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 —

Hooked [1/2]

Our increasing dependency on technology, whether we’re aware of it or not, has been a growing cause of concern for many, including myself. It has reached a stage where it’s affecting other facets of my life and has prompted me to take corrective action. I recently read a great book called “Hooked” on how these dependencies are developed, and are in fact designed to be so. I’ll try and apply this theory to some of my experiences.

How do you get Hooked?

Hook Model

The Hook Model is a four stage loop designed to hook users into using a particular product. This idea can be extended to objects other than tech products as well. The more traverses you complete through the loop, the greater is your dependency.

Stage 1 — Trigger

A trigger is a cue, an itch, the actuator that enables a behavior. Triggers are of two types — internal and external. Internal triggers are feelings whereas external triggers are prompts made by products/environment to make the user perform an action. The key lies in timing the external trigger such that it reinforces the internal trigger and eventually takes the form of a habit., i.e. the trigger forms a solid association with the product.

Stage 2 — Action

This is the actual action that you as a user perform and gradually get addicted to. This action is performed in response to the itch that started it and in anticipation of a reward that satisfies the itch.

Stage 3 — Variable Reward

User action is usually driven by a need to receive rewards (small hits of dopamine) that will satisfy the itch. It has been seen that variable rewards (randomized occurrences) work best when you wish to get people to use your product or perform a certain action frequently. The hope of getting a reward makes the user perform the action over and over again like a headless chicken.

Stage 4 — Investment

This is the final stage of the Hook Model where the user makes a small investment (data, time, effort, money, social capital) and thereby now makes an association with the product, increasing the likelihood of the user making another pass through the loop.

How does this affect you?

I’ll use Facebook as an example to explain how this works. Our probability of taking a certain action requires three things: Motivation, Ability and Trigger. Action = M*A*T (all three required)

In this case,

M = Boredom, Social Validation, Gossip.

A = Having the App installed.

T = Notifications.

Part 1 — Getting you to join Facebook

FOMO. Enough said. Also, the legit use cases, of course.

Part 2— Getting you to open Facebook

Even if I don’t want to, it is clear that my probability of taking action (going to Facebook) is extremely high given my ability to take action (literally just clicking the app icon/pressing enter) exists and the trigger, in the form of a random notification drags me to Facebook where I eventually spend 20 odd minutes scrolling through my feed in anticipation of a great post, a friend’s status update or some interesting piece of news (all rewards).

Part 3— Getting you to stay on Facebook

The search for good content (rewards) makes you linger long enough until you find something interesting. Even if you had logged in just to take care of some notification, you’re easily dragged into scrolling through your feed in anticipation for rewards. Variable rewards however, are the best drivers of enagagement. You never know when someone will post/upload something new/interesting and hence you keep coming back for more.

Part 4— Getting you to come back to Facebook

Every time you update your status, upload a picture, add a new friend, you invest in the product and form an association with it. The longer this goes on, the stronger the association. Facebook has the added advantage of network effects, ownership of surrogate products (Instagram and Messenger) and that it’s users have practically their entire lives documented on Facebook.

What are the potential downsides? What are some preventive measures?

This is essentially a tool for manipulation that can be used control people’s behaviors. I don’t feel the need to elaborate the potential for misuse.

I’ll share my experiences of what I feel are the downsides of being hyperconnected through Facebook and why this addiction doesn’t bode well with me.

The most important downside is the amount of time I spend using it, despite not wanting to. It is so easy to log in, that there’s no time to think before clicking the icon/notification or pressing the enter key. This is one reason why I deactivate Facebook during endsems because I have low self-control when I’m bored while studying for an exam and it becomes a terrible distraction. The second is the misrepresentation of daily lives, presence of glorification posts, that portray a false narrative and inspire almost impossible, fictional lifestyles.

Another good way to have more control is to disable all app notifications. You decide when you’ve got time to check Facebook, Messenger or Whatsapp, rather than the app telling you to every few minutes/hours. That decision, when it rests in your hands gives you those extra few seconds to establish a self-checking mechanism and take corrective measures. This is true for every application on your phone that prompts you to take certain action. In a way, by enabling notifications, you are relinquishing your ability to control to the app. A month or so ago, I disabled all notifications on my phone and the results have been promising.

Preventing the action is simple — target M, A, or T.

M — Think over why you use certain products/do certain actions. This is the hardest part to tackle. However, it has a high degree of irreversibility, meaning this can be a permanent solution.

A — Uninstall/deactivate Facebook. Stop engaging in behavior that you don’t want to. Install preventive measures that actively reduce your ability to take that particular action.

T — Disable external triggers like notifications.

If you look closely at any habit-forming products you use, you will find numerous examples of tweaks that companies make, to maximize the time you spend on using their products. I’ll briefly mention some that I’ve observed on Facebook:

i. The removal of sign-out option on their website, essentially means that you’re logged in 24×7. Removal of the login button makes the transition smoother and opening Facebook extremely easy.

ii. While deactivating, it shows you a list of close friends with the message saying “X will miss you”, triggering FOMO on your friends’ activities.

iii. Suggestion for joining groups often come with one liners saying X (chosen strategically based on your engagement) is a part of this group, increasing your motivation to join that particular group and engaging more on Facebook.

I’m in the process of writing a second part to this blog post where I will try to focus on how we can use these tactics to develop positive behaviors and raise questions/provide opinions on the ethics of persuasive design. (Are the designers responsible for their users getting addicted? Are the users responsible for their own addictions?)


  1. Hooked — Nir Eyal is a great book if you wish to understand the Hook Model in greater detail.
  2. If you’re interested in understanding how behavior can be shaped by product design you should definitely read this paper by B.J. Fogg which forms the basis for persuasive design. “ A Behavior Model for Persuasive Design”

3. Image Source —

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 ☺