UPDATE: After reflection, the remarks below have been revised and extended.
Habits are first cobwebs, then cables, as the saying goes, and the transition from cobweb to cable takes time and consistency, but after four weeks (or 30 days, your choice), a habit is commonly taken to be well established. True cablehood probably takes longer, but 30 consecutive successful days lays a good foundation.
The problem is the consistency part. It’s quite easy to skip a day—just one day—early on, and since you skipped that day, the next day is harder, so maybe restart come Monday… and so it goes.
I have some habits I definitely need to establish. Since giving up Pilates, my primary form of physical exercise has been keyboarding, which obviously is not quite enough. A 45-minute walk daily would be better. (It is some help that my new domicile is on the second floor.)
A long time ago, I signed up at HabitForge.com, and after getting a couple of “come back” emails, I thought I would give it another go. When you enter a habit you want to work on, a drop down list of suggestions appears—obviously, a lot of people want to work on the same habits. I picked up “brush teeth at least twice a day and floss at least once”—why not, and my flossing’s not been what it should be. And I added “45 minute walk daily” and “small lunch and small dinner” to the list, plus “make and follow a daily plan”.
That’s four habits, a reasonably small number. I’m in the second full day, and it seems effective. Somehow, the goal of clicking “I’ve already succeeded” once I’ve accomplished the daily task is quite specific and finite. Whereas (say) a walk is of a kind of indefinite size/time and thus somewhat intimidating, clicking “I’ve already succeeded” is not, and it becomes quickly something the client very much wants to do. So the focus shifts from the walk (both extent and extended action being difficult to picture in the imagination) to the click (very specific and brief and can readily be pictured): I thus see the walk as something to get out of the way so I can click “Succeed” and add another step in the sequence. Same with meals, brushing, and planning: each one is not that big a deal, and by getting them done on consecutive days (which is actually pretty easy), I get to click. Missing a day is severely penalized, with the severity increasing pretty much in line with strength of habit.
And so the habit grows. Worth a look, definitely. (If you miss a day, I assume the arrow goes back to zero—and I’m not testing that.)
My one requested enhancement: each click, instead of simply advancing an arrow one step around a circle (21 days) should work like this:
Clicking “success” suspends a thread from a beam; if there were already 3 threads there, those are first braided into a string and the new thread then added; if the new string makes 3 strings present, those are first braided into a cord and then the new thread is added; if the new cord makes 3 cords present, they are first braided into a rope and then the new thread is added; if the new rope makes 4 ropes, those are first braided into a cable, and then a new thread is added; if the new cable makes 3 cables, the three are braided into a supercable, and a “You win!!” message of some sort flashes. Because success is self-reported, and thus easy to fake, the prize must be of low monetary value. My suggestion: Restart the game but the winner (the guy who made it all the way without missing a single day—for that would restart the game with a bonus of n threads, when the nth restart begins: a small bonus, just to pull them into the next cycle; for some, the bonus will in time be substantial—probably a prize is due the person who achieves number of consecutive restarts = “rope” (or “cable”).
If a day is missed, the beam is cleared, and you start again, with a click of “success” suspending n threads from the beam (braidings as needed) where n is the number of consecutive restarts.
1 Thread = 1 consecutive successful completion
1 String = (3+1) consecutive successful completions since the string is not braided until the next consecutive successful completion: the idea is that in order to see the little “prize” (of watching the braiding), you have to get 1 step into the next cycle: a sunk cost. And since the Sunk Cost Fallacy is frightfully common, this keeps them going: “I don’t want to lose all the progress I’ve made!” and/or “Only two more days to the next braiding!”, which you think on every third day.
1 Cord = (9+1) consecutive successful completions, for the same reason.
1 Rope = (27+1) ditto
1 Cable = (81+1) ditto
1 Super-cable = (243+1) ditto
One expects VERY few to achieve Super-Cable, but the existence of so many levels encourages the client to strive hard not to miss a day because s/he is going to beat the previous record. Thus the encouragement continues long beyond the initial 28-day period: they can keep going, and the further they go, the more determined they become not to miss a day and product a somewhat progressive restart.
So it’s kind of a game, and it also reflects in the strengthening bond how the habit becomes increasingly stronger. And the ultimate level is far enough away that achieving it will be rare, but not so far as to be impossible (as, effectively, (729+1) would be), but also avoids the Super-Super Cable. It starts to sound too much like “Final complete corrected file with the added records and Residual-indicator reset – Try 1″.
I suggest the display show:
a. Highest level ever achieved
b. Number of Restarts achieved
c. A glowing emblem with a number n atop it, n being the number of Super-Cables achieved. Thus players will be encouraged to continue to get some brass on the wall.
How far he’s come from the most recent Restart is shown by the thread/string/cord/etc. display. I encourage no arabic numeral count be shown because the larger number grows intimidating: you really are in the position of Allied troops on the slog through Europe in WWII: you keep going until you are killed. The same thing with bomber crews. Sure, they got to return home after 25 successful missions (did not have to be consecutive, thank God) But seeing the thread/string/etc. display grow, the client feels that s/he is building something, and the creative impetus provides substantial motivation. Thus the images pull the client along, but the numbers would push him/her down.
Feel free to suggest the above device if you try HabitForge, and it’s worth trying if you have a habit you want to establish. Working on one habit is free—and in general, one should not try too many habits at a time. Four is probably stretching it.