Have you made any New Year’s Resolutions for 2017? At Lumosity, we often hear from users around this time of year who tell us that one of their New Year’s Resolutions is to make Lumosity training a regular habit. Our User Experience (UX) team works to understand how Lumosity members experience the product—what they love, what they don’t, what makes them return to the product and what might hinder them from making Lumosity part of their daily routines. These insights lay the foundation for our UX team to design more enriching and engaging experiences.
Over the years, we’ve developed a few different features to help members make Lumosity a habit—like training reminders. Last month we released our new Workout Modes feature to make it easy for our users to train in different styles. We also released the cognitive “Insights” feature that let users unlock rewarding analyses of their gameplay trends and patterns after they have trained with a number of games.
In his role as a UX Director at Lumosity and his graduate work at Georgia Institute of Technology, Abhishek Gupta has spent quite a lot of time researching and thinking about frameworks for designing habit forming experiences. Whatever your New Year’s resolutions are for 2017—Lumosity-related or not—Abhi has some thoughts on how you can make this the year you stick with them.
It’s hard to stick to resolutions over a long period, but it’s still better than not making them at all. Only about 8% of people are successful in achieving their resolutions and less than half of that maintain it past the six-month mark. However, people who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions.
To successfully follow through with your resolutions and keep your new habits, it’s important to put emphasis on the way you start. Here are a few tips:
Start with a resolution setting exercise
Begin by dedicating a chunk of time to defining your resolutions and planning ahead. Block an hour one morning on your calendar near the beginning of a new year, and use this time to determine your resolutions. Write them down—and avoid distractions by using a notebook and pen.
The Pre-Mortem Exercise
The practice of conducting pre-mortems was invented by psychologist Gary Klien and popularized by Daniel Kahneman. Pre-mortem exercises are catching on in the business world to help mitigate the risk of failure, too. What you want to do is think ahead and imagine that you have failed to stick with your resolutions, and ask yourself why. Generating a list of plausible reasons for your potential failure will help you be mindful of what might hinder you down the road.
The Fail-safes Exercise
As a next step, come up with solutions for those reasons for potential failures. To keep a new habit, it’s important to create fail-safes for two types of inevitable roadblocks: short-term procrastination and long-term habit maintenance (see below for examples).
The Fine-tuning Exercise
Next, fine-tune your resolution based on the solutions for your failure scenarios. Make your resolution specific and easily measurable on an ongoing basis. Barring major unforeseen life events, the pre-mortem exercise and the designed fail-safes will help you see your resolution through to the end.
Short-term procrastination scenario:
Let’s say your resolution is to practice playing violin more often. In your pre-mortem, you realize that you could fail because you tend to come home tired after work and feel too lazy to even pick up the violin. For this scenario, you could design a fail-safe that forces you to pick it up without thinking: you could place the violin on the chair you sit in. This could stop you from procrastinating as you have to pick up the violin before you sit down. You can now fine-tune your resolution to be more specific: practice the violin for 2 minutes each time you sit in your chair after work.
Long-term habit maintenance scenario:
Let’s say your resolution is to go to sleep on time each day. In your pre-mortem, you realize that you could fail because you tend to stay out with your friends almost every night. For this scenario, you can design a fail-safe where you set expectations with your friends about your new bedtime. You ask your friends to be your support system and agree beforehand on a cut-off time. You can then fine-tune your resolution to be more specific and measurable: Go to sleep by 10:00 PM at least 6 days each week.
Part of my role at Lumosity is to enable our users to stick with the habit of training. Learnings from the UX field and insights from authors such as Charles Duhigg, B.J. Fogg and Nir Eyal have helped us design features that help members form a new habit.
One framework that you can use to keep your resolutions is to design a Cue-Routine-Reward loop for yourself:
A Cue is a trigger that reminds you to do the action you intend to perform. A strategy called Habit Chaining can be helpful here, whereby you link your new resolution with something you’re already in the habit of doing. Identify an existing habit and then place a Cue that you’d likely notice in the path of performing an existing habit (e.g., place your violin—the cue—in the comfy chair you tend to sit in after work).
A Routine is the action you intend to perform repeatedly. A strategy called Tiny Habits can be helpful. A tiny habit is the smallest action you can do that still feels meaningful (e.g. playing the violin for just 2 minutes). Do something tiny, consistently—it doesn’t take a lot of effort to get into the habit, but the power of inertia can get you to maintain that habit longer. This can help you accrue benefits over time.
A Reward is something that provides you with gratification for sticking with your habit. A strategy called Withholding can help. Hold back something you desire and have it become a reward for following through with your resolution (e.g., no dessert until you practice the violin). Replace your reward periodically with something new to sustain your habit for the long-term.
Structuring the cue-routine-reward loop will make it easier for you to form and sustain new habits. Make sure to reward yourself for reaching key milestones. Also make sure to check in on your progress regularly, adjust your strategy as necessary, and ensure that these habits are moving you closer to your resolutions and goals.