Habit Design and the New Behaviorism

I attended my first Habit Design Meetup last night and was introduced to a vibrant scene of Silicon Valley brainwashers, err, behavior designers.  Basically there are a bunch of folks trying to make products and services more engaging by studying the cognitive science around habits and behavior modification.

I developed an interest in this after attending Michael Kim’s presentation at QS 2012.  I want to install some better habits myself, including a daily writing habit.  I was a little disappointed that this particular meetup was more about people trying to modify the behavior of others instead of themselves.  But everyone was very friendly and I did learn a little about an area I was fairly ignorant of.

Michael Kim laid out 4 themes that he wants to explore in his habit design meetings:

  • Intrinsic motivation works and extrinsic motivation doesn’t, but intrinsic motivation is hard to create
  • Seligmans’s PERMA model of well-being is important to habit design: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and purpose, and Accomplishments
  • Every component of Duhigg’s habit loop is necessary: cue, routine, reward
  • Mobile devices are the optimal platform for captology… you heard me right, captology.  B.J. Fogg coined this term to describe the area where persuasion and computers overlap.

The first point is that a habit is comprised of: trigger/cue, routine, and reward.  BJ Fogg’s behavior model adds in the idea of how motivated you are and how able you are to carry out the routine.  (i.e. if you are not motivated, the routine must be easy for you to respnd to the trigger.)  McGonigal’s book on willpower shows ways to increase willpower (or motivation in Fogg’s model.)  One simple way to increase willpower is just to breate slowly (4-6 breaths per minute).  This triggers the para-sympathetic nervous system and I guess allows blood to flow back into your pre-frontal cortex.

I personally found my friend Robin Barooah’s advice most useful: habit design is just time management.  Simply upgrade less valuable activities in your daily routine with more valuable ones. (It might sound hard to do, but it’s working for me. I stopped reading news and blogs in the evening and found more time for writing.)  Robin is quite skeptical about this whole willpower depletion idea.

I want to read up on this more before making further comment, but I am particularly interested in Seligman’s PERMA idea.  I have been thinking that we shouldn’t seek happiness, but self-actualization.  Seligman seems to be saying that we need both and then some.  I am not sure how engagement or acheivement relate to enactive cognition: the exercise of skillful know-how in situated and embodied action.  But it seems that I should be able to cobble them into my conceptual framework to make something useful.