On Habit Formation Experiments (and an Explanation of My Public Goal Accountability Experiment)
It’s been a whopping two months since I last wrote! My brain can’t quite comprehend how that much time flew by so quickly, but it has. The great news about this is that I have some interesting data to share!
My goal for 2016 was to look at the mistakes I made in regards to habit formation in 2015 and use that information to change my approach for goal setting this year. A large part of my problem has always been trying to make too many changes at one time. This year, I made a monthly chart and wrote 1-2 things I’d like to add to my routine or change for each month. I then decided which habit formation methods I was going to try in 2016 and decided on the following: MOTI, a Public Goal Accountability Spreadsheet, a Facebook Accountability group, Coach.Me app/site, and Way of Life app. Some of these I’ve already stopped using, others are going strong! Details ahead…
MOTI, as described by the company, is a “personable new smart object that helps you form better habits.” The way I explain MOTI to people is that it is a little “dude” who sits on your desk and uses visual cues in the form of lights to remind you to complete your habit, and then to reward you when you achieve it. You can choose which MOTI model you get, and I chose the one with little ears because it helped for me to think of it as a being more than an object.
MOTI has three modes (or moods): Encouraging, Sad, and Mad. Depending on which mode you use, the MOTI will show a white, blue, or red light until you complete your habit. When you complete your habit you press MOTI’s button and are rewarded with a fun little light show (I call it a dance party sometimes), then MOTI’s lights then turn green to indicate you’ve completed your habit. You can use MOTI’s web interface to set the number of times per day you want to complete your habit, and have the option to add the times you hope to complete it. The web interface provides you with a chart of how you’re making progress with your habit, a habit score, and a tally of how many days in a row you’ve successfully completed your habit.
I discovered MOTI almost exactly a year ago when I was fortunate enough to hear about them on Twitter just as they were requesting Beta testers. I was thrilled to be chosen and I received my MOTI in June of last year. Unfortunately, I received MOTI just as I was leaving my job and unbeknownst to me just before my life was about to get the most hectic it’s been! In addition to life being really weird at the time, I also didn’t have Internet at home then and didn’t realize I couldn’t connect MOTI to the free city-wide internet in Philadelphia. I tried to use MOTI via solely it’s web interface instead, but really wasn’t able to get the full MOTI experience this way and my initial MOTI beta test failed miserably. This was in no part because of MOTI itself, and instead more about a perfect storm of crappy circumstances standing in the way.
The end of 2015 came with the arrival of a new housemate, and with her the arrival of Internet in my home! I hadn’t had cable or Internet at home for nearly two years so it was pretty weird, but I was excited to finally be able to set my MOTI dude up and try again! I began using MOTI again and the experience was so much better than the first try. The visual aspects of MOTI really made a huge difference for me. I try to do my MOTI habit in the morning, and it helps that it feels like he is staring at me from my desk right when I wake up. If I end up not completing my habit, MOTI is there all lit up and looking at my when I walk in the door like “Well, what’s going on here!” It feels a little silly to be anthropomorphizing an inanimate object, but it’s been really helpful for me. I haven’t kept up with this habit perfectly, but I have kept up with it better than I would have sans MOTI. The habit I am forming with MOTI is taking longer than anticipated, partially because of the depth of the habit, but I am still going with it and MOTI is definitely a huge reason why!
Public Goal Accountability Spreadsheet (Active)
After my last entry, I sat back and tried to figure out how I was going to rectify my firm belief in the power of accountability for habit formation and the idea that if you tell people your goals you are less likely to achieve them as mentioned in my last entry (See Derek Siver’s talk about this here). I had started a habit tracking excel sheet after being inspired by Kara of Boho Berry‘s handwritten habit tracker (see it here), so mid-January I decided to do an experiment where I made the sheet public for accountability. To incorporate keeping habits private I decided to only use an initial for the labels of most habits. Some habits have labels because they aren’t so secret (Running, Daily Fitbit Miles) and that’s okay.
My public goal accountability sheet has gone through some slight changes over the past few months and I expect it will continue to evolve over time. In the first three months, I’ve added some monthly and yearly tallies, changed around the way the colors look (I finally caved and put them in rainbow order vs random), and I’ve added some habits over time. I also began adding asterisks to future dates so it’s clearer when I am planning to work on habits that aren’t daily (and clearer when I miss them).
Someone commented on the number of habits that have been added to the sheet as of March, and yes there are a fair amount of them! This isn’t as cumbersome as it appears because a lot of the habits on this sheet are stacked, so if I do one it usually means I am automatically completing 1-2 more habits along with it (many of these are fitness related as I am training hard for my next trapeze performance). I think it will be interesting to watch how different habits influence each other over time. The most obvious example of this so far has been how badly drinking alcohol effects my other habits. This is more because if I am drinking it’s usually unexpected and last minute, so if I am planning to complete habits in the evening and go out right after class I end up not completing them. I should note that I stopped drinking alcohol for 52 days as a social and personal experiment, not due to any addiction reasons (some family members got concerned, sorry fam squad!).
So far the public accountability goal sheet is working really well for me. As far as I can tell, there are barely any people even viewing it… but knowing they can is enough to motivate me to get everything done on most days, and enough for it to burn when I don’t. You can view it live here! Feel free to use this as a template for your own habit tracking, and please let me know if you do! I’d love to hear some feedback on this, and if you have any questions feel free to comment as well.
