Nir’s Note: This guest post comes from Stephen Wendel, Principal Scientist at HelloWallet and the author of Designing for Behavior Change. Steve’s new book is about how to apply behavioral economics to product development. Follow him on twitter @sawendel.
It can be extraordinarily difficult to stop habits head-on. Brain damage, surgery, even Alzheimer’s disease and dementia sometimes fail to stop them. But why are they so difficult to change? First, it’s because habits are automatic, and not conscious. The conscious part of our minds, the part that would seek to remove habits, is only vaguely aware of their execution; we often don’t notice habits when they occur and we don’t remember doing them afterwards. Across dozens of studies on behavior change interventions, researchers have found that the conscious mind’s sincere, concerted intention to change behavior has little relationship to actual change in behavior.
Second, it’s because habits never truly go away – once a habit is formed (i.e. the brain is rewired to associate the stimulus and response), it doesn’t normally un-form. It can remain latent or unused, but under the right circumstances, that circuitry in the brain can be activated and cause the habitual behavior to reappear.
Another way of thinking of habit cessation is this: if stopping bad habits were easy, we wouldn’t need so many darned books on everything from stopping smoking to dieting. Nevertheless, we can draw lessons from the literature on habit formation and change – which can save product teams needless pain and suffering. Three strategies for handling an existing habit include:
Nir’s Note: In this guest post, Ryan Hoover describes the design decisions and strategies used to build a habit-forming product, largely influenced by the learnings on this blog. Follow @rrhoover or visit his blog to read more about startups and product design.
Recently, Nathan Bashaw and I launched Product Hunt, a daily leaderboard of the best new products. As two product enthusiasts, we wanted to create a community to share, discover, and geek out about new and interesting products. But to make it a success, we knew we had to make it a habit, a product people would use every day.
Early feedback suggests it’s been working, as gauged by several tweets and our own site traffic analysis. Qualitative feedback is great, of course, but what people actually do is more important.
- 60% of daily active users (DAU) are returning visitors
- 32% of unique visitors in the past week have visited the site 5 or more times
- 52% of subscribers open daily email digest (yes, daily!) and 23% click-through
This is especially encouraging, considering the site’s minimalism and lack of obvious re-engagement features. Here are the design decisions and strategies used to build a habit-forming product, largely influenced by Nir Eyal’s work.
Build for Existing Behaviors
In a recent interview, Ev Williams, founder of Blogger, Twitter, and Medium, shared his strategy for building a billion-dollar business:
Take a human desire, preferably one that has been around for a really long time… identify that desire and use modern technology to take out steps.
Nir’s Note: This guest post comes from Brendan Kane who has built technology for MTV, Paramount, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, and the NHL. In this article, Brendan describes how he reprogramed the way he views the world using little more than his iPhone and iPad.
We all have the power to change our lives. I know this because I found ways to reprogram my inner circuitry and change my perspective of the world. A few simple steps inserted into my daily routine dramatically improved my life. Surprisingly, many of my new rituals were made possible using the technology I carry with me every day.
“Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do.”
I was trained to think small and seek comfort rather than risk. From an early age, many of us are told to think realistically and to leave the big audacious ideas to people with more experience and resources. But the truth is, as Steve Jobs said, ““Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you.”
We are all born with the same basic brain hardware and though there are variations in intelligence between people, the differences are relatively minor and show little correlation with life outcomes. However, what does make a difference is how much we believe in ourselves and our capabilities. A much greater determinant of where we will end up in life is whether we have what Stanford researcher Carol Dweck calls a “fixed” or “growth mindset.”
Nir’s Note: In this last in a series of guest posts on the topic of technology habits, Jason Shah shares practical tips he used to regain control over his devices. Jason is a Product Manager at Yammer and blogs about user experience and technology at blog.jasonshah.org. You can follow him on Twitter @jasonyogeshshah.
“Not long ago, in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Texas, a 17-year-old boy was weathering withdrawal at its worst. His body shuddered with convulsions. He hurled tables and chairs around the hospital.
Had he been hooked on heroin? Cocaine? Jim Beam? Joe Camel?
No, his psychologist said. The teenager had withdrawn cold turkey from the Internet.”
This account of a young man’s struggle with Internet withdrawal is from a 1996 New York Times article. Since then, the Internet has become even more pervasive and habit-forming.
The Internet has much in common with gambling: it’s compulsive; it’s compelling; it’s distracting. Many people find it hard to resist the Web’s grip. Affluent adults in the US spend more than 30 hours a week on the Internet — it’s almost a full-time job!
Indeed, much of the web’s appeal is hardwired in our DNA. Technology companies carefully hone their services to cater to our survival instincts. Over time, we have become conditioned to know where to look on the Internet for rewards, and in the spirit of survival, we return repeatedly to get as much as possible out of a reliable source of pleasure.
Nir’s Note: In this guest post, Sharbani Roy explores techniques she used to change her bad habits related to eating, sleeping and exercising. Sharbani blogs at sharbaniroy.com and you can follow her on twitter @Sharbani.
It’s 2 AM and you’re exhausted, but unable to sleep. You’ve been cycling through Facebook, email, and other online media for hours. You want to stop, but you can’t. This technology-induced insomnia will likely ruin your next day (or two) of productivity — and you’ve really achieved nothing according to your list of to-dos. Late-night surfing has become a bad habit you’d like to break, but just can’t figure out how.
