The science of human behavior

What causes us to do the things that we do?

BJ Fogg, founder of Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University, came up with a simple equation to explain human behavior — B=MAP, or Behavior equals Motivation, Ability, and a Prompt. Essentially, this says that in order for someone to do something, all three of these factors need to be present.

Let’s break all three of these down:

Prompt is the simplest. This is just a call to action or a request. You have to give your customer a trigger to invite them to perform a behavior. Makes sense so far, right?

Motivation is the measure of how willing a customer is to take action. How badly do they want to do this behavior? If someone is in a high enough state of motivation, they can be encouraged to do almost anything. Conversely, if someone is in a low enough state of motivation, it will be extremely difficult to spur them to action.

Ability is the degree of difficulty required to take the action. Does the task require a lot of time, energy, money, etc.? Obviously, it’s easier to get people to do easier tasks than it is to get them to do harder ones.

Motivation and ability are closely related. The lower the ability requirements, the less motivation you need, and the higher the ability requirements, the more motivation you need. If I asked you to go on a 5-minute walk today, you don’t need to be highly motivated — the task is easy enough. But if I asked you to run a 5k marathon, you’d need to be extremely motivated to even have a chance at putting on your running shoes.

There are many different ways you can increase your customer’s motivation from a low state of motivation to a high state. For example, if you can convince your audience you can help them achieve a goal that’s already important to them, like losing weight or starting a new career, they’ll feel even more motivated. The same is true if you use storytelling in your ad content to resonate with them on an emotional level, or effectively use a funnel to warm up cold traffic.

If you found this basic overview helpful, I highly recommend picking up BJ Fogg’s book, Tiny Habits to learn more.


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