From nail biting to oversleeping: we all have bad habits.
And while some people seem to kick their bad habits overnight, many of us give up at the first sign of setback.
The fact is breaking bad habits isn’t necessarily easy or quick, but it is possible – once you understand how behaviors work…
Fogg’s Behavior Model
In 2009, Dr. BJ Fogg, a psychologist at Stanford University, published a paper that presented a new model for understanding human behavior: Fogg’s Behavior Model. 
According to Fogg, in order for a behavior to occur, three elements have to converge at the same time:
Let’s use checking Facebook as an example. First, there’s a cue that triggers the behavior (e.g. you receive a notification). Second, you have a motivation to view it (e.g. there’s a need to close the curiosity gap, “What could this be?”). And finally, if you are available (e.g. you’re not driving), you have an ability to view it. Your craving is satisfied and you complete The Habit Loop. 
But here’s where it get’s interesting: If you remove your ability to do a bad habit, the behavior doesn’t occur. You can be motivated to binge eat, procrastinate, surf online, watch television etc. as much as you want, but if you are unable to do the habit, there’s an opportunity to replace it with a better one.
Let’s look at how we apply this to the habits of our everyday lives.
Environment Shapes Behavior
“Decision makers do not make choices in a vacuum”, writes Richard Thaler in his book Nudge, “They make them in an environment where many features, noticed and unnoticed, can influence their decisions”. 
The reality is we can be greatly influenced by small changes in the environment, and it’s our responsibility to redesign our environment in such a way that is removes our ability to do bad habits.
Consider the following examples:
- Binge eating. Stop buying foods you like to binge on. If you must have it (e.g. you have children) put it on the highest shelf in your house (hat tip to BJ Fogg).
- Oversleeping. Buy an analogue alarm clock (one without a snooze function) and make your bed immediately after getting up.
- Overspending. Leave your card at home and switch to a cash-only envelope budgeting system.
- Procrastination. Install a plugin for your web browser like StayFocused or Self-Control.
- Smoking. Throw away all of your cigarettes, lighters, ashtrays, and matches.
Granted, you’ll still have triggers and you’ll still have motivation – and if you really, really want to do it, you will – but most of the time, a replacement routine (like a Mini-Habit) will suffice. You will, in essence, be “designing for inconvenience”.
The governing principle is this: increase the number of steps needed to do bad habits, decrease the number of steps needed to do good habits. “Simplicity changes behavior” says Fogg, so make your replacement routine as easy to do as possible.
On June 29th, I’m launching a new online class: The Habit Masterclass. If you have any specific questions about habit formation and would like me to answer them, reply to my email newsletter and I will record a questions and attempted answers audio for you.
 Fogg, B.J. (2009) A Behavior Model for Persuasive Design, Available at: http://blog.hcilab.org/uui/files/2013/04/a40-fogg.pdf (Accessed: 22 June 2015).
 Fogg, B.J. (2015) What Causes Behavior Change?, Available at: http://www.behaviormodel.org/ (Accessed: 22 June 2015).
 Thaler, H., R., Sunstein, R., C. (2008) Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, London: Yale University Press.
B.J. Fogg for introducing me to the Fogg’s Behavior Model and James Clear for introducing me to environment design.
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