Nir Eyal is the author of Hooked: How to Create Habit Forming Products. During this episode, Ryan takes a closer look at the things in our lives that cause us to create habits and how to unhook ourselves.
During the span of a few years, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have had such a profound impact on our lives and have become part of our daily habits. What makes companies that are so good at changing consumer behavior able to do so?
The answer is that they follow a predictable design pattern, ‘the hook,’ which involves four basic steps: 1) Trigger, 2) Action, 3) Reward, and 4) Investment. It is through successive cycles through these hooks that our preferences are shaped. Our tastes are formed and habits take hold. By understanding the basic steps, we are able to build products, and also unhook ourselves and avoid unwanted manipulation.
How We Get Hooked:
An external trigger has information that tells us what to do next such as ‘click here’ or ‘call now.’
This is incredibly easy such as scrolling on Pinterest, searching on Google, or pushing the play button on YouTube.
Rewards are typically variable and are something that feels good and has the element of mystery.
This is when the user puts something into the product for a future benefit in order to either load the next trigger to bring the user back or store value in the product with data, followers, reputation, or content.
Over time, an association is formed with an internal trigger, which are cues in our environment where no explicit information is needed but rather an emotion, routine, or situation prompts the user to use the product on their own. For example, when a user is bored, they use Facebook.
Not every product or service needs to form a habit or unprompted user engagement. If you need people to come back on their own without relying on adverts and messaging, then ask yourself the following five questions
1. What is the internal trigger that would bring the customer back with enough frequency to form a habit?
2. What is the external trigger that gives the user some kind of information for what to do next?
3. What is the action, and how can it be made simpler?
4. What is the variable reward that gives the user what they want yet leaves a bit of mystery?
5. What is the investment (the work the user does) to bring them back?
It doesn’t matter what product you are building. If used with sufficient frequency, then you need to answer these five fundamental questions in order to ensure you have your hook in place.
Email As An Example:
Email is probably the biggest of the habit-forming products. The solution to internal anxiety and the way to scratch the itch is to open the email app on the phone (action). There a many variable rewards when it comes to using email such as receiving messages, who they are from, and what is being said. The investment is when you reply via email, you are loading the next trigger, as you are likely to get a reply.
Habit vs. Addiction:
A habit is an impulse to do a behavior with little or no conscience thought. 40% of what one does every day is done out of habit, which is behaving without thinking about what you are doing. One of the defining characteristics of a habit is when not doing the behavior causes pain. An addiction is a compulsive dependency on a behavior or substance. Addictions are always bad and hurt the user.
We need to be aware of products that are changing our lives in ways we don’t like. In order to get control over these habits, we need to understand how they work. Breaking the hook involves systematically removing the unwanted triggers and making the action more difficult, displacing the variable rewards, and not investing in the products.
Attention Retention Devices
Part of the solution is using technology to fight technology and break the hook. Freedom is a product that enables users to shut off their internet connection at designated times in order to allow them not to do online activities. Reevaluation involves asking, ‘Is this technology serving me, or am I serving this technology?’ If we know how the triggers work, then it’s possible to stack the deck in our favor to build healthy habits.
Only 25% of people change their notification settings. Use attention retention devices so you aren’t triggered with notifications. If an app is not crucial to your day, then turn it off and avoid the interruption.
Make Actions More difficult:
Add friction to using the products such as Freedom, which makes it difficult to get online. Save the variable rewards for later by using an app such as Pocket or Instapaper.