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Just started with a fitness tracker, smart watch or other type of wearable and are looking to get the most out of it?
To help keep your wearable from being consigned to a draw we’re going to look at what in the long term is going to keep you using it after the initial excitement wears off.
According to the latest research, long term wearable use is fundamentally about user behaviour. These are summarized in a whitepaper from Endeavour Partners as being:
Enhancing these behavioural strategies should first and foremost be the domain of the manufacturers, and it really is their fault if we don’t want to keep using it! However, let’s look at each of these strategies and talk about practical steps we can take to improve our device experience.
You will quickly see that all three are closely tied together.
The core of any habit loop is the ‘cue, behaviour, reward’ cycle.
It involves having a system of both reminders and rewards that encourages us to complete the desired behaviour i.e. go for a walk with our wearable. This creates a feedback loop that leads to long term habits.
To help establish this loop consider some of the following:
National Autistic Society (UK)
A key way to build that habit loop is to embed it in a social experience.
Most of the current commercial devices have built in sharing and social engagement functions and already allow for the aforementioned strategies such as gamification and social competition.
The aim is to build in a measure of anticipated regret whereby your social network provides a measure of accountability and forward momentum. If you don’t feel like completing an activity you will way it against the perceived social cost that not doing it will entail.
Just note that such social pressure and social competition can also be a bad thing. Adding social pressure can create stress and anxiety which will sabotage rather than enhance the likelihood of building positive habits.
There are also plenty of stories of workplaces and friend circles becoming toxic over even seemingly benign competition. Participants can can forget that other people have different personal commitments and health objectives which can lead to unwanted pressure on individuals by the group.
We recommend that if you’re especially competitive and don’t like losing, be mindful of the risk of crossing over into obsessive behaviours that could be harmful to yourself, your colleagues, or your social circle.
The key to achieving any long term progress is to have a goal in mind.
Wearables and health data tracking are support tools to help you meet your long term health goals. What makes them unique is that they allow for the quantification of your progress, allowing you to accurately track whether you’re meeting your health objectives.
Wearables and a goal are not however going to be enough to ensure success. With the guidance of a health professional you need to establish your health objectives and prepare a roadmap that will guide your progress. You then need to design a system of day-to-day activities that will help you meet those objectives.
When you’re executing from a plan your device will merely be a natural extension of your regular daily activities. As you achieve your objectives, your success will be self-reinforcing.
With that in mind, we need to talk about the dangers of getting bogged down by data.
Stop the Number Obsession
flickr user John Biehler
Taking control of your health data is empowering and the process of collecting and tracking your data can be fun.
However, an obsession with the numbers where hitting targets becomes more important than the actual goal of consistent long term health will simply start to cause stress or interfere with completing your activities.
This is the cause of many active users who claim to be burned out from tracking. Typically they have gone too far and no longer enjoy the activity their tracking.
If this may apply to you consider some of the following:
Life is more than just numbers. Breaking everything down to metrics can suck the joy out of these activities and destroy the motivation you have left.
Rather than the use of the wearable being a failure, device obsolescence (when not referring to the technological kind), is when its use has been so successful that the user doesn’t really need it anymore.
The user has learnt the data, how their body feels under varying demands, and are committed to their health objectives. They have established a long term habit and no longer need the device’s output.
There are those who bemoan that the device is now sitting unused, but in reality it has been a success. If it has helped create a new long term healthy habit then the cost of the device is typically well worth the improved health habit.
The reason most discard the device in this scenario, rather than continue to collect data, is that most of the commercial devices today are still somewhat clunky and the collection and integration of the data requires work.
In the future, devices will eventually become so inconspicuous, whether via smart tattoos, in our bloodstream, or built into our external environment that it will not require effort to continue to track your health data.
This has important implications for the future of preventive medicine and life extension technologies which will involve tracking micro variations in health markers with the aim to correct them well before disease develops. Check out our piece on the Longevity Profile which goes into more detail on this.
The key to maximising your wearable’s value is to transition its use into a long term habit.
Behavioral strategies like building a habit loop, nurturing social connections, and goal reinforcement help foster the motivation required to create habits.
At the same time, it is important that we’re mindful of not getting carried away with the data collection at the expense of completing the activities.
Once you establish a regular tempo you may begin to rely less on the data, obviating the need for the device.
Success is when a healthy habit has been established and the tracking has moved into the background.
Achieving this will make both the cost of the wearable and the work required to track the data, well worth the effort.
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