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The Fogg Behavior Model: How to Trigger Behaviour Change

Illustration to represent B=MAT - Fogg's Behaviour Model equationThe Fogg Behavior Model (or The Fogg Behaviour Model for those of us on this side of the pond) addresses the most significant question in L&D: how can you change learner behaviour?

Behaviour change is the ultimate goal of any training programme. Unfortunately, in a world plagued by dull online learning, huge numbers of learners are disengaged. And if they don’t enjoy their training, you can’t expect them to change their ways.

Luckily, with the Fogg Behavior Model at the ready, you can transform and engage your learners in no time. While the model is relatively simple to understand, applying it effectively can be tricky. But don’t worry, we’re here to help!

With this in mind, in this article, we’ll explore the model in detail!

Who Is BJ Fogg?

Dr. BJ Fogg is a renowned American behavioural scientist, researcher and author. He is a professor at Stanford University and the founder and director of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford.

Fogg is considered one of the pioneers in the study of behaviour change. In fact, he has conducted extensive research on the topic for over 20 years. 

He has also written several books on behaviour change, including ‘Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do‘ (2003) and ‘Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything‘ (2020). It’s safe to say he knows what he’s talking about!

Today, we are going to explore perhaps his most famous work. This, of course, is the BJ Fogg Behavior Model. It will help you to transform your training into a behavioural change knock-out!

What Is The Fogg Behavior Model?

The Fogg Behavior Model is a model for analysing and designing human behaviour. It states that we can only achieve behaviour change when three elements occur simultaneously. These elements are motivation, ability and a trigger.

People need to be motivated to change their behaviour. However, they must also have the ability to do the behaviour. Lastly, they have to be triggered to do the behaviour. If one of these elements is missing, we cannot achieve behaviour change.

When a combination of motivation and ability places an individual above the activation threshold, a trigger will lead that person to perform the target behaviour. In turn, if a person is placed below the activation threshold, then a prompt will have no effect.

Together, these components create the equation that made Fogg’s model famous:

Behavior (B) = Motivation (M) Ability (A) Trigger (T)

This equation is typically shortened as ‘B=MAT’. However, in recent times, ‘Trigger’ has been swapped out for ‘Prompt’. As such, you may also see the formula formatted as B=MAP. BJ Fogg's Behavior Model

In the model, ‘behaviour’ describes an action someone might perform. As such, the essence of behaviour change is to encourage individuals to do the right actions. 

In fact, the model makes it easier to understand behaviour change in general by highlighting its three principal elements, each of which has subcomponents.

Let’s look at these components separately.

The Fogg Behavior Model Explained


The first component, motivation, considers the underlying drivers that motivate us to take action.

As the graph for the model illustrates, the vertical axis represents motivation. It goes from low to high motivation. The higher the motivation, the more likely you are to complete an action.

However, motivation and ability can be traded off. In other words, if your motivation is very high, your ability can be lower, and vice versa.

Motivation is a large and complicated subject in its own right. For the purposes of his model, Fogg breaks it down into three subcomponents. These are sensation, anticipation and belonging.

As such, you can think of motivation as having three distinct levels: a physical level (sensation), an emotional level (anticipation) and a social level (belonging).

1. Sensation

Learner being happy while learning on her mobile

The first subcomponent of motivation is called sensation. At its core, sensation is driven by our pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain.

Sensation is typically the physical level of motivation. After all, it can either drive individuals towards positive physical sensations or push them away from negative ones.

For example, running or eating chocolate releases endorphins that make us feel happy. On the other hand, we might be motivated to avoid negative physical sensations, such as the discomfort associated with exercise.

2. Anticipation

Anticipation is a critical subcomponent of motivation. It focuses on the emotional drives that spur us on to complete certain behaviours. 

It is divided further into two distinct categories: hope and fear. Hope considers our anticipation of something good happening. Fear, on the other hand, is the anticipation of something bad happening.

Anticipation is a critical driver of motivation because you can motivate individuals through their expectations for the future. They can look forward to and pursue positive outcomes, or they can fear and seek to avoid negative outcomes.

Whatever people feel about the future will affect how they behave in the present. In fact, anticipation of the future can help you to keep learners hooked and motivated for a long time. 

