Building Habit Forming Behavior Into Apps


Hi, this is episode 4 of CronDose, I’m your host Jordan Hudgens, I’m a Ruby dev and CTO of

On Thursdays I cover an item in the news for the tech sector, and specifically discuss how it relates to developers. Today I’m going to discuss the announcement by Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg told the world,

“Today, people around the world spend on average more than 50 minutes a day using Facebook, Instagram and Messenger…and that doesn’t count WhatsApp.”

Depending on your own usage of this social channels that number may or may not surprise you and it may say something about how the world is transitioning towards a different type of social interactivity. However the topic for this video is how to build that same type of habit forming behavior into your own applications.

Last month I read Charles Duhigg’s book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” on habits as they relate to technology where he explains some of the key elements that drive our addiction to applications like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Most of the features that get us to stay on these applications so much are focused on the reward and convenience centers of our brains.

Our brains like things that are easy, and checking our what our friends are doing on Instagram doesn’t require much work, and since it’s on our phone it’s pretty convenient to pop the app open a few times an hour to see what everyone is up to. For the reward portion of our brain, even though it may not seem like a big deal, each time we get a new follower or a few more likes on a picture it triggers the reward section of our brains, which functions in many ways like a drug and drives us to want more followers and more likes.

Based on some of this research I wanted to present the following recommendations for building features into your own applications that will help drive habit driven behavior, some features that could be built in would be:

  1. If you are trying to teach users a topic, show them a progress bar and increment it each time they finish a lesson or quiz, them seeing the progress bar slide up closer to 100% will give them a mental reward and make them keep coming back for more.
  2. For a mobile application make sure you take advantage of notifications, most brains have a hard time ignoring notifications on an app, the curiosity makes us want to click on it to see what it says, which will continue to drive users back to the application.
  3. Give rewards for completing tasks, Foursquare, Yelp, and even the Apple Watch’s exercise application give our badges for successfully finishing undertakings, creating awards for streak based behavior, such as exercising for 5 days in a row, are very powerful motivators.

Hopefully those ideas will help give you a start on how to build habit forming behavior into your own applications, good luck with the coding!


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