Everyone loves top 10 lists. And I think it’s great that BJ Fogg put together a Top 10 list for mistakes to avoid in behaviour change.

They tie in extremely nicely as an overview for explaining his theory. They are quite easy to digest and to apply to a variety of different situations.

Here are the Top 10 Mistakes in Behaviour Change according to BJ Fogg:

  1. Relying on willpower for long-term change.

Willpower is something within an individual. It can vary from time to time. Based on Heidi Grant Halvorson and Carol Dweck’s theories, it is something that you can develop. However, if you want to make change now and you don’t want to rely on willpower, focus on the things that are within your control. Get specific. Make it easy. And trigger the behaviour. It’s that simple.

i can

Willpower is the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals. Photo credit: lifeandstyle.ca

  1. Attempting big leaps instead of baby steps

If you’re going to make drastic changes, you’re going to violate that it’s going to be easy for someone to implement. There are also going to be lots of factors that are going to need to change. It can be non-routine. Perhaps it’s going to need a big time commitment. There are a lot of factors that come into play the larger the change that you’re going to implement. However, if you’re going to use small, baby steps, and think in terms of BJ Fogg’s idea of Tiny Habits. This is something that makes it much easier for you start the behaviour. Once you have that success, then you can follow through on it and build on it.

  1. Ignoring how environment shapes behaviour

Environment is a key factor in shaping someone’s behaviour in terms of the ability of someone to complete the task or the triggers that can be present to start the behaviour or continue it or to develop a motivational response. Those are things that are within the environment that someone can control. The more that you can have an impact on that environment to initiate the behaviour, the more successful you’re going to be. You can’t necessarily control someone’s motivation. However, you can control how the information is presented and its nature.

  1. Trying to stop old behaviours instead of creating new ones.

Very little, if none at all, of BJ Fogg’s theories, look at trying to stop old behaviours. He even said himself that that is an extremely complex area and that there are so many factors involved. He is focusing on the theories related to creating new ones. I agree with him. He’s right. There are a lot of factors involved with someone who has that existing behaviour. But if you can start doing a new one, what’s going to happen is you can get it to the point where it can replace the negative behaviour that you’re doing. By structuring, designing the process for adopting a new behaviour, you can have a very effective behaviour which makes it easy for you to stop the old one and replace it with a new one.

  1. Blaming failures on lack of motivation

Motivation is a factor in BJ Fogg’s theory but again and again, he says that what you need to do is to reduce the focus on motivation. That’s outside of your control and it can vary with time. There are so many factors that come into play if the main focus on chancing someone’s behaviour is on motivation. It’s much easier to focus on things that you have control over within your environment to make it easier for someone to complete the habit or behaviour by focusing on limiting the amount of resources required and triggering the behaviour so that it’s as easy as possible for someone to follow through.


It’s much easier to focus on things that you have control over within your environment to complete a task. Photo credit: naldzgraphics.net

  1. Understanding the power of triggers

I think there’s been a lot of companies in software out there that develop on the base purpose of the effectiveness of triggers. This is not something that can be underestimated. If you’re going to try and develop an effective behaviour change for yourself or someone else, the trigger can be a major impact in success or failure of whether or not someone is going to be able to follow through on it. When I think in terms of a stop sign – it’s a clear indicator on the action that is supposed to be used and the stronger you can make that, the more effective it is. Think in terms of a stop sign that’s alongside the road. It’s got the word STOP written on it in color red. People understand that that’s what they’re supposed to do. But people don’t necessarily heed that warning and they might slow down, they might miss it, and they keep going. So there’s the addition of the traffic light. The traffic light is brighter and more noticeable. It’s farther out in someone’s field of view and not just in the side. But still, there are people that will run through lights. There’s still something missing. Take it to the next step of a trigger that happens when you stop at a railway crossing. There’s lights flashing. There’s an arm that physically comes down that prevents you from doing incorrect behaviour. Those are all triggers for you to do the behaviour that you’re supposed to. The more powerful the trigger, the much more likely it is for you to do the right thing and do the behaviour that you’re supposed to. Something like Twitter, Facebook. They leverage triggers immensely. They are constantly triggering you to engage with the software, with your social network. You’re just literally being bombarded with triggers that encourage you to use Facebook to the extent that for some people, it even becomes an addiction because that trigger becomes so effective at encouraging someone to interact with their program.

  1. Believing that information leads to action

Just because you tell someone that they’re supposed to do the behaviour doesn’t rely on all of the other factors that are involved. You can tell someone that they should quit smoking because it causes cancer. If that worked, everybody would have quit smoking a really long time ago. But you can believe that smoking will cause cancer, but it’s not enough. You need to focus on triggering the right behaviour, making it as easy as possible for someone to do it and making it specific.

  1. Focusing on abstract goals more than concrete behaviours

If we’re thinking in terms of abstract goals than concrete behaviours, that comes into making it specific. The more specific you can make the behaviour and describing it, then you will dramatically increase your success rate. In terms of going to the gym – instead of saying “I’m going to go to the gym and get more fit”, say “I’m going to the gym today at 3:00 and I’m going to set my alarm to go off to remind me that I’m supposed to stop what I’m doing and get into my car and go to the gym. I can lay out my clothes and put it on my backpack so that when my alarm does go off, I’m ready to go. There’s very little resistance required for me to get to that next step.”

  1. Seeking to change a behaviour forever, not for a short time

If you are focusing on a much longer timeline, it becomes much harder for someone to make the behavior change. You need to focus on changing someone’s behaviour in the short term. But what BJ Fogg is suggesting is that if you can get someone to effectively adopt a habit in the short term, what it’s going to do is it’s going to grow over time. It’s going to become more of a long-term habit. Understand that if you focus on the habit and get it as effective as possible, now it will take care of itself and will grow into something more. It will grow into a long term habit and you just need to rely on someone’s idea that they’re going to remain consistent and that they have a certain level of commitment to the habit that it becomes a routine.


Focus on the habit and get it as effective as possible, now it will take care of itself and will grow into something more. Photo credit: www.bodyforwife.com

  1. Assuming that behaviour change is difficult

If you are changing behavior, make it specific, easy to implement, and trigger the behaviour, it can be extremely easy for someone to change their behaviour. Once you start changing your behaviour and heading in the right direction, there are a lot of factors that just build on themselves to keep you going. One of the main mistakes is that if you make it too complicated, you are basically setting yourself up for failure. If you’re going to set yourself a goal that you’re going to go to the gym and work out for 2 hours, you just didn’t magically have 2 hours of your day where you’re absolutely nothing. I can almost guarantee that. Something else is going on and you need to chunk in those 2 hours, plus getting to the gym and coming back, you have to push away and stop doing all those behaviours that were in that chunk of time. You’re not just starting new behaviours, you’re trying to stop all these behaviours that were in that same time slot. It then becomes extremely complicated. You’re really setting yourself up for failure.

So when you’re thinking in terms of what you need to do, you need to make the change specific and as easy and simple as possible for you to start the behaviour and build as many triggers in as possible. If you can, use devices to encourage someone to change their behaviour. You will have a dramatic increase with your success rate.