According to Fogg, hope is the most ethical and empowering motivator. Here at Growth Engineering, we agree! One of the best ways to leverage hope as a motivator is by giving learners a sense of Epic Meaning. We’ll explore this further later on in the article.

3. Belonging

The last component of motivation includes the social drives that motivate us to pursue certain behaviours. 

Humans are social animals. In fact, we have an inherent desire to feel like we belong and fit in with others. We also seek to avoid rejection where possible. This is why social acceptance and status are such powerful motivators.

When individuals feel appreciated and valued, they feel like they belong. This can motivate them to continue pursuing certain behaviours that help to drive further acceptance or status improvements.


The horizontal axis of Fogg’s model is for ability. It goes from ‘hard to do’ to ‘easy to do’. 

Fogg suggests that we all have a tendency to be lazy. As such, although we can train people to carry out a target behaviour, it’s typically more fruitful to make the behaviour easier.

This axis focuses on understanding how simple it is for an individual to do something at a particular time. As such, it doesn’t simply refer to their competence.

Fogg breaks the ability component down into six sub-categories. After all, there are various environmental factors that influence how easy it is for us to take action.

Let’s take a look!

1. Time

Time is precious, and no one wants to waste it. After all, it’s a scarce resource for all of us, and there is always an opportunity cost associated with time.

As such, according to the Fogg Behavior Model, the behaviour should be time efficient. The less time it takes to complete an action, the more likely you are to do it.

2. Money

Unless you’re Bruce Wayne, you probably track how much you spend and on what. We all want to ensure we spend our hard-earned cash on things that add value to our lives.

With this in mind, if you can’t afford to perform a certain behaviour, your ability to carry out that behaviour will be low. Indeed, the more money something will cost you, the more motivation you’ll need to do it.

For example, if your learners work in a role where they earn a commission, any time they spend training represents a potential loss in earnings.

3. Mental Effort

Thinking is effortful and tiring when it’s focused and conscious. That’s why we tend to build habits and do familiar tasks on ‘autopilot’. 

As such, any new behaviour shouldn’t increase your cognitive burden too much. Learners are much more likely to complete the desired action if it doesn’t require much thought.

4. Physical Effort

No one likes doing unnecessary work. In fact, we typically avoid physical effort unless it yields some form of benefit, such as an endorphin release.

With this in mind, we are more likely to take action when it requires less physical effort. As such, you need to make training as effortless as possible for your learners.

5. Social Deviance

People don’t like to go against the grain. This is why it’s difficult for us to perform behaviours that clash with social norms. 

Just like with the ‘belonging’ subcomponent of motivation, this ability factor highlights how we are social beings and want to fit in with our peers.

The more an action involves deviating, the less likely we are to do it. After all, we rarely want to swim against the flow of society.

6. Non-Routine

Everyone has their daily routines. They help us structure our lives, which is why anything that sits outside of a daily routine is much less likely to get done.

Typically, you’ll find it a lot easier to take on a new behaviour if you adapt it into your routine. The same goes for learning. Learning is much more likely to happen if it fits neatly into your learners lives.

Triggers (or Prompts)

When Fogg discusses triggers, or prompts, he’s talking about external factors that influence how we initiate a behaviour. 

To put it simply, triggers are cues or call-to-actions. These triggers can come from people, objects or environments. In a digital environment, this can extend into things like notifications and icons.

Triggers must occur at the right time to have an impact. In fact, the trigger has to occur when an individual is supposed to perform the target behaviour.

Fogg suggests there are three subcategories to triggers, each aimed at a slightly different audience. These distinct triggers influence individuals with different levels of motivation and ability.

These triggers are:

1. Sparks

Sparks are triggers that are applied when an individual has high ability but low levels of motivation. As such, the purpose is to provide a boost to motivation by triggering an action or behaviour.

You should design the trigger in tandem with a motivational element. For example, it’s easy to wake up in the morning after a long night of sleep, but you may not be motivated to leave your comfortable bed.

In this case, you can get yourself an alarm clock and place it far away from your bed. This will ‘spark’ you to get up just to turn the noise off!

As such, sparks are the perfect trigger for individuals who have the ability but lack motivation. 

