Tag / Habits

I recently presented a new talk about how to manage digital distraction using the Hook Model. I hope you enjoy the brief video below.

Also, I’ve been thinking of writing more on this topic. Let me know what you think.

Is this an interesting topic? Do you struggle with digital distractions?

Tell me more about what might help or what questions you’d like me to tackle so I know what direction to take my research and writing.

Thank you!

– Nir

dealChanging habits is hard. But what if there was a way to dramatically improve your odds of quitting even your worst habits? What if this method was shown to be over 8 times more effective than traditional methods at helping people quit a stubborn addiction like smoking? Would you try it?

As I discussed in part 1 and part 2 of this 3-part series, the technique involves a wager. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that when people put money down, they were much more likely to accomplish their goals. In this case, people who risked $150 of their own money to win a $650 bonus prize were dramatically more likely to quit smoking than those who used traditional smoking cessation methods. Surprisingly, this group also beat out those who were offered an $800 reward with no deposit for staying smoke-free.

Credit: nerissa's ring IMG_5363Diets don’t work. Studies show that temporary fixes to old habits actually make people gain weight. Essentially, the dieter’s brain is trained to gorge when off the diet and inevitably the weight returns.

In my previous essay, I shared the story of my father’s struggle with bad eating habits. He had put on weight over the last few decades and despite several attempts, he had trouble taking it off. In his late 60s he faces pre-diabetes and a daily ritual of taking a handful of pills.

But over the last five months, something has changed. He’s found a new way to resist the temptation of the food he’s been trying to stop eating for years.

Dad pic

Dad and me soon after coming to America.

When my family immigrated to the United States in 1981, my father weighed 185 pounds. He came chasing the American dream but got more than he expected. Along with a new, more prosperous life for his family, he also acquired some bad habits.

For one, he took up smoking because, as he sheepishly admits, “that’s what business people here did back then.” And to ward off the boredom of long car rides between sales calls, he began eating American-made junk food.

Eventually, he stopped smoking. However, the junk food habit got the best of him. His weight ballooned by over 50 pounds and in his late 50s his doctor told him he was pre-diabetic. If he didn’t change soon, his doctor warned, he’d be at risk for serious health problems.

After the slide presentation I posted about “The Secret Psychology of Snapchat” received such a warm response from readers, I decided to create another set of slides. This presentation is about how to win over your competition’s customer habits. I hope you enjoy it.

For a deeper analysis, see this previous article I wrote on the topic: http://www.nirandfar.com/2015/01/competitions-customers.html

Nir’s Note: This book review is by Sam McNerney. Sam writes about cognitive psychology, business, and philosophy.

OverwhelmedMany of us feel we’re drowning in the rising tide of emails, updates, and digital distractions. According to a survey by the Families and Work Institute, the majority of American workers report feeling overwhelmed or overworked. In her new book, Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has The Time, Brigid Schulte acknowledges that although the deluge of to do’s is inevitable, there are ways to regain our sanity.

Schulte writes about cognitive overload, work life balance, and gender bias in the workplace. She mixes personal anecdote with psychological science to discuss the stress of day-to-day life. Primarily, she discusses how our perception of work influences how we work. Schulte insists that being overwhelmed and feeling overwhelmed are two different things.

You’ve undoubtably heard of Snapchat, the habit-forming messaging service used by over 100 million people monthly. This week, I teamed up with Victoria Young and Dori Adar to help explain what makes the app so sticky.

We decided that instead of writing a long blog post, we’d share our insights in a slide presentation. Let us know what you think of the format and the content in the comments section below!

Diabetes CupcakesI had just finished giving a speech on building habits when a woman in the audience exclaimed, “You teach how to create habits, but that’s not my problem. I’m fat!” The frustration in her voice echoed throughout the room. “My problem is stopping bad habits. That’s why I’m fat. Where does that leave me?”

I deeply sympathized with the woman. “I was once clinically obese,” I told her. She stared at my lanky frame and waited for me to explain. How did I hack my habits?

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

The first step is to realize that starting a new routine is very different from breaking an existing habit. As I describe in this video, there are different techniques to use depending on the behavior you intend to modify.


Fitness apps are all the rage. An explosion of new companies and products want to track your steps and count your calories with the aim of melting that excess blubber. There’s just one problem — most of these apps don’t work. In fact, there is good reason to believe they make us fatter.

One study called out “the dirty secret of wearables,” citing that “these devices fail to drive long-term sustained engagement for a majority of users.” Endeavour Partners’ research found “more than half of U.S. consumers who have owned a modern activity tracker no longer use it. A third of U.S. consumers who have owned one stopped using the device within six months of receiving it.”

While the report mentioned several reasons why people don’t stick with these tracking devices, my own theory is simple, they backfire. Here are three surprising reasons why fitness apps may be making us less happy and more flabby.

Nir’s Note: This post is co-authored with Stuart Luman, a science, technology, and business writer who has worked at Wired Magazine, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and IBM.


“I wish that I could be like the cool kids,” goes the catchy hook for the hit song by Echosmith. The official video has been viewed over 15 million times on YouTube, perhaps tapping into something deeper than mere adolescent angst.

We all want to be like the cool kids.

In 2013, the word “FoMO” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary. The “fear of missing out” refers to the feeling of “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere.” Although the terminology has only recently been added to our lexicon, experiencing FoMO is nothing new.