I have been reading lately about the power of habits and rituals to achieve outcomes and goals. It seems we can achieve much more by shifting our fixation away from setting goals to rather focusing on the processes and changes in behaviours needed to achieve that goal. This relates to any goals in our lives such as; losing weight, making more time for learning, writing a book etc. Or one of my own goals such as write a blog every month (ahem).
The problem with focusing on goals is that when we get distracted or if something slips and we don’t achieve that goal, we become disheartened and it’s easy to let it slide.
Our goals become something we talk about but not actually end up doing.
However if we shift the focus away from the goal to creating the habit or ritual to support the goal; even if we don’t end up exactly where we thought we would; we will have achieved something along the way; establishing the good habits. And changes will happen. But how do we do this?
One way I have been following this recently is based on Matt Cutts ‘Try something New for 30 Days’
As the title suggests, Cutts talks about taking on new habits or trying new things for 30 days. He tells us that the trick is to make changes small as those are ‘easier to stick’. Changes may be small but can have big impacts in changing our behaviour over the long term.
So rather than deciding to quit alcohol or caffeine for a month, which may be a big challenge for some, it may be easier to start off by deciding to do something smaller like drinking green tea for 30 days.
This concept is reflected in the work of BJ Fogg, the Standford professor and innovator, and his ‘tiny habits’ programme. Fogg adds that adding ‘anchors’ that trigger the new habits are an important part of the habit forming process.
So if we wanted to get more fit and do 10 minutes of exercise every day, its important to associate that with a anchor such as; doing this at the same time every day such as first thing in morning.
Why does the concept of small changes in 30 days work?
- It’s easier to commit to something for 30 days because its defined and not a long time
- The next 30 days are going to happen anyway; why not do something along the way?
- Chunking up goals into smaller parts makes it easier and more likely we will do it
- They say habits are formed in 21 days so 30 day period covers this
- It’s easier to maintain those habits, albeit not on a daily basis, after the 30 days
- You eventually become what you practice and change happens
Habits are the basis of long term engagement
As UXers we strive to create an experience that encourages our users to interact with our products regularly over a sustained period. We don’t want to build ‘flash in the pan’ products that users grow quickly tired of but rather we strive to create experiences that encourage long term engagement.
Creating habits among our user groups is a core part of building engagement.
Social media giants such as FB and Twitter are masters in the area of creating habitual behaviour in their user groups. These services are now part of their customer’s daily routines.
Nir Eyal is a well-known author in this area and in his ‘hook model’ he tells us there are four steps in creating an addictive product – trigger, action, reward and investment.
If we take the Facebook example, this could look like:
The stronger the habit, the more likely your user will come back, it’s a virtuous circle.
Of course before we start defining features that will trigger desired user behaviour we first need to truly understand our customers and their needs. And the hook model is a useful tool in which to examine user journeys and pinpoint areas where there may be more opportunity to optimise for engagement.