As March comes to an end, I'm wrapping up playing Health Month, an online game that helps you integrate new habits and change behavior. Here's my review of Health Month and a recap of what I experienced. I have to say, I don't think I really explored it to the fullest, but there were a couple of things I really liked about it and a couple of things I didn't connect with in the design.
First, what didn't really work for me, then what I really like about this tool.
The Point System
Each day when you "play your turn", you get a number of points for the rules you follow (set up at the beginning of the month) and lose points for the ones you don't. My problem was, the points didn't really have meaning for me. What was much more valuable for me was recognizing the connection between following the rules and how I felt, both in terms of succeeding in the task of following them, and in terms of how healthier habits made me feel physically. More on this below...
The Social Aspect
Now, you are supposed to be able to regain points and be held accountable by interacting with other people. I never connected in to this layer of the game, so it was hard to put weight behind the points or more public accountability. Maybe if I had started playing with someone I already knew, I would have found this aspect more compelling. It's probably pretty necessary to make these connections right away and I think there are ways to find people with similar rules or goals. I just never pulled the trigger on this piece of it because I wanted to ease into playing, but a couple of weeks in, I think not having that social pressure made it easier for me to ignore the game more.
Having a Month
I really like that the time frame is set as a month, for two reasons. First, the reset is right around the corner. Every month is a fresh start if you really get off track. Second, setting a goal for a behavior over a span like 30 days is much more manageable than saying you want to do something "from now on", or as they call it at the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, adopting a "Path Behavior".
Here's an explanation of the Fogg Behavior Model:
It's interesting though, that Dr. Fogg recently tweeted this:
The difference between a "span" behavior and a "path" behavior is duration. "From now on" is too indefinite for most people to really master. When you limit the change you are aiming for to one month, though, you are creating a more manageable goal.Â Health Month makes you shoot for "span" behaviors by design.
There was something that really clicked for me about formulating my Health Month goals as rules. Rules guide you from vague goals into concrete actions. I had to think through weekly situations and envision when I was going to follow my rules. The rules had to be crafted in ways I could reasonably follow.
There is a golden mean between doing things differently and doing them in a sustainable way. Fast changes, where you try to re-shape everything in your life, don't work. Imagine waking up one morning and deciding that your are going to do everything different, eat, exercise, work, interact. You can't do it. Part of that has to do with how weak our willpower really is. When you have to exercise a lot of self-control, you literally drain energy from your cognitive abilities (Chip and Dan Heath go through great examples of this and the concept of visualizing habits you want to ingrain ahead of time in Switch).
Of course, the other extreme is not changing at all or changing the wrong things.
I believe that most of what you do should be driven by habit. That's the most efficient way to do things. But, you have to be thoughtful about the habits you want to create in life, and work hard at the systems and practices that are going to develop the habits you want. It's a strange mindset, I know. The cognitive work is in building the systems. Leave the rest to your nervous system's natural ability to adapt and make habits. I think Health Month helped me see this more clearly and I look forward to "playing by the rules" now even more!