Behaviour-By-Example – How to behave during coronavirus

The Coronavirus has been a great demonstration of how difficult drive behaviour change. Yesterday the UK Government mandated stricter policies to restrict movement after many people across the country continued to socially mingle.

In order for behaviour to happen the following needs to occur:

Behaviour happens when motivation & ability & prompt converge at the same moment (B=MAP)

BJ Fogg – Tiny Habits

To date the government has relied on the motivation to “protect the NHS” for behaviour change.

We see so far that this motivational plea has not been sufficient.

Motivation is the weakest of these three variables.

Our motivation comes in waves and is not reliable. We can see as soon as the sunny weather arrived at the weekend how quickly people were motivated to go outdoors.

Ability and Prompt are more powerful levers for change.

Make the behaviour as easy as possible and provide prompts that trigger the desired behaviour.

So far new behaviours have been made harder to adopt by using new, ambiguous terms such as “social distancing” and “self isolation”. Many people are left wondering what do these really mean?

To help overcome these challenges and more effectively enable behaviour change in organisations, I have used a technique called Specification-By-Example.

Typically used by software development teams, to describe how their systems should work but it’s a great technique for any behaviour change.

Examples are described through a simple language:

  • Given = The context
  • When = The Prompt
  • Then = The action (ability)

You can see this in action through a really simple example below:

  • Given i’m 70 or over
  • When I need Milk
  • Then I will ask a relative to purchase on my behalf
  • And leave the milk on door step

The benefit of this approach is it provides a concrete example for people to design their behaviour.

Importantly it provides a foundation to have a good conversation.

My hope is this post will equip you to have better conversations with parents, children and friends around the desired behaviours. Clearing up ambiguity and discussing real examples.

As coaches, facilitators and leaders you can use this technique in any efforts where behaviour change is desired in your organisation.

The key lessons to takeaway are:

  1. Don’t rely on motivation
  2. Use concrete examples
  3. Make it simple

I’d love to hear your examples in the comments below and on LinkedIn. Here are some more of mine:

Scenarios: Milk

  • Given i’m exhibiting no symptoms
  • And i’m under 70
  • And I do not live with anyone in either of those categories
  • When i need milk
  • Then I will visit my nearest supermarket
  • And maintain a distance of 2 meters
  • And get over 1 weeks of essential produce
  • And wash my hands immediately after returning home
  • Given i’m walking to the supermarket
  • And someone is walking towards me on a narrow pavement
  • Then i will cross the road to keep a 2 meter distance
  • Given I have a persistent cough
  • When I need milk
  • Then I will not leave the house
  • And I will ask a relative/friend/neighbour to bring me milk with other essentials
  • And leave it on door step

Scenarios: Exercise

  • Given I have not exercised
  • When I exercise
  • Then I will only do a walk, run, or cycle
  • And limit my activity to less than 30 minutes
  • And keep a distance of 2 meters
  • Given I have exercised today
  • When I feel restless and i need of exercise
  • Then I will not leave the house
  • And do an exercise activity indoors
  • Given I have not exercised
  • When my friend calls to invite me for a round of golf
  • Then I will say no
  • And suggest we play Mario golf on Nintendo switch


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