Habit Design

July 10, 2014


Habit Design™ is the largest national cooperative in the USA for sharing best practices in developing sustainable daily habits that last beyond 100 days. Their goal is to spawn local “habit labs” across the world; over 8,000 members have participated representing 500+ companies, universities, non-profits, and other organizations.

Habit Design™ synthesizes applied research across a wide range of habit designers including entrepreneurs, Wellness companies & professionals, non-profits, trainers, coaches, academics, and everyday enthusiasts. Some methods, tools, & frameworks we’ve covered include Behavior-Change Psychology, Captology (Persuasive Technology), Game Mechanics & Techniques, Behavioral Economics, Sociology, etc.

Colleagues that have shared their research with Habit Design™ include Dr. BJ Fogg (Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab), Leo Babauta (Zenhabits.net), New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg (author of “The Power of Habit”), Dr. David Sobel (Kaiser Permanente), Dr. Kelly McGonigal, et.al. By integrating these crowdsourced best-practices, Habit Design™ tries to advance innovation in the community.

Habit Design was founded by Michael Kim – CEO/Founder of Kairos Labs – in San Francisco – who coined “behavior change gaming” – “games that apply behavior change and cognitive behavioral psychology in order to affect self-development”.

In this talk, given at the Next in Health Innoventions – Models for Change Conference 2011 in Seattle, Mike Kim identified “4 key mechanics” for changing behavior:

1. The Fogg behavior model– a framework for behavior change developed

by Stanford researcher BJ Fogg (whose work focuses on how technology can persuade behavior and decision-making of people.

The behavior model categorizes behavior into 15 types (one-shot, perpetual, foreign, familiar, start, stop, etc.) and is based on the simple formula of B = M*A*T [translated as behavior is contingent upon motivation, ability, and a trigger for that behavior to occur].  When a behavior does not occur, at least one of those three elements is missing.

Using Fogg’s Behavior Model (FBM) as a guide, designers can identify what stops people from performing behaviors that designers seek. For example, if users are not performing a target behavior, such as rating hotels on a travel web site, the FBM helps designers see what psychological element is lacking.


According to the Fogg Model, it is easier to first focus a behavior change design not on an individual’s motivation for an activity, but rather, by simply just making it easier to perform the target behavior.


The FBM highlights three principal elements, each of which has subcomponents. Specifically, the FBM outlines three Core Motivators (Motivation), six Simplicity Factors (Ability), and three type of Triggers. The subcomponents define the larger elements. For example, in the FBM the word Ability refers to the how the six Simplicity Factors work together in the context of a Trigger.

Many other people have proposed ways to understand persuasion and behavior change, dating back to Aristotle in ancient Greece. What makes the Fogg Behavior Model different from previous work? According to Fogg, the FBM shows how behavior is the result of three specific elements coming together at one moment. Next, the FBM explains the subcomponents of each element. In addition, the FBM shows that motivation and ability can be traded off (e.g., if motivation is very high, ability an be low). Finally, the FBM applies most directly to practical issues of designing for behavior change using today’s technology.

Mike Kim noted some examples of designs in line with this model, including donothingfor2minutes.com (which requires a user to focus on a serene vista for 2 minutes, with the timer resetting if the keyboard or mouse is touched) and Daily Challenge (which triggers users by sending you a daily email at 7am containing directions for a small behavior you can do to improve your health and wellbeing).

2. Timely “A-ha” Feedback Loops – Kim noted that there is currently a lot of buzz about using mobile techs delivering “just-in-time” feedback about user states or behavior.

Thus, Kim was quick to make clear that for this to produce effective behavior change, it needs to include more than just data-tracking and quantified results; it needs to actually provide a context for motivating the user toward a particular behavior.

Some interesting examples Kim shared with the audience included Massive Health’s eatery app (in which user upload pictures of what they are eating, which are then rated as relatively good or bad to eat by the community of users, providing first direct and then later vicarious reinforcement even outside of the game), Nike Plus’ “Cheer Me On” feature (in which your run is posted to Facebook and your friends are invited to cheer you as you go, resulting in audible cheers in your headphones), and Zamzee (a pedometer integrated with a gamine portal for winning real and virtual rewards, with reward patterns adapting to individual user behavior patterns).