Think about all the products you use on an everyday basis: your smartphone, your must-check apps and favorite websites. How did these products succeed in getting you to adopt them in your daily routines?
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal not only explains the psychological processes that go into forming habits, it also shows how companies can build products to take advantage of this tendency.
Every New Year’s eve, people make resolutions to quit drinking, eat more healthily or get more exercise. When midnight strikes, we really are fully committed to making these changes. So why is it that on January fifth most of us find ourselves sitting on the couch munching chips and guzzling beer?
Well, the short answer is that it’s due to our habits: activities we’ve become so accustomed to doing that we engage in them without much conscious thought. Habits emerge because our brain is eager to save time, so in most situations it will make us do whatever it was that worked last. For example, a habit of biting your nails when nervous probably emerged because your brain remembers that nail-biting once helped you release stress, so now you do it unconsciously.
The trouble with habits is, it’s very difficult to permanently change them. In fact, research has shown that even if we change our routines, the neural pathways of the old habit remain intact in our brains and are very easily reactivated. This is illustrated by the fact that two thirds of alcoholics who finish a detox program start drinking again within a year. No wonder we have such trouble with a simple New Year’s resolution.
So how can you possibly succeed in adopting a new habit?
The easiest way is to repeat it frequently. One study showed that students who wanted to get into the habit of flossing their teeth regularly were more successful the more frequently they engaged in flossing.
If it can’t be repeated often, the new habit has to be very useful to still be adopted successfully. Consider online retailer Amazon: Most people don’t use Amazon everyday, but shopping there still constitutes a habit for many of us, despite countless other online stores to choose from.
Amazon’s direct price comparison between other retailers is so handy, that users make a habit out of shopping there even if it is only infrequently. Due to their many advantages, many companies strive to deliberately make their products habit-forming. But how can this be done successfully?
They should try to adhere to the so-called Hook model. The Hook model is a cycle consisting of four steps that, when repeated often enough, will lead the user to form a habit around the product in question.
The four stages are:
• The trigger: an external event that gets us to try a product the first time, for example a TV
time, for example a TV commercial.
• The action: what we need to do in order to use the product, for example registering on an online community.
• The reward: the fulfillment of the need that originally motivated us to take action, for example being entertained if the motivation was boredom.
• The investment: something of value that we have invested in the product, such as time, money or information.
The last step leads back to the start of the cycle and as these steps are repeated over and over again, the user starts to develop internal triggers instead of external ones. This means they will feel the impulse to use the product all on their own, even without external stimuli.
Over time, the internal triggers become stronger so that eventually the user will not even think about whether or not she wants to use the product, but rather just does it. The cycle becomes an unstoppable chain-reaction.
The Hook Model is a fascinating self reinforcing cycle that shapes our long-term behaviour. So now you know. And the choice to get hooked is yours.
Check out my related post: How do you do something you don’t know how to do?