Life Motivation Productivity Well-Being

A Simple Equation to Start or Break Any Habit

Every behavior comes down to three variables

You can change your life by changing your behaviors. You know that. And as most of us know firsthand — there is a painful gap between what people want and what they actually do.

When it comes to changing habits, the problem usually isn’t our lack of motivation or discipline. It’s our approach to change. It’s a design flaw, not a personal one.

Every behavior comes down to three variables: motivation, ability, and prompt. Motivation is your desire to do the behavior. Ability is your capacity to do the behavior. And prompt is your cue to do the behavior.

Group these three things together under the acronym MAP (Motivation/Ability/Prompt). A behavior (B) happens when the three elements of MAP come together at the same moment: B=MAP.

There are some nuances to the equation. First, motivation and ability have a compensatory relationship: The more motivated you are to do a behavior, the more likely you are to do the behavior. The harder a behavior is to do — that is, the lower your ability — the less likely you are to do it. In this sense, motivation and ability can work together like teammates. If one is weak, the other needs to be strong to get you to follow through.

Secondly, no behavior happens without a prompt. If you don’t have a prompt, your levels of motivation and ability don’t matter. Either you are prompted to act or you’re not. No prompt, no behavior.

Once you’ve learned B=MAP, you can apply it in many practical ways, including stopping or troubleshooting a habit that’s getting in your way.

If you can’t change one component of the Behavior Model, then you focus on changing the others. With enough tinkering, you can design for almost any behavior you want, and short-circuit most behaviors you don’t.

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