Find Your Tobacco Alternative and Change Your Behavior

The Law of Ability: Make It Easy & It Will Come

If you subscribe to the “Go Big or Go Home” mantra, we’re going to have to ask you to leave that one on the court or field. When it comes to changing your behavior, “Go Big or Go Home” is actually a recipe for self-criticism and disappointment. 

The truth is, big, bold moves don’t work as well as small, stealthy ones. Biting off more than you can chew can be painful - both in terms of your physical capabilities and in terms of your pride if/when you fail. If something is painful or makes you feel bad, you won’t keep doing it.

So rather than setting overly ambitious goals right at the beginning of your quit journey, we want you to start small. Make the desired behavior so small, simple and easy that you don’t need much motivation or skill to do it. When something is easy to accomplish, you’re more likely to keep it as a daily habit. The goal is to design for consistency, and the key to consistency is simplicity. 

Evaluating Your Behaviors Using The Behavior Model

Our friend Tom (from a previous blog post) wants to have a weekly check-in call with his accountability partner. He thinks this behavior will be highly effective at helping him steer clear of tobacco, and he’s fully committed to getting and staying clean, so his motivation to do this behavior is also high.

Why, then, can’t Tom seem to make himself show up for these meetings? To answer that question, we can turn to a simple equation discovered by American social scientist BJ Fogg: 

Behavior = Motivation x Ability x Prompt

Since we know Tom’s motivation is already high, we don’t need to evaluate that variable. He’s also set a reminder alarm on his phone and digital calendar, so he doesn’t need a prompt or reminder, either.

What about his ability to connect with his accountability partner and actually conduct the meetings? If the equation above is true, and if motivation and a prompt are already present, then it must have something to do with Tom’s ability to have the meeting. 

According to BJ Fogg, there are actually five factors that affect anyone’s ability to do anything. Let’s take a peek inside Tom’s Ability Toolbox to see what he might be missing.

The Ability Tool Box: What You Need to Get The Job Done

Generally speaking, if you don’t have the ability to perform a behavior, it is likely due to one or more of the following factors:

Not Enough Time

Tom’s meetings are scheduled for 4:30 pm on Mondays. He is off work and home by this time of day, so he’s not constrained for time.


Not Enough Money

Tom’s accountability partner is his close friend, Jason, so he doesn’t charge Tom for his time. Tom and Jason have decided to conduct their meetings over the phone, so the only cost associated with this behavior is his cell phone bill, which he has no trouble paying each month.

Not Physically Capable

It’s possible Tom might be physically incapable of having the meeting if he’s sick that week, but that’s a rare occurrence and not what has been keeping him from making the phone calls.

Requires Too Much Creative/Mental Energy

Ding! Ding! Ding! These meetings are currently scheduled to take place right after Tom gets home from work. For one thing, he’s mentally exhausted from the day. For another, picking up the phone to spend 30 minutes reminisce about the past week of his quit journey gives him anxiety, so he tends to just ignore the commitment and doesn’t do it.

Doesn’t Fit Current Routine

Ding! Ding! Ding! The only thing that Tom is motivated to do at 4:30 pm on Mondays is help his wife cook dinner and help his kids with their homework. Tom dedicates his weekday evenings to family, so his meeting with Jason doesn’t fit his current routine.

Identify, Correct & Adjust

Once you determine which factor(s) of ability are holding you back, use that information to correct your plan & make necessary adjustments. Remember to do this with the ultimate goal of making the behavior easier.

Tom asked Jason if they could move the meeting to Sunday evenings after he puts the kids to bed. This gives Tom a few days of rest to mentally prepare for the meeting, as well as plenty of time to gather his thoughts and review notes in his quit journal over the weekend. He now looks forward to this special time he’s set aside for himself on Sunday nights, and wakes up feeling ready to face the world (tobacco free!) on Monday mornings. 

This one simple adjustment made all the difference for Tom, and he hasn’t missed a meeting since moving the meeting to Sunday nights. It seems so simple in hindsight, but he never could have pinpointed the issue without the Behavior Model and Ability Toolbox.

The same could be true for you when troubleshooting your own behaviors. Make sure you’ve written the Behavior Model equation in your quit journal, and listed the five factors of ability (time, money, physical capability, creative/mental energy & fits routine) in case you need to reference them again later.