Hooked [2/2]

This is the second part of a blog post I earlier wrote titled “Hooked”, where I tried to deconstruct how products get us hooked onto them by looking at how Facebook employed persuasive design. Part 1 here.

This blog post aims to utilize habit-forming techniques as described earlier to build good habits and reinforce positive behavior. I’ll also briefly talk about the ethics of persuasive design.

Developing good habits through habit-forming techniques

Like we saw earlier, your probability of taking action is dependent on three variables. Action = M*A*T. Let’s look at them one by one.

i. Motivation — You need to have sufficient motivation to be able to perform a certain action. When you wish to develop a certain habit, make sure you’re sufficiently motivated to do it. From what I’ve observed, this aspect is the one that’s usually missing or is weak. In other cases, the motivation usually wears off after a brief period of time, due to various reasons. A good way to keep yourself motivated is to visualize your end goal and keep at it. I’d also recommend that whenever you wish to start something new such as inculcating a new habit make sure you’ve given it sufficient thought (Why do you wish to do this?) and you have enough intrinsic motivation right from the start. Otherwise, external motivation that you have is usually fickle and is likely to fail you sooner or later.

ii. Ability — Habit forming requires patience and it means being persistent even when things aren’t going the way you expected them to be. When you start off, make sure your goals are within your abilities. With time and practice, you can set your goals higher. Start small or else you’re statistically unlikely to succeed.

iii. Trigger — Find innovative ways to remind yourself of what you’re goals are. Use productivity apps, find a partner with similar interests, set a 365 day challenge or use sticky notes on your walls. I’ve observed that visual triggers that I can see everyday work well for me. Find triggers that work best for you and keep you on your feet.

I’d never discuss my personal life on social media, but for the sake of this blog, some amount of humblebrag seemed inevitable to showcase that this actually works. The example that I’ll be taking up is: doing things on time, i.e. preventing procrastination; something I feel most of us can relate to.

Here’s how I tackle procrastination: I use a modified version of the Kan-Ban board (a neat trick I picked up during my internship) to schedule tasks and complete them on time. (fyi: I fail often but this helps minimize it)

So I’ve been using this board for about a year now and having read the book recently, I figured that it fit into the Hook model.

Kan-Ban Board

If you wish to know more about the Kan Ban Board you can see this: Kan Ban (WIP — Work In Progress, BAU-Business As Usual)

i. Motivation — I’m usually extremely motivated to get things done on time and I think a lot of people are. A good way to develop this is to think of the end result, i.e. finishing things on time means you will have more time on your hands to do other things. Each person will have their own motivation. The point here is that you should be clear why this is important to you and be sufficiently convinced to believe in it.

ii. Ability — Each post-it has a tentative deadline. While setting deadlines makes sure they’re reasonable and achievable. In case you procrastinate a lot, I’d recommend that you set a harsher deadline for yourself to accommodate the delays.

iii. Trigger — The very fact that this board exists in a physical form on my wall rather than on my phone makes it an effective trigger for me. I see it everyday and am therefore reminded of what needs to be done. If this board were to exist on my phone I’d probably ignore it. Find the type of trigger that you think suits you best and use it to augment the habit-forming behavior.

Let’s look at the Hook Model again in the context of our example —

Stage 1 — Trigger

The post-its act as external triggers and initiate action.

Have an external trigger that prompts your action.

Stage 2 — Action

The task described by the post-it that needs to be done by a certain date.

Make sure the action satisfies the MAT criteria.

Stage 3 — Variable Reward

Reward yourself on completing tasks by treating yourself to things you like.

This can either be variable or set say after X tasks have been completed.

Stage 4 — Investment

Add more post-its to the board. Customize it your needs and preferences.

Invest in your habit so that you are attached to it and keep doing it repeatedly.

More on how to use triggers here.

The Ethics of Persuasive Design

Companies that create products use these manipulative techniques to get users hooked and maximize the time spent on their product. For the most part no company is taking any measures to prevent excessive use by consumers and the questions relating to the ethics of persuasive design have only recently been raised in Silicon Valley. More on this here.

Companies, by their very nature are capitalistic and putting in effort to moderate consumer usage seems to be the least of their concerns. In fact their business models require maximum usage so that the bottom line grows. This raises the question: Are companies responsible for providing help to people who are addicted to their products? It also questions the premise that these products run on — more usage = more revenue. Are there alternatives to this? Should maximizing time spent using the product be the company’s goal when designing a product?

A new group of entrepreneurs are now emerging with ethical design at the center of their philosophy. A great example of this is the Pocket App that allows you to save articles, videos, etc and view them later on at your convenience. Ethical design and capitalistic startups/companies may seem to be incompatible ideas but they are the need of the hour. More on ethical design here and here.

I don’t think products that occupy our lives will come to adopt this idea of ethical design. Therefore, according to me, it becomes our responsibility to limit our usage.

Our attention is the most precious commodity in today’s economy and therefore it is imperative that we use it wisely.

More on preventing yourself from getting hooked here.

As usual, comments/criticisms are appreciated!

P.S. If you like this, please give this article a heart (recommend) so that it can reach more people! Thanks ☺

References and article links used:

  1. Hooked — Nir Eyal
  2. “ A Behavior Model for Persuasive Design”
  3. Kan Ban Boards —
  4. Activation Triggers —
  5. Tech Companies are addicting people.
  6. The Binge Breaker —
  7. Why we need Ethical Design —
  8. Un-Hooked —

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