2. Facilitators

Facilitators are triggers that encourage individuals to take action when their motivation levels are high, but their ability levels are low. As such, they prompt action by making the behaviour easier for the individual to initiate.

Typically, facilitators seek to simplify the task. For instance, consider a case where you want to start an exercise regime but don’t know how to. In this example, you could sign up for a newsletter that delivers an exercise plan for the upcoming week straight to your inbox.

As a result, the trigger will enable you to create an exercise plan and help to facilitate you staying on track.

3. Signals

The last type of trigger, signals, are applied when both motivation and ability are high. As such, these triggers are typically just reminders and can be something as simple as a Post-it note or a notification.

In fact, signals are usually more about providing information than increasing ability or motivation. After all, in some instances, individuals simply don’t know that the action is available or doable. In this instance, a signal will initiate action.

Check out the video below to understand Fogg’s model in more detail! Our very own Juliette Denny will walk you through the different components of the Behavior Model.

How to Prompt the Components of Behaviour Change

Now that you have a better understanding of the model, let’s explore how to apply it in the context of online learning.

Improving Motivation

You can improve learner motivation with different approaches. Let’s break this down for each subcomponent. After all, influencing each of the three underlying drivers requires different measures.

1. Sensation

Sensational motivation is about seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Our mind tends to be drawn to physical pleasure and away from pain, but this is rarely relevant in an online learning environment.

With this in mind, triggering sensations in online learning focuses on tapping into the pleasure seeker inside of us. In fact, this is what makes gamification so effective.

Gamification expert at top level

Game mechanics like Badges, Experience Points (XP), Levels and Leaderboards make us feel pleasure through achieving our goals or pain through our failure to do so. As a result, learners are driven to engage in behaviours that help them to progress along this journey and earn recognition.

This will help you to create long-lasting motivation that will lead to behaviour change. Similarly, game mechanics help learners to gauge their progress towards a pleasurable outcome.

Indeed, having closure is a reward in itself. The desire to complete something, or collect everything carries plenty of motivational power. As such, make sure to reward each and every course completion.

2. Anticipation

Anticipatory motivation considers the hopes and fears that influence our desire to take action. Hope is the most ethical and empowering motivator and it talks to our innermost intrinsic motivations.

By tapping into hope, you motivate people’s desire to do or be part of something that matters. Here at Growth Engineering we call this Epic Meaning.

This sense of purpose is fuelled by hope and our desire to actualise our vision for the future. As such, when used effectively, Epic Meaning can transform your learners into hope-filled behavioural change champions.

But how does this work in practice? There are several tricks that you can use to cater to your learners’ intrinsic hopes and fears. For example, you can create a compelling narrative where your learners help to progress the story.

As a result, they can see the purpose of their learning efforts. After all, the more they learn, the further the story progresses. This, in turn, helps your learners to stay engaged long-term. 

3. Belonging

Humans seek social acceptance and avoid rejection. As such, your learners will be motivated to win social acceptance and status.

Your gamification features will help your learners to feel like they belong. For instance, implementing a Leaderboard provides a clear picture of where they sit and how much value they have contributed to the community.

Similarly, you should introduce social learning to your training programme. This will ensure your learners have the opportunity to participate in a community and share their knowledge.

As such, use social functionality, like subject-specific discussion forums, to harness the power of belonging. When learners belong to a community, they can support each other in their quest for self-betterment.

Improving Ability

There are various factors that influence our ability to perform an action. Consequently, there are also various ways you can improve your learners’ ability to take action.

Ultimately, the key is to make the behaviour simpler to perform. After all, the simpler the behaviour is to perform, the higher our ability will be. You should evaluate the tools and methodologies you use to deliver your training. Are they as easy and efficient to use as possible?

With that said, there are specific tactics you can use for each subcomponent we previously explored.

1. Time

As explored, no learner wants to waste their precious time going through long-winded, irrelevant or dull content. 

That’s why approaches like microlearning make so much sense! As such, to improve ability and limit any time-related barriers, make sure to break your learning down into manageable chunks.

These bite-sized learning units should take just 5-15 minutes to complete. And let us tell you, your modern learners are much more likely to complete a ten-minute unit than a whopping one-hour training monolith.

