I’ve mentioned here before that I’m a bit of a Type A personality. As such, I track lots of things in my life. What I eat, how I exercise, how I sleep, how much time I spend commuting to work, etc. Tracking something is a good way to establish a habit because you are what you measure, or rather you become what you measure.
But not everyone is as Type A as me. Others find tracking for the sake a tracking an annoyance instead of a gravitational pull like I do. If they want to establish a habit, they need an incentive to track their behavior, like a game.
Linking a behavior to a game helps me establish a habit as well. I mentioned in a previous post, the Savings Habit, that I made saving money a game by monitoring my net worth on Mint.com. Seeing that increase was the reward that reinforced my savings routine the habit loop.
Companies have noticed the link between games and habits too, and they are trying to capitalize on it. Weight Watchers has long used a point system to incentivize members to monitor their eating in order to form healthier habits.
The Weight Watchers system is innocuous, but recently it seems like ‘Gamification’ has exploded. There are mobile app games to motivate you to diet, exercise, meditate, sleep, think…the list is endless. If you want to start (or break) a habit, I’m confident there’s an app to help you out there somewhere. Is this a good thing?
I mentioned in a previous post about Renting a Habit that I used an app to help start my meditation habit. The app used a lot gamification features to get me to meditate. It track the number days I meditated and if I did enough of it the app would unlock new levels. (Hooray! How fun is that!?) The app definitely helped reinforced the habit, but it also wanted me to pay to continue receiving its motivation. Therein lies the problem, you have to pay to play, and I don’t think you should be paying for your own habit.
At a certain point gamification feels manipulative to me. The games are designed to be addictive. They are not addictive to reinforce your desired behavior. They are addictive to get you to keep using the company’s service (as a paying customer). In a lot of cases, that service is no longer needed, so you’re really paying for nothing; or even worse paying for an unwelcome distraction. That’s what happened to me with Lumosity.
Lumosity is a brain training game. It’s supposed to make you smarter. I always want to be smarter so I started using it’s free product (again, I really hate paying for subscriptions) when I was bored at my previous job and needed some external stimulation during my lunch break. The games were fun and Lumosity showed me I was improving things like my memory and problem solving.
Lumosity also because very adidicting. I had to get my fix every day and would become upset if my score went down for reasons unknown. This fun little game was becoming a monster that I couldn’t control. With my new job and life, I didn’t have time for it. I had to quit it cold turkey, deleting the app from all of my mobile devices.
My point is, making a habit a game is an effective way to reinforce a desired behavior. But many times you’re playing someone else’s game and that entity probably doesn’t have your desired behavior as its motivation for you playing. Instead of playing someone else’s game, make up your own game to reinforce a habit.
Thanks for reading.