The Problem with Triggers

NB: This is my untested theory!

I have a problem with the definition of a behavior, it’s always defined -and confined- as a triggered action. Your phone rings, so you answer the call, which makes it more of a reaction in that sense.

There is a well known behavior model by Bj Fogg that I’ve explained before here, and it suggests that an important element in the behavior change formula is adding hot triggers in the path of motivated people or users. B=MAT. Behaviour change occurs when motivation, ability and trigger are available, if one of them is missing then no behavior change can occur. Bj Fogg also explains different types of triggers that can be used.

However, I see a huge problem with depending on triggers, because some behaviors can not be triggered, or in other cases happen in a context where they are trigger-less.

Take this product as an example:

sajda counter

This is a Sajda Counter. A sajda is a part of the muslims’ prayer where ones head touches the ground, there are several prayers during the day and each consist of different numbers of sajdas. It belonged to my Iranian housemate, she showed me this laughing, telling me she knows it’s wrong to use it, but it really helps.

This is how the product works: you place it on the ground in front of you, and when your head reaches the ground it presses the stone or ‘mohr’ which acts as a button revealing an arrow, the number of arrows equals the number of sajdas you’ve done. So that when you forget you can take a peak and remember how many sajdas you have left.

A very big problem many face during praying (a spiritual behavior) is focus. We are not completely focused within our prayers and we lose track. However, adding triggers to remind us or notify us doesn’t fit with the nature of this behavior, it actually reinforces the problem and does not solve it. You can’t be triggered while praying, it’s the same as setting a trigger to remind you to clear your mind during yoga.

So how can we approach such behaviors?

I’ll turn to the arabic definition of ‘behavior’ ‘selouk’ to base my theory: the word ‘slouk’ literally means the act of ‘choosing a path’. It’s a choice of the direction one wants to take. This presents a new frame of mind when discussing behaviour change. Besides behaviour being influenced by triggers, one behaviour can be based on or can lead to many other different behaviours, as the word suggests that behaviour is a whole path to something and not just merely one individual act. So changing one behavior can lead to a change in another behavior, but only if they were aligned on the same path.

This could be part of what Bj Fogg refers to as a ‘behavior chain’. For example, motivate users to run to make them buy running shoes. But what I am referring to here could be behaviors not so directly linked or enforced in that way.

I find IDEO’s ‘keep the change’ project a perfect example for this:

keep the change

IDEO were approached by Bank of America to solve a common banking problem; how to get people to open and use savings accounts? They found two issues, first being that many had difficulty saving whatever money they had, whether due to a lack of resources or willpower. Second, they found a major flaw with credit cards; it’s trigger-less. It’s not like your wallet that gets thin when you run out of money, a very sad but powerful trigger. It doesn’t matter how much you spend, credit cards look the same every time and you use it in the same way each and every time.

What they did was really smart, they found another behavior aligned with using credit cards and encouraged people to do this behavior instead, without changing anything in the prior behavior experience. During their research they found out that many people round their transactions for the sake of speed and convenience. Keep the change is a new savings account where your money gets rounded up whenever you pay anything, saving the change in the savings account.

People use cards for speed and convenience, and they round their money for speed and convenience. Trigger, motivate, and facilitate the ability of people to do the second behavior and it will lead to the first trigger-less behavior.

So the model for trigger-less behaviors might be something like this:
                       B1=(M2 A2 T2)