Forget Reading a Whole Book - Thoughts on the Behavior Model

Created on Nov 24, 2020
Updated on Dec 14, 2020

Whenever you hear baby steps , it might seem trivial to you but it’s not. Baby steps (aka tiny habits) are super powerful and it’s a way to help people accomplish great things in the long run.

When you know how to create tiny habits, you can change your life forever.

~ BJ Fogg, PhD

Stanford University

BJ Fogg is the Director of the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab and a social scientist who is currently a research scientist at Stanford University. In 2009, he published the Fogg Behavior Model (FBM), a model for analyzing and designing human behavior.

In this article, we’ll see how this model can help us improve reading and how we can change our behavior into making reading a habit, and how it will grow over time.

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What is the behavior model?

source: Minds for Change after asking permission from BJ

The Fogg Behavior Model describes three conditions for a behavior to occur:

  1. Motivation
  2. Ability
  3. A prompt

Motivation can be influenced by factors like pleasure/pain, hope/fear, and social acceptance/rejection. Ability can be impacted by time, money, physical effort, brain cycles, social deviance, and non-routine. Prompts are also referred to as triggers.

Let’s now apply this model to reading.

And imagine you have this graph and you can put points (or stickers) in it as BJ does in this video:

Starting with a whole book decision

We’ve seen this a lot of times, we start with high hopes, and we know it’s hard to do it at once.

Let’s see the FBM graph again:

source: Minds for Change after asking permission from BJ

The top left of the graph is where we usually start — High motivation and low ability . We really want to do something, but we’re not quite skilled enough yet.

And then our hope begins to slip little by little and then deviate.

Imagine here you’re below the action line at the bottom left ( low motivation and low ability )

So we end up with a low motivation after maybe reading just two pages!

The behavior model tells us to start with very easy tasks based on our ability.

Starting with 10 minutes a day

Starting small is very promising in the long run.

Imagine here you’re at the action line at the bottom right ( low motivation and high ability )

While 10 minutes seems trivial to you, please keep doing it until it becomes second nature, and then you can take that 10 minutes to the next level and increase 10 minutes further day by day

until you feel more confident

Keeping more consistency can get you very motivated and feeling confident about what you’re doing which makes it hard for you to keep developing your behavior in terms of time and using your brain 🧠 to process that much information.

But again it will be second nature for you as long as you keep the baby steps evolving.

Now, the behavior model graph can be more representative when we include the process in time.

Hence, there should be multiple points at each stage; for example, you may try 10 minutes for 7 days in a row and then come to the second stage which is 20 minutes a day for 7-10 days and then 30 minutes a day for some considerable amount of time which you can further develop into 1 hour a day and make that 1 hour like a dedicated time each day.

Of course, you can set a goal shorter than that — all depending on your time and how that will leave you consistent.

Now, let’s talk about what is missing here. We discussed how ability and motivation can design our behavior and make us take a decision, but what if:

1. Our motivation is too low and our ability is too low

For example, you want to read a book about quantum mechanics and you’re not a physicist and the book you picked is a complicated book.

This is so challenging task that you have very little ability to do and also there is no motivation to do it so the point that you put on the FBM will be below the curve (the action line)

2. Our motivation is too high but our ability is too low

Let’s say you’re very excited to know about quantum mechanics because you saw a documentary about quantum entanglement, but the resource you have is a book for postgraduate studies that is very hard to understand. In this case, it’s too difficult to understand that book so the point on the FBM graph will still be below the curve.

3. Our motivation is too low but our ability is too high

Whenever you are mastering a skill, but you’re not in the mode to do it. The point on the FBM graph will still be below the curve.

The trigger spark ⚡️

To make a behavior succeed, you must get above the action line which can be done by the trigger. The trigger (or the prompt) is like the spark when it ignites the engine.

For the quantum example, what ignites you from being in low motivation despite your low ability is that you might have an exam that you should study for.

If you have high hopes and are excited about studying, but you know it’s very difficult to do it because you don’t have the basics. Try to have a trigger that will put you in a position that can make you know beyond the basics.

If you know that this task is easy for you, but you’re not in the mood you better have a trigger that can put you in a better healthy mood and ignites your energy so that can put yourself above the curve (the action line).

How to have a sparking trigger?

As mentioned by BJ Fogg, there is a pattern you can use to spark that trigger. The format for a tiny habit is as follows:

After I [existing habit],

I will [new tiny behavior].

Some examples you can consider:

After I step on the scale, I will thank God for the new day.

After I start my morning coffee, I will tidy one item in the living room

As you noticed, the existing behavior is the trigger.

We are always doing regular tasks each day and if we’re thinking of building new ones, it’s a very wise idea to make those tasks our trigger for our new habits.

For me, I brush my teeth 3 times a day and the third time is before going to bed. So I made the third time I brush my teeth as the trigger to read.

You can use your own trigger, try to make it spark your tiny habit in a mission to make it last, and be as a regular habit you’re used to.


We’ve seen how the behavior model consists of ability, motivation, and trigger. If anything of the three is missing, the behavior won’t happen.

You can use this behavior model in order to keep you consistent with reading and make it a habit evolving from 10 minutes a day into 30 minutes or more.

The secret is in the trigger, if you have it I’m sure you can read an entire book very easily.

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Published on medium