Human Behavior and a Movie Recommendation

An image of the River Liffey on sunny day. You can see buildings on the side and a railing before the river starts.
Photo of the River Liffey in Dublin, taken by me.

Hello everyone,

Unfortunately, I had to finish an assignment for university yesterday and it took longer than I had expected leading to the delay of this post.

Here in Dublin, the exams are getting closer and my first exam will be in slightly more than two weeks. The semester has flown by and in about a month I will be going home to Gothenburg. I have been here almost three months but in some ways, it still feels like I just got here. It has been a great experience, but I am quite ready to go home too. It will be a quick visit for nine days and then I have to go to Lyon for a Unitech week on January second and then I will be returning to Sweden on the seventh before leaving for Switzerland sometime in late January.

Sidenote. I was looking for a good English word for "flänga", so for the Swedes reading this, what would be a good translation of "flängigt" or "flänga" in English? Please let me know if you have a suggestion.

Behavior and Habits

During the week I have been thinking a lot about the compounding which happens when you are consistently improving something a little bit at a time. It might be because I am reading the book Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg. The book is all about how small habits can improve your life immensely. BJ Fogg is a behavior scientist at Stanford. His research is focused on understanding human behavior better. He breaks down behavior (B) into three parts. First motivation (M), how motivated are you to do something? Secondly, ability (A), how easy is the behavior for you? Finally, there is the prompt (P), what is prompting you to do the behavior? According to Fogg, you need all three, but ability and motivation are correlated such that if you are very motivated you can do hard behavior, or inversely if you are unmotivated but it is easy to do you will do it. The prompt, however, is essential, it is what reminds you to initiate the behavior. His model looks like this B = MAP.

This is how BJ Fogg explains it: "Behavior (B) happens when Motivation (M), Ability (A), and a Prompt (P) come together at the same moment." To illustrate the model in an additional way here is a graphical representation of it. In the graph you can see the action line, it represents where in the graph a behavior must fall for you to do it when prompted.

This is a recreation of BJ Fogg's model that can be found at

An example of a behavior that falls above the action line for me is brushing my teeth. I want good dental health so I am motivated to brush my teeth for two minutes twice a day as it is not very hard to do. An example of something which is currently falling below the action line might be getting up earlier in the morning. For me it is easy to do once I have a job that requires me to be there early because my motivation is a lot higher, I don't want to be late for my job. When I am back at university though and my lectures start at 10 AM it is harder to motivate myself to get up at 7 AM or earlier, thus I can tell that the behavior is below the action line. This is useful when you want to change behavior because you can play around with how easy to make it. Fogg recommends starting with minuscule changes in behavior as this will be extremely easy, then as you build the "habit muscle" you can add more to the existing habit as that will be easier than starting from the beginning. Creating these tiny habits will eventually compound into more drastic behavior changes.


Humans are terrible at visualizing what exponential growth means, we generally think in linear terms. This means we often underestimate small growth consistently over time and also expect to see results more quickly than they will happen. Does this sound familiar? It is not uncommon for people to feel like their progress is at a standstill and then suddenly wake up one day and feel like all the progress has been made in one day. This is what creates the illusion of overnight success. Many successful people talk about how they became overnight successes after 15 years of hard work. At first, the progress is going to be small but the power of exponential growth is all you need. The world today is more exponential than ever, powered by network effects, globalization, and technology most things are exponential. This is something we as humans need to understand

"Most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year and underestimate what they can achieve in ten years." - Bill Gates

Compounding tends to be associated with finance and the compounding of money and it is indeed a powerful force there but it is useful in many other areas of life too. Compounding is an important concept to grasp both in terms of knowledge and health and longevity. If you can become 5% wiser in a year in 15 years you will have doubled your wisdom, and this may seem arbitrary but is an important mental model to understand. In longevity research, they often talk about how we as humans have a lifespan and a healthspan. Lifespan we all know what it is but healthspan might be a new word, it refers to how long your body can stay healthy and active. For many of us living a long time will be a lot less enjoyable if we are unable to do the things we like, that might be playing with our grandchildren, taking a walk, or reading a book. As the body ages, you will lose some percentage of your strength each year, making it important that you have a good base. Understanding the way compounding will work against you in strength loss is important.

The classic story to illustrate compounding is the story of how the inventor of chess got an opportunity to ask for a reward from the Indian emperor. He asked that he receive one grain of rice for the first square, two for the second and four for the third, and so on. The emperor thought this was a modest prize to pay and agreed. Eventually, he would realize that he could not fulfill the price, for the last square alone he would have to give the inventor more than 18,000,000,000,000,000,000 grains of rice or 2^64. The emperor did not understand how compounding worked and paid the price, don't do the same mistake!

What I Have Been Watching

During the week I decided to watch The Worst Person in the World by Joachim Trier on Netflix. It is a Norwegian movie and is the third part of Trier's Oslo trilogy. I am new to Trier's work and it was just a coincidence that I ended up watching it. I found the movie great and think I will go back to watch the previous parts of the trilogy.

It is a touching story about a young woman's life, detailing her adventures in love, careers, and relationships in Oslo. Life is hard of full decisions and to open one door usually means closing another. I resonated deeply with the main character's struggle to decide what to do with her life. She started off studying medicine, then psychology, and finally focused more on creative pursuits. I never quite knew what I wanted to do. I applied and got accepted to study medicine for the first 3 semesters of my time at Chalmers. Always wondering if I should make the change. What eventually lead to me deciding to stick with engineering was just how well I got along with the people I studied with. I got a great tip from my mother that if you enjoy being around the people you are studying with you will most likely enjoy your colleagues too as they most likely will be the same people you go to school with.

The movie did a great job of showing parts of the human experience. The difficulty of knowing whether you are going in the right direction or not. Society's expectations of couples having children and the struggle of finding the right time for them. It detailed how the world has changed over the generations, today's world is not the same as the one our parents or grandparents encountered in their youth. We are the digital generation and do not have the same attachment to physical objects or manifestations. Human society is always changing, just like nature, and it can be hard to keep up at times.

The movie was thought-provoking, sad, and beautiful. It showcased beautiful moments in life and sad ones. Life is seldom as great or as terrible as it may feel. Just like human beings, life is complicated and we only get one opportunity to go through it. At times this can be deeply disturbing, but it makes you cherish the great times and appreciate what you have. In today's society, we are very shielded from death but it is a crucial part of life. It is what gives things meaning and I think it might be important to remember at times. This is related to the saying "memento mori", it is a phrase that reminds us that death is inevitable, and we should not put off living the lives we want because we don't know when it will end.

This relates to a scene that touched me deeply. Two of the characters are talking and one says:

"There are surely things about you that I remember but you have forgotten."

Certain parts and memories of your life do not belong to you but to the person, you spent them with. This is both beautiful and terrifying. This means some parts of you will disappear when you stop spending time with this person. It showcases the importance of the relationships we have. I hope you watch the movie too, let me know if you do!

Final Words

I am truly enjoying writing this blog as it forces me to think more deeply about things in my own life and creates a need for an acuity I am enjoying. It can be daunting to put words out into the world, but so far my experience has been great. I can already see the benefits of the blog and am sure they will only compound as I keep writing. Have a great week and I hope to see you next Sunday, back on track!