Facebook Goal Accountability Group (Active)
I was discussing habit formation with my good circus friend Jen in the beginning of February and she mentioned a small accountability group she was part of on Facebook. I asked to join and just finished my first month with the group (it doesn’t start on the 1st). I wasn’t sure what to expect of the group, but it’s been really positive and helpful for me. How it works: You state your goal at the beginning of the month and each day when you complete your goal you post a picture or status to let the group know. The goal is to create an accountability and encouragement system, but also to help one another troubleshoot with habit road blockers!
I’ve been using the group to help me form my meditation habit, and I’ve found that it helps me on a deeper level than just accountability. I’ve been really struggling with my meditation practice this go around (last time it felt like it was really making a difference and now it’s exhausting and feels like it isn’t doing much), and I’ve spoken about that while posting every day and received a lot of empathy, encouragement, and positive feedback. One of the other group members even introduced me to an online beginners meditation course I am now taking! We are about to begin our next round of habits and I am excited to see how it works out. The habit I chose for my first month is multi-faceted and a little complicated, so I am interested in seeing how a more straight forward and simple goal goes!
Coach.me is available interchangeably as an app or a web interface. You can pick from pre-programmed habit suggestions or add in your own. You set the parameters for each goal by telling the site/app how many days per week you want to accomplish it. You have the option to add notes to each goal as you complete it, and there is a social aspect that allows others to cheer your progress.
I decided to use Coach.me because I had tried it in the past and remembered liking the specific challenges you could choose. I knew I wanted to work on increasing my at home fitness, so I joined two different Fitness challenges and added my other goals to the list. These were initially super helpful, but then I noticed that the one fitness challenge had me doing the exercise as follows:
Day 1: Set of 10
Day 2: Set of 15
Day 3: Set of 20
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Set of 25
Repeat until end of challenge.
I found this pretty silly from the get go, but I initially just made each new section of exercises slightly harder with more weights, etc. After two cycles this way, I decided to look up other challenges for this exercise and found one that increases your sets by 5 each day. I very quickly realized that while the initial challenge was too easy, this challenge was too difficult! I decided to play around with sets on my own and do what feels comfortable while remaining challenging. I want to make sure I am getting a good workout in, but I don’t want to injure myself.
I stacked this challenge habit with another workout challenge. Unfortunately, they both kind of shit out around the same time for different reasons. As I mentioned before, I recently began distance running and am loving it. The bad news is, I loved it so much I increased my mileage too quickly and blew out my IT-band. This has caused a ton of hip pain and has now also initiated some bad knee issues. I am speaking to a PT about it, but in the meantime, I am banned from running and need to be careful about certain knee heavy exercises. You guessed it: the second stacked habit challenge is knee heavy. I didn’t completely stop doing this workout, but I drastically decreased the numbers I was doing. Because I stopped using the guidelines on coach.me for the challenges, I was less likely to log onto the site and track my habits. As a result, I stopped using Coach.Me about 20 days in.
Way of Life (Inactive)
Way of Life works similarly to Coach.me, but is a little cooler because it allows you to track negative habits in addition to positive habits. With the free version you can track three habits, but if you pay for the full version ($3.99) you can track as many as you’d like. I heard of Way of Life from Kevin Rose on the New Year’s episode of The Tim Ferriss Podcast. Kevin mentioned that Way of Life provides you with charts of your habits over time and how you can share them on social media for accountability, which is what piqued my interest.
Way of Life is super easy to use, you add your habits to your daily “journal,” let the app know if the habit is positive or negative, and every day the habit will ask you “yes” or “no” for if you’ve completed the habit. There are also ways to “skip” days without being penalized for habits that may not be every day occurrences.
I used Way of Life and Coach.me together for a little while, but while I liked tracking negative and position habits, I wasn’t finding myself interested enough in the provided charts/graphs to keep using Way of Life (which is surprising given my obsession with data!). I stopped using this app around the 20 day mark because I was inputting the information on it and Coach.me at the same time and once I stopped Coach.me I didn’t remember to update Way of Life (despite it giving me a pop-up reminder on my phone at night, merp). I was going to try to keep using Way of Life but when I realized how many days behind I was and how long it would take to fill it all in I said forget it. While Way of Life didn’t work out for me personally, I still think it’s a great tracker and highly suggest it.
So that’s the bulk of what’s been up since my last update! Other than obsessive habit tracking I have been mostly doing a ton of circus. I am currently preparing for my next performance at the end of May, which has me training 5 or more days per week! I am loving it and my strength has increased exponentially!
Until next time, I’ll leave you on a high note (har har) with some cool photos of recent progress/learned poses (zillions of other circus updates are on my instagram!):
Links from this post:
- I Failed At Almost Every Goal I Set in 2015 and the World Didn’t End
- Derek Sivers: Keep Your Goals To Yourself
- Boho Berry
- Kara of Boho Berry’s handwritten habit tracker
- My Public Goal Accountability Sheet
- Jen McCleary Art
- Online Introduction to Meditation Course with Dan Arlow and Paul Peterson
- Way of Life
- Kevin Rose’s Twitter
- Recommendations and Resolutions for 2016 (Tim Ferriss with Kevin Rose)