Work in progress | Bachelor final project in Design of Interactive Media, Faculty of Digital Arts
The answer is simple - helping them form strong, positive habits. But forming a habit is hard work, especially when you are trying to do something you have never done before. How do I meditate? For how long? What do I focus on while doing it? What's the best thing I could do to improve my health? There are too many unknowns that make it hard to start and very easy to quit. There are already many ways to track single activities like running or calorie intake, but they often focus too strongly on a single thing.
There is a gap that Habits is trying to fill. How does individual activities fit into the context of a persons life? Accomplishing long term goals like having more energy or writing a book requires complex personalized journey if we want them to be successful. How would a solution based on research and human-centered design process look like?
Currently I’m conducting ethnographic interviews to find out how people have succeeded, how they have failed, what were main difficulties, which methods they used to motivate themselves and stick to such habits. What did they rely on for the support? How did they get up when they failed?
A habit is learned behavior that becomes automatic when repeated regularly in the same context (every day after lunch, etc). We use them all the time as a way to save the willpower for other tasks. Remember how, in the beginning, it was impossible to use clutch, stick-shift, mirrors, concentrate on the road and drive at the same time? After all the actions became habitual, you would no longer notice them. Unfortunately, this system can backfire and create bad habits, which often clash with our goals and then everything gets more complicated.
To learn a new habit we need several factors aligned:
Wood and Neal (2007) have created a framework that tries to explain how habits are linked to goals. Main premises are:
In a study done by Lally et al. (2010), time needed to reach maximum automaticity (habit strength) varied between 18 and 254 days, with the average time of 84 days. Related, the 21-day for creating a habit is a myth. (Forbes, 2013).
Things get a bit more complex when we consider a conflict between existing and wanted behavior, and willpower depletion.
There is a multitude of solutions people use to create habits – from personal coaching for exercise and diet related habits, to self-tracking mobile apps, to calendars and to-do lists. While researching existing solutions, patterns started to emerge:
I have identified several groups of people for the ethnographic interviews. Main group consists of people who are aware of need for some change in life, have already tried to stick with a habit like stretching-out daily, but haven't achieved the wanted outcome. They may have tried some of the solutions for habit tracking and goal pursuit, but found most of them burdensome and unhelpful.
The second group I want to interview consists of people with successfully formed long-lasting positive habits, such as studying every day or practicing piano regularly.
The third one consists of people who failed and quit. What are the obstacles they couldn’t overcome and why?
Until ethnographic interviews are done and analyzed, no great value comes out of speculation. However, some additional questions emerged that affect the interviews and open up new possibilities.
Although it is too early to choose an approach, there are already some potential directions that need to be tested with prototyping and other means:
Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C., Potts, H., and Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.674
Selk, J. (n.d.). Habit Formation: The 21-Day Myth. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonselk/2013/04/15/habit-formation-the-21-day-myth/
Wood, W., & Neal, D. T. (2007). A new look at habits and the interface between habits and goals. Psychological Review, 114:843–863.
Neal DT, Wood W, Drolet A. (2013) How do people adhere to goals when willpower is low? The profits (and pitfalls) of strong habits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 104(6):959–975.