Digital social in habit formation
Last week, Obvious Corp — including Biz Stone and Evan Williams and the makers of Twitter and Odeo, and now Medium — launched a new app called Lift that purports itself to be a simple habit-tracking and self-improvement experience. (Funny, because I used to work for a nonprofit called LIFT, which strives to “lift” communities out of poverty).
I downloaded the app and tried it out myself. It was engaging for a couple days, and I received “props” from other members (who I did not personally know) for accomplishing certain habits. I was intrigued by Lift’s premise, but was not sure it would really work. Other than a public record of my habits and whether or not I am keeping them, as well as the social aspect of checking in (modeled after Foursquare, no doubt) and giving props to others, I am not entirely sure the app will be that successful. (Actually, do I really want my habits to be public, exactly? Or is a public record key to following through, in terms of accountability? Or is it just its trademark social aspect?)
What exactly is the reward for completing a habit? i.e., what makes this particular habit app different than the other habit apps in the App Store? It looks as if the social aspect might be Lift’s differentiator.
In terms of product, one particular gripe I had was that creating a new habit (that was not already created and existing in Lift’s database) was not as seamless as I had expected. I had to repeat the process to get Lift to recognize my new habit and register it on my account.
I actually bought a Habit List iOS app for $1.99 several months ago. That worked… for about a week. Yeah, I haven’t looked at it since, because I’d feel too guilty about how I haven’t kept up with it (sort of how I feel guilty about spending money and don’t use the Mint app — why do you want to be reminded of how less money you have?).
So I emailed BJ Fogg to get his input on the Lift app — what did he think an iOS app has to do in terms of features in order to complement something like the success of Tiny Habits?
This was his reply:
I’ve not used Lift.
But co-founder Tony was in my Persuasion Boot Camp about a year ago. The concepts of triggers and simplicity influenced him strongly, as you can see.
The role of *digital* social in habit formation remains an open question.
In terms of Tiny Habits, BJ recently released a presentation (now featured on SlideShare’s homepage) on celebrating your tiny successes. It’s these “rewards” that make me wonder how digital social can succeed in habit formation.
Looking at the HN discussion, I found people had several gripes: no privacy settings — all habits and checkins are public, no Android, binary nature, no scheduled intervals/frequencies, etc. All acknowledged Lift’s elegant design and simple interface and suggested other potential alternatives that have worked for other users: BeeMinder, Don’t Break the Chain, Daytum, Daily Deeds, Votodo, Habitualist, and Everest.
I guess my question is — is there such thing as a Tiny Habits equivalent to an iOS/Android app? Will there ever be a “one size fits all” kind of app that takes care of the habit-forming structure like Tiny Habits does, celebrating tiny successes and all?
I think some definite improvements Lift could make is to integrate “badges” and “awards” like Foursquare does as a user racks up checkins depending on the location, activity, nature of the checkin, etc. Another suggestion can be to simply limit the number of habits (assuming you want to form and track new habits, not existing ones) — for hyperfocus and success. I think there are some to-do list apps out there that strictly limit your to-do list to 3 most important to-do’s, because it gets too overwhelming if you have a list of 20 things to do (likewise, if your habit list runs beyond 10 or so).
It gets tiring on me to always have to “check in” on an app to register that I completed a habit — at the same time, Lift does not question the nature or simplicity of your habits (ex. how feasible are they, really? that is, flossing one tooth after brushing your teeth is far better to building that habit than flossing your teeth twice a day). That in itself can set you up for failure if you are too ambitious in your habit making. There’s also the other question of in building habits, do I really want the reward/trigger to rely on what others do/think of my habits (the social aspect)? I personally don’t like too much Internet reliance on top of how much time I spend on the Internet already — and what if your iPhone is out of battery? You have no service? Would you simply not complete your habits, then? At the same time, one would need a simple way of tracking how successful one’s new habits are (even if it is as simple as Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity secret of marking X’s on a calendar)… keyword: simple. Just some things to think about.
Barking Up the Wrong Tree has a post on the 5 steps for changing habits, and even Seth Godin briefly muses on the rewards and punishments of habits. TechCrunch ran an article earlier this year on how Habits are the New Viral: Why Startups Must Be Behavior Experts.
And, just for fun, a blog on the daily routines and habits of writers.