This excellent SXSW panel discussed how to to create meaningful change in people’s lives with small changes in habits. Can we leverage inexpensive sensors and self-tracking apps to scale what works? We have the technology to collect a tremendous amount of personal health and activity data. However, the data is only truly valuable if it can be turned into positive behavior change.
Stef Habif (@StephHabif), a behaviorial scientist, now at Stanford D-School, shared her coaching experience. She told a story of “Lucy”, transforming her health in 7 months by creating healthy habits. Dramatic effects could be seen in a relatively short time, but Stef actually moved in for 3 months of the intensive work. The work was to create simple, yet powerful habits: leave your walking shoes in front of the door, so you trip over them when you walk out of the house. Thousands of small changes that composed a custom program that she created in collaboration with Lucy.
Jeff Holove (@jef_holove), CEO of Basis, and Tim Chang (@timechange), an investor in Basis from Mayfield Fund, are optimistic that self-tracking devices along with software that promotes healthy habits will create behavioral change on a massive scale. Tim spoke of “infecting your mind with the awareness of data;” however, Stef responded that knowledge is not enough — social is important, emotional is important. We need to “stir up the desire engine.”
Stef referred to the work of Nir Eyal, who has constructed a framework for creating “the hook” — strong motivation that forms habits and move people. Stef reported that health behavior change only works when it is placed in a meaningful context and tied to a social system.
Jeff demonstrated how Basis presents very small goals that are eminently achievable, drawing a parallel with the simple habit of the shoes in front of the door.
Tim suggested that apps should tie into one of the 7 deadly sins. The prospect of improving health is less of a motivator than lust or pride. He believes that “social” is about self-promotion, but I think for many people the social context provides a support network. Both Tim and Stef spoke in different ways about how the people you spend time with influence your behavior.
Stef talked about the success of AA and WeightWatchers, which have strong real-world social components. People who actually follow-through on the self-tracking required for WeightWatchers are more successful in losing weight. Is the act of tracking itself what contributes to their success? It is not known whether they would be as successful if that tracking were automatic, passive rather than active. These groups establish a culture for their participants that helps them be successful.
We don’t really know what works, but a lot of people are studying it, like BJ Fogg also at Stanford.
Stef noted that curiosity is form of “brain pain.” Satisfying curiosity can motivate drive.
“Human willpower is a depletable resource” — Tim
“Never rely or depend on motivation or willpower, just capitalize on it while its there” — Stef
Michael Copeland (@MVC) who did a fabulous job moderating the panel, closed with this summary:
- Emotion not Logic
- Baby steps, make habits happen
- Social systems are important