2. Money

If a target behaviour costs too much then our ability level decreases. This is especially true if your learners have limited financial resources.

As such, keep your training free or low-cost to improve accessibility and ability. Similarly, if your training costs money, make sure it provides good value to your learners. Keep it relevant and personalised to meet various learner needs.

3. Mental Effort

The more we have to think about the task at hand, the less likely we are to do it. That’s why you need to make sure your training isn’t unnecessarily complicated. This will help to reduce your learners’ cognitive load. 

If your learners have to decode your training, you’ll lose them before they can learn anything. As such, provide a clear structure or learning pathways, share relevant content recommendations and guide learners across your learning platform.

4. Physical Effort

Similarly, you need to consider the physical effort needed for your learners to complete training. For example, making your way to a training centre or classroom event is likely to limit your ability in terms of time, mental effort and physical effort.

As such, provide training in a format that is convenient for your learners. You could, for instance, implement online learning or mobile learning. As a result, you’ll limit the physical effort learners need to exert to participate in training. 

5. Social Deviance

As explored, humans typically dislike going against the norm or breaking the rules of society. For example, wearing pyjamas to work requires next to no effort, but our social pride would likely take a hit.

As such, you should seek to provide opportunities for social learning where your audience can learn from the behaviour of others. This helps you to highlight socially deviant actions. This, in turn, helps your learners understand how to avoid socially deviant behaviour.

Providing opportunities for role playing and other forms of interaction is an excellent way to understand social norms in line with your learners’ specific context.

6. Non-Routine

Routine behaviours are easier to do as we do them over and over again. With this in mind, you need to make sure learning becomes a part of your learners’ everyday routine.

Mobile learning is a great way to add learning to your learners’ daily routines. After all, most of us use mobile phones multiple hours per day. 

We now use our devices to work, communicate, stay up to date with world news, play games, watch videos or films and more.

It only makes sense to extend this into learning. By learning on a device that learners already know and use every day, it’s easier to add learning to their daily routine.

Influencing Triggers

Without an appropriate trigger, behaviour will not occur. This is the case even if your motivation and ability are both high.

Successful triggers have three characteristics: 

  • We notice the trigger.
  • We associate the trigger with the target behaviour.
  • The trigger occurs when we are both motivated and able to perform the behaviour.

However, there are ways to influence triggers. Let’s explore!

1. Spark

In situations where your learners have the ability but lack motivation, you should focus on inspiring hope. Inspiring fear would also work, but here at Growth Engineering, we don’t believe in negative triggers.

When it comes to training, a spark should help your learners to see the Epic Meaning in the behaviour you’re asking of them. They want to know why it’s important, and it’s up to you to make them care.

Answering the WIIFM (‘what’s in it for me?’) question helps with this. After all, your learners are likely to ponder the necessity of their training every now and then. 

Creating a training programme with WIIFM in mind is the only way to ensure your audience is fully committed to their training.

2. Facilitator

In situations where learners have a high motivation level but lack ability, you should use facilitator triggers. In fact, facilitator triggers convey that the target behaviour is easy to do.

This is where a well-structured training programme comes in. By giving sufficient instructions, your learners will understand what action is expected and how to do it. 

Similarly, your training programme or learning platform needs to be easy to navigate. Providing instructional videos, tutorials and tool tips helps your learners to understand how to complete the desired action.

3. Signal

The last trigger, signal, is a trigger for situations where users have both high motivation and high ability to complete the target behaviour. As explored, typically a simple reminder is enough to prompt behaviour.

As such, make sure to end each training unit with a clear call to action. After all, you want your learners to continue their learning journey. Similarly, you should send an email notification every time you release a new training unit.

Final Words

Behaviour change isn’t out of reach. It’s entirely within your grasp. With BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model as a trusty sidekick, you can build tiny habits that ensure long-lasting behaviour change. In turn, you can improve performance and transform your organisation.

All you need to do is remember Fogg’s helpful equation of B=MAT. If your learners have the motivation and the ability, all you need is the right trigger. 

Luckily there are various tactics, like gamification, social learning and Epic Meaning, that help you to supercharge your learners’ performance.

Want to learn more about other learning theories and behaviour change? Our guidebook is the perfect place to start! Get your free copy by clicking the link below.

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