

The questions to ask: Is the behaviour taking too long? Is it too costly? Does it require too much physical or mental effort? Is it too difficult to integrate the new behaviour into current practices (routine)?

Next, B.J. Fogg advocates making the new behaviour "something tiny" by focusing on the starting action, i.e. the first conduct that will allow to take action(Starter Step) and to adapt the rest. For example, to build your "Elevator Pitch", you should start by identifying your 3 main responsibilities.

#Precisely choose the trigger: plan precisely where, when and how to take action

Warning: no action is ever performed without a trigger (the Prompt of B=MAP is fundamental in taking action)! The choice of the trigger is therefore an essential step. It is possible to use three types of triggers :

  1. Internal triggers(person prompt), which come from the person ("remember to..."). However, everyone knows that our memory is not infallible, that we naturally tend to forget things (and that's normal!). This solution therefore appears to be risky, in the sense that, even if you have managed to simplify a new behavior as much as possible, if you forget to realize it, you miss the opportunity to take action (the trigger will have failed here).
  2. Triggers coming from the environment(context prompt), which come from the context (post-it on the computer screen, alarm on his phone or notifications, reminder of a friend...). Theoretically, this solution is not too bad: any reminder should be able to capture your attention, and thus trigger the action, however simple it may be. However, this type of trigger is not always effective because we are constantly being solicited by our environment (and by our smartphone: emails, SMS, calendar notifications...). Adding reminders can become stressful, causing us to fall into a cognitive overload that doesn't leave us the space to deal with these new triggers, which are then likely to fail.
  3. Action triggers(prompt action). The idea is to think about where and when you want to carry out the new behaviour and thus determine the "conditions" under which the action will take place. For example: if I have a meeting to facilitate with my team (condition), then I take 10 minutes beforehand to warm up my voice (new behaviour). This is the solution that should be preferred to trigger the action.

B.J. Fogg insists on the effectiveness of using a current habit, one of our own behaviors, as a stable and solid "anchor" to which we will hang the new action, to create a durable and automatic trigger. For example: in the morning, when arriving at the office and before opening my e-mails (the condition: a habit that I perform every day), I list my 3 main objectives for the day (new behaviour).

Take home message: Motivation is not the only guarantee of taking action! To encourage a new behaviour, it is necessary to simplify the action as much as possible and to choose its trigger well.

It may be difficult to follow this method alone, so some specialized devices may be available to help you. This is the case with Fifty, an e-doing tool that helps employees to take action as part of a transformation or after training. The solution recommends personalised micro-actions to be carried out in the field, helps to carry them out thanks to behavioural sciences (Nudge) and measures change. Stop talking, start doing!

Fogg, B. J. (2019). Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.