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Understanding the 3 elements that cause a behaviour to occur

Updated: Nov 11, 2021

Dr. BJ Fogg’s behaviour model shows that for any behaviour to occur three specific elements must converge at the same time.

What exactly is the BJ Fogg behaviour model and how to use it to our advantage?

Recipe for Behaviour

For any behaviour to happen, we need

Motivation” – to complete the behaviour

Ability” – to perform the behaviour

& finally a “Trigger” – to prompt that behaviour

To list it simply in an equation:

“Behaviour = Motivation x Ability x (trigger) or B=MAT.”

To understand things even better, let us look at the graph below. The graph shows “Ability” to perform a behaviour on the X – axis. Low ability meaning difficult to perform and high ability meaning easy to perform. Similarly, “Motivation” to complete a behaviour is shown on the Y – axis. Low motivation meaning very low excitement or willingness and high motivation meaning very high excitement or willingness. The curve in the graph is called the “action line” and the intersection of motivation and ability would decide whether the behaviour will occur or not.

Positive loop

If the behaviour and ability are both high, the point of intersection would fall above the action line and hence the behaviour would occur.

E.g. Answering a door bell. The doorbell is the trigger. You simply need to get up and answer the door which makes the ability high (easy to perform) and you want to know who came to visit which makes the motivation high.

Negative loop

If the behaviour and ability are both low, the point of intersection would fall below the action line and hence the behaviour would not occur.

E.g. Cooking a meal. Feeling hungry is the trigger. You may be too lazy to cook which brings down the motivation to low and you may not know how to cook which makes it difficult to perform or low ability.


Sometimes, despite having low ability to perform a behaviour, the behaviour still occurs because there is very high motivation and it holds true in the reverse case as well which is despite having low motivation to complete the behaviour, the behaviour still happens because it is too easy to perform the behaviour or high ability.

E.g. People buy flagship phones that are quite expensive (difficult ability) in order to explore new features and hardware (high motivation). Similarly, we might skip reading a book before sleep (low motivation) but since there is an audio book available at the press of a button (high ability), we listen to it.

Now that you know how the variables function and their relation to each other, I want you to take you a step further into ensuring that the behaviour occurs when you want it to. We don’t live in a perfect world and both the variables would not always play to our tune. So what do we do? Our job is simply to increase the ability and motivation for the desired behaviour to occur. In order to understand this, let me share an example where the behaviour fails and how to convert into a successful one.

Use Case

We all have come across newsletter signups, right? Many websites ask us, “Hey! Sign up for our exciting newsletter”. If you notice, the ability is quite easy, all you have to do is enter your email and press submit. But you don’t because who wants to be spammed with newsletters (very low motivation). Ultimately the behaviour will not occur. Now since the motivation was too low leading to a failed behaviour, as a business you need to think how to increase this variable to turn this into a desired behaviour which is more people signing for your newsletters. The easier options could be say you offer a discount for the first 3 purchases when someone signs up for a newsletter or maybe entering people who sign up into a lucky draw for an exciting prize. See what happened there, we simply increased the motivation to favour our behaviour occurrence.

This is exactly how understanding Fogg’s behaviour model helps us to think ahead and tip the scales in our favour. Take a few scenarios from your day to day life and apply this. – You will be amazed!

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