Dots, Spans and Paths – Personal change

Starting or continuing habits is pretty tricky for most people, as they do not consider the impact of the B=MAT formula. BJ Fogg in his work at Stanford has developed a simple grid to explain all of the permutations of behaviour / personal change. Each of these requires different strategies for change:

Personal Change - Behavior Grid

The ones that seem particularly important to me as a coach, facilitator and trainer are:

Personal Change – Green dot (all new habits start with one action)

This is kick starting doing something new once. Any new habit must start somewhere and so this is it! Fogg suggests that the biggest challenge with green dot is not creating a trigger event or ensuring sufficient motivation, but it is typically a lack of ability. As the person only needs to be capable of doing this once they need a certain level of skill and if they cannot do the task / activity straight off they may become frustrated and quit. He suggests making the task / activity as simple as possible so that the person carries this out without any issues.

Personal Change – Green Span (Keep the action going to create habit)

This is committing to a neat activity/ behaviour for a period of time. For any activity to become habit it needs to become embedded. This embedding requires time. Fogg suggests that all the three elements are required: Motivation must remain high, Ability to do the behaviour must remain constant or increase and there should be sufficient triggers to ensure that the behaviour is carried out. The critical one here is the trigger. New years resolutions, for example, fall down on the trigger, as the actions are not automatic and predictable.

Personal Change – Blue Span (Habit formed – keep going)

Once the behaviour is internalised the ability is at a constant and so the motivation and trigger are the two areas to work on. Seeing success in the behaviour change is one of the biggest motivators and therefore more focus should be aimed at creating and maintaining relevant triggers.Timing of these triggers is crucial and they should connect with “life routines” in order to make the activity easier to do.

Personal Change – Purple Span (More of the same for a while)

This is about increasing the intensity or duration of an activity. The span is a useful segue into the path as doing something “forever” is a tricky proposition mentally. Campaigns, bootcamps, crash courses are examples intense purple spans that aim to really embed behaviour change. Different behaviours will require different strategies for support, but all strategies come down to changing: triggers (number of), ability (up skilling or making behaviour easier to do), motivation (amplifying intrinsic or extrinsic motivators).

Personal Change – Purple Path (Onwards and upwards)

This is the panacea of behaviour change but a lot of the time this continued quest for more fades back to “Blue Path”, which in itself it not a bad thing. As always, it is about looking at triggers, ability and motivation. Triggers are generally the easiest thing to put in place and manage, so start here. If you make the behaviour easier to do then ability is impacted and more likely to happen. In his work, Fogg considers Ability as having six components:

  1. Time
  2. Money
  3. Physical Effort
  4. Brain Cycles (mental effort)
  5. Social Deviance (strange, our of the norm)
  6. Non‐routine

Ability is hardest of the three areas to impact and in order to ensure continuity, you should aim to simplify or make easier the crucial areas that are having a negative impact. Motivation is typically high for path behaviour, but this needs to be top of mind and behaviour change success should be celebrated/ rewarded. For examples and strategies around Purple Path consider reading the Behavior Guide developed by BJ Fogg and his Stanford team.

These for me are the crucial areas for personal change, as shown in the highlighted Behaviour Grid below.

Personal Change Pathway

Thanks for reading, Andi

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