Sound familiar? Let’s take a look at some data, narrated by my inner monologue.
Inner Monologue: “Wow, 12AM, I should get into bed.”
Lights turned off, head on pillow. Check.
Inner Monologue: “Hmm, I’m a little bored. I had those articles I was going to read…and I’m not that sleepy yet.” I reach for my phone. “I love you, smart phone.”
One article later.
Inner Monologue: “What a great article! I should share it.” Switch to Facebook news feed. “Oh, look at Amanda’s adorable baby!” Like. Scrolling down. “Ha! Teslas ARE awesome.” Continue scrolling. “Puppies and kittens AND a baby hedgehog all in one photo!?” Like. “Oh, I should send that Tesla pic to Aleks … and email her to catch-up.” Switch to Gmail. “Hmm, inbox full. I’ll just respond to two.” Mid-response, a new post from TechCrunch pops up. ” Oh, what’s this? Smartwatch?” Click.
Nir’s Note: In contrast to last week’s post on the power of saying “no,” Eric Clymer shares how a creative attitude helped his team build a #1 ranked app. Eric was the lead developer of the “A Beautiful Mess” app and is a Partner at Rocket Mobile.
In improv comedy, there are really only two words that matter: “Yes, and.” You share a premise, form a scene, create a character, and if everything works out right, kill the audience. Then, you try and do it again with another, “Yes, and.”
Before I began developing for iOS, I performed stand-up and improv as a hobby. I never thought “Yes, and” would apply to the development of software and how to work with clients. But, in my best Louis CK voice, “It TOTALLY did.” This essay is about what I learned working with the artists who hired my company to create “A Beautiful Mess,” an app that went to #1 in the App Store 15 hours after its release (it’s still near the top of the app store).
Elsie Larson & Emma Chapman, the creators of the do-it-yourself blog ABeautifulMess.com are amazing at what they do. Over the past six years, their mix of recipes, photography projects, and other fun arts and crafts ideas, have amassed them a following of over 1.5 million visitors per month.
Nir’s Note: Is “no” the most powerful word in the English language? In this guest post Chikodi Chima explores what happens when people say, “No.” Chikodi is a former VentureBeat staff reporter who helps startups with their public relations and marketing. His blog is PR Tips For Startups and he is @Chikodi on Twitter.
Sirens were beautiful creatures from Greek Mythology who lured sailors to their death. The power of their song was so irresistible it would cause captains to steer their boats into the rocks and drown. We are also seduced daily by ideas that sound great at first, but may leave us shipwrecked, unless we have the power to say no.
Investor Marc Suster recently warned about the perils of shiny new objects. “Everything you say “yes” to is incrementally one more thing to support and you die a death by a thousand cuts,” he says. “I strongly believe that your success will be more defined by what you choose not to do than by what you choose to do. Of course what you choose to do has be be meaningful, timely, valuable, prescient and high quality.”
Why we say “yes” when we mean “no”
Michael Hyatt says there are three common responses to people who ask us to do things we don’t want to:
- Accommodation: We say Yes when we want to say No. This usually comes when we value the relationship of the person making the request above the importance of our own interests.
Nir’s Note: In this guest post, Ryan Hoover takes a look at Tinder, a red hot dating app. Ryan dives into what makes the app so popular and engaging. Ryan blogs at ryanhoover.me and you can follow him on Twitter at rrhoover.
Tinder, a hot new entrant in the world of online dating, is capturing the attention of millions of single hopefuls. The premise is simple. After launching the mobile app and logging in with Facebook, users browse profiles of other men or women. Each potential match is presented as a card. Swipe left if you’re disinterested and right if someone catches your fancy. Once both parties express interest, a match is made and a private chat connects the two potential lovebirds.
The app has become a fixture in the U.S. App Store as one of the top 25 social networking applications, generating 1.5 million daily matches as more than 50 percent of its users login multiple times per day.
This isn’t luck. It’s smart design based in part, on game mechanics and an understanding of user psychology.
Here are four ways Tinder engages its calloused-fingered users:
Nir’s Note: This guest post is by Auren Hoffman, the CEO of LiveRamp in San Francisco. This essay is a bit different from the normal subject matter on the blog but I hope it will stir some discussion about which of our personal habits are worth improving. Connect with Auron on Twitter at @auren or on Facebook.
To really differentiate yourself in this winner-take-all world, you should be focusing on improving your strengths, not your weaknesses.
Most people who set out to improve themselves focus on their faults. For example, here’s Bridget Jones’ list:
“Resolution number one: Obviously will lose twenty pounds. Number two: Always put last night’s panties in the laundry basket. Equally important, will find sensible boyfriend to go out with and not continue to form romantic attachments to any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobics, peeping toms, megalomaniacs, emotional wits or perverts.”
While I don’t deny that it’s good habit to place your undergarments in the laundry bin, it is not the best way to achieve greatness. People who focus on their faults can eventually improve them to a point where they are no longer obstacles, but doing so will not propel them to success. A better strategy is to focus on one or two of the things at which you excel and hone those skills or talents to the point of excellence. Working on your faults might help you make a living, but honing your talents may help you change the world.