It's habit | Geneia

It's habit

April 02, 2020
Adrienne Rupp, vice president, marketing


New behaviors require thought, planning and repetition until they become automatic

One morning several weeks ago, my partner and I were in the kitchen getting ready for work. I opened the cabinet to take out my vitamins, something I’ve been doing for many years and is part of my morning routine. Like making coffee is part of his routine.

In an effort to make vitamins a part of his routine as well, he had recently purchased a men’s chewable, gummy multi-vitamin (great variety of colors) and later on a cinnamon supplement in capsule form. After I retrieved my vitamins, my partner reached into the cabinet to grab his container of chewable multi-vitamins, but ignored the bottle of cinnamon, which was sitting immediately to the left of the multi-vitamin.

I watched and after a moment asked: “Are you still taking the cinnamon?”

He laughed and said: “No, I totally forgot about that.”

Then he said: “Vitamins are a lot more fun to take when you can chew them.”

The habit loop

In that moment, I was reminded of how complex and automatic our brain is when it comes to behavior and how challenging it is for people trying to help others change their behavior in some way, whether it’s a dietician trying to help a client lose weight, a teacher trying to help a student study more, or an implementation and training manager trying to help a small group begin using a new software product.

We estimate about 40 percent of behaviors in which we engage each day are automatic, meaning we do them without thinking about them. This is completely normal and necessary for us to function as human beings. Imagine if, when you woke up each morning, you had to explicitly tell yourself: “Now I’m going to sit up and stand. I’m going to walk to the bathroom, brush my teeth and then take a shower. While I’m in the shower, I’m going to remember to wash my hair and body. When I’m finished, I will walk to the closet and pick out clothes. To put on my pants, I need to sit down on the edge of the bed, put one leg in the first pant leg, then the other.”

You get the idea. These behaviors are the result of repetition. Habit. We do them without thinking about exactly what, why or how we do them. The hard part comes when we want to insert a new behavior into our daily routine or change a behavior that we don’t like.

The habit loop is basic. There is a trigger, a reminder to do something. That reminder leads us into a certain behavior, a habit. The result of the behavior produces some type of reward, which reinforces the habit.

The critical questions, however, become: why do habits form in the first place? How long does something take to become a habit? What is the reinforcement?

Habit loop

New behaviors require thought, planning and deliberate repetition until they become automatic. And they require an understanding of real motivation, the reinforcement that will strengthen the behavior enough so that it’s permanently adopted.

In the example above, the real reinforcement (motivation) was the chewing. Swallowing vitamins didn’t have the same effect, which is why trying to add a vitamin in capsule form didn’t stick.

Turning “new” users into “avid” users

With regards to habits and behavior, I also think about experiences I’ve had at other organizations where I’ve had to champion new software implementations, as well as the experiences of our own implementation team at Geneia when they work with clients on site to train new users and put plans in place to fuel adoption.

Much of what we do at work is automatic and based on habit, but we can learn from it and use specific strategies to help users adopt new behavior and effectively incorporate use of new systems or processes into their daily work lives.

  • 1.  Observe and understand what motivates clients and users
    Organizations spend a lot of time talking about, thinking through and documenting use cases –industry jargon for describing how people use your product to complete tasks within the course of their daily work lives. Understanding exactly how and why people use products not only helps you better link them to benefits and outcomes, but it also unlocks the key to how to develop strong user preference and adoption in the first place.
  • 2.  Design systems with workflow and behavior in mind
    Users have specific roles, processes and patterns of tasks they follow. Many are automatic and necessary to facilitate productivity and outcomes. By nature, asking someone to begin using a new application within the context of their daily routine presents a high hurdle. Particularly if the expected benefit to the user and improvement to process or workflow isn’t immediately apparent. Demonstrating how an application fits into existing processes and knowing where to place appropriate triggers or alerts can fuel behavior and increase adoption.
  • 3.  Approach deployment, training, use and adoption strategically
    Organizations that view implementation as more than just installation, data mapping and user provisioning have a better chance of successfully converting new users into avid users. A strategic approach to implementation, training and adoption starts with understanding how the organization plans to use a product and what it hopes to gain. Collaboratively developing goals, processes, key milestones, metrics and regular touchpoints during implementation and beyond that focus specifically on workflow, use and adoption will ensure clients gain the most from the product they purchased.
  • 4.  Observe again – and again
    A key part of our approach to client success at Geneia is the ongoing interaction, observation and understanding of how our clients use our products and how they don’t use our products. During the first year in particular, it is important for organizations to talk with users, observe users, uncover any barriers, and check in regularly to offer guidance and support. Training aligned to specific use cases is an important component that builds habit. One-to-one training and support for key power users can make a huge difference in building comfort, familiarity and trust in a solution.
  • 5.  Incorporate usage data and feedback into the product development process
    As part of observation, pay attention to specific user actions within an application. Focus on click paths. Learn how users move throughout your product and what actions they take. Incorporate this information into your product design and development process. Use familiar techniques and icons to reinforce a positive user experience. Always consider how your product fits into the lives of your users, how it will help them do something better/faster/simpler and how to make it part of their routine. After all, habits are hard to break.

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