Habit-Formation Methods

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Methods to Form Habits for users of your app.

6 Requirements

Combining information from these following 2 sources, produces the following list of methods to build a habit forming app.

In the app, you need:

  1. A structured, personalised strategy.
  2. Improvement insights.
  3. Reminders about strategy changes.
  4. Rewards.
  5. Disable reminders when behaviour is routine.
  6. Checks if habit has already happened.

Streaks app, an example of the first 4 requirements.

This article focuses on 2 primary sources, a paper from Switzerland and my MSc Supervisors PhD.

First, the paper from Switzerland.

Habit Forming apps, need to have 3 characteristics.

  1. Meaningful
  2. Gamified
  3. Persuasive

The Taxonomy of Motivational Affordances offers 5 design principles, 6 mechanics and 7 elements to change users behaviour.

5 Design Principles

  1. Offer meaningful suggestions
    • Make users aware of behaviour that is harmful to achieving their goal
    • Offer meaningful alternatives to their current behaviour that doesn’t align with their goal
  2. Support User Choice
    • Give users chance to set their own goals (or not even set a single goal)
    • Be careful about users feeling patronized if 1 form of behaviour is available.
  3. Provide User Guidance
    • Give users clear, structured information to help identify the desired outcome and supporting users by suggesting how they can achieve it.
  4. Provide personalized experience
    • Let users express their identity.
  5. Design for every stage of behaviour change
    • System should provide ways to collect, integrate and reflect on behaviour-related data, such that the user is aware of problematic behaviour.

6 Mechanics / Interaction between user and the system

  1. Feedback
    • Haptic, Visual or auditory information about the users current state.
    • Hard to determine when to give users feedback.
    • Instant feedback creates a stronger link between behaviour and its consequences.
    • Accumulated feedback with historical comparison, helps with self-monitoring and aids with making users aware of their behaviour.
  2. User Education
    • Provides advice on what tasks users should perform.
    • Best in early stages of behaviour change.
    • ‘You must do x’ will have little impact on behaviour change, because it lacks contextual information.
  3. Challenges
    • Give users little difficult tasks
    • Users with no goals, will find these effective
    • Gives user ability to split up task into smaller chunks
    • Provide reasonable default challenges, as little people deviate from defaults
  4. Rewards
    • A good form of external motivation because they don’t change the ability to perform a behaviour, unless the reward itself is a tool that increases ability
    • Provide strong motivational source, but like all extrinsic motivators, these are less effective for changing behaviour in the long run, because externally motivated behaviour lasts as long as the external motivator exists.
    • Identifying methods that enable internalization of externally motivated behaviour is TBC.
  5. Competition & Comparison
    • Increase motivation in people who are naturally competitive
    • Although be careful as when different skill levels compete, it can have a negative affect!
  6. Cooperation
    • Appeals to relatedness
    • Effective in settings where users are naturally social and have diverse levels of knowledge
    • Anonymous team cooperation is less effective

7 Elements

  1. Assignments, Quests and Goals
    • Assignments: Turn the longer habit into smaller assignments to make it more joyful. Careful to not make them forced.
    • Quests: Same as assignments, but optional
    • Goals: User specified to support user autonomy. Should be specific and challenging to get better results
  2. Points, Credits and Levels
    • Points: Represent status and signal advancement towards a goal.
    • Credits: Can be traded for other components within a system
  3. Achievements and badges

  4. Virtual Goods

  5. Leader-boards and collections

  6. Friends, teams and groups

  7. Reminders

Second, the PhD.

The PhD by my supervisor Katarzyna Stawarz lists 6 requirements based on research into the area for habit formation for mobile apps.

6 Requirements

  1. Help users define a good remembering strategy.
    • Clearly defined multi-cue routines are the most effective.
  2. Provide examples of good remembering strategies.
    • People do not always know what constitutes a good strategy.
  3. Provide suggestions for strategy improvements and support changes.
    • Finding the right cues takes time and is a result of trial and error.
  4. Remind about cues and remembering strategies.
    • Reminders can support prospective memory in the short term.
  5. Disable cue reminders when the behaviour becomes a part of a routine.
    • Relying on reminders in the long term can hinder habit development.
  6. Help users check whether the habit has already happened.
    • It is easy to forget whether a task done automatically has been completed.

My 6 Requirements

Combining information from these following 2 sources, produces the following list of methods to build a habit forming app.

  1. Define a personalised, structured strategy with tasks
  2. Give insights for improvements.
  3. Remind them about remembering strategies.
  4. Give Rewards
  5. Disable reminders when behaviour is routine.
  6. Check if habit has already happened

1. Help users define a good remembering strategy

1a. Give users little difficult tasks (challenges)

1b. Give them Competition & Comparison & Cooperation

2. Give insights for strategy improvements and support changes.

3. Remind them about cues and remembering strategies.

4. Rewards

5. Disable cue reminders when behaviour is routine.

6. Check if habit has already happened

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