BEHAVIOUR - Why We Do What We Do, And What To Do About It

Woman standing on top of a mountain with outstretched arms
Saint Paul famously said in his letter to the church in Rome:
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15)

Thanks to developments in Psychology and Neuro-science we are able to say with more certainty why we do the things that we do (and equally, why we do the things that we don’t want to do).

One of the core models for understanding behaviour is Fogg’s Behaviour Model. As illustrated below:
Graph with Motivation on the Y axis and Ability on the X axis
The diagram shows how three factors are needed for a behaviour to occur:

Motivation – How much do we want to do the behaviour.

Our motivation can be split into 3 categories: Sensation, anticipation, belonging.
These three motivators can then be split further:
Sensation: Pleasure / Pain
Anticipation: Hope / Fear
Belonging: Social rejection / Social acceptance.

Ability (also called simplicity) - How easy or hard is it for us to do the behaviour.

These can be split into 6 factors:
Physical Effort
Brain Cycles - how much thinking does the behaviour involve
Deviance – does the behaviour cause us to break social norms?
Routine – Routine behaviour is easier to do.

Trigger – something that reminds us that we should carry out the behaviour 

for example seeing a cake and then wanting to eat it.
There are three types of triggers:
Facilitator – these triggers make the behaviour easier to do (used with high motivation / low ability)
Spark – these remind us to do the behaviour (used with high motivation / high ability)
Signal – These give us more motivation (used with low motivation / high ability)

If there is low motivation and the behaviour is hard to do then behaviour will not follow. Equally if the behaviour is easy and there is high motivation, when a trigger occurs, the behaviour will follow. 

How to do what we want to do

Many of us have things that we want to do, but don’t do, either we forget to do them (lack of trigger), they are too difficult to do (low ability) or we know that we should do them but just don’t have the motivation. So what can we do to start doing the things that we know we should be doing, such as exercising, reading our bibles, praying etc.

Trigger – We need to create triggers. This could be adding an alarm on your phone at a specific time each day, or leaving post-it notes with the desired action on where you can see them.

Motivation – We need to remind ourselves regularly of why we should do the behaviour. For example, exercising; you could watch video’s on the benefit of exercising for our health (hope) or join a gym (fear of lost money).

Accountability is one of the greatest enhancers of motivation. When we know that someone else is depending on us and we don’t want to let them down our motivation is increased (belonging).

Ability – Here the aim is to make the behaviour as easy as possible. If you want to start running in the morning, go to sleep in your running clothes and place your trainers next to your bed. When you wake up in the morning, put on your running shoes and you are ready to run.

How to not do what we don’t want to do

As well as having things we want to do, we also have things that we don’t want to do, such as eating unhealthy food, or smoking.

Trigger – Here we need to learn to identify when the triggers occur. We might feel the urge to eat cake whenever we walk past the cake shop on the way to work. We devise new ways to remove the trigger, for example, by taking a different route to work.

Motivation – We need to truly embed within us the reason why we don’t want to do the behaviour. Doing research on the long term effects of the behaviour can help us (fear). Again, accountability is a really important part of this as well (this is one of the main reasons for the success of alcoholics anonymous).

Ability – If the way to do a desired behaviour is to make it easier, the way not to do it is to make it harder. If you know that when you get home you want to eat chocolate, remove all the chocolate from your house. In this way the behaviour is harder to do as you will have to go to the shop to do it.

May we learn to do the things that we want to do, to not do the things that we don’t want to do, and become the people that we truly want to be.

To read the original research for this click here

Have you had any experience or success with any of the above ideas? Let me know in the comments below.


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