a new target behavior
this week i chose to re-run my behavior challenge with a new target behavior focusing on simplicity and an external audience. a good friend – i’ll refer to as v. – has been trying to include meditation in her daily schedule. she has a busy work life as a professor, and wakes up early. when she gets home she often wants to nap rather than dedicating time to meditate. her original goal was to meditate 30 minutes every day after work.
motivation, ability and triggers
v.’s motivation to mediate was moderately high. she knew it improved her mood and ability to relax after a stressful day, and she believed she was more productive after meditating vs. napping, which tended to make her feel lethargic. however, her motivation at different times of the day varied. when she felt rushed and exhausted after a days work her motivation was low. while we were discussing the benefits of meditation her motivation peaked.
and there were several barriers in her ability to mediate; including time (she often felt she had too few hours in the day to dedicate 30 minutes to meditation), mental and physical effort, lack of routine (her regular naps after work had become part of her daily routine), as well as a physical area dedicated for meditation.
i decided to work with two types of triggers – facilitators and sparks. as karen pryor states in her book don’t shoot the dog ”you can’t reinforce a behavior that’s not occurring.” so my first goal was to facilitate v.’s ability to meditate, and through hot trigger reminders and positive reinforcement encourage the habitualization of meditation to v.’s daily routine.
v.’s original target behavior – to mediate for 30 minutes every day – was a “purple path” behavior. meaning it was to “increase a behavior from now on”. a bit of a daunting task. which in part was why v.’s initial attempts had failed – the task was simply to big. i changed v.’s goal to a familiar behavior, something she already does regularly, deep breathing. i also limited the duration to one week, and kept the target goal simplistic – to breathe deeply for 20 seconds every day for this week. v.’s target was now reduced to a “blue span” behavior.
8 steps to persuasive design
breaking down my process into fogg’s 8 steps to persuasive design. the target behavior was simplified from “meditating once day for 30 minutes” to “breathe deeply for 20 seconds every day this week”. the audience was v. a young working professional who often feels rushed and stressed. reasons v. wasn’t performing the target behavior were fluctuations in motivation, barriers to ability like time, lack of routine, and the mental/physical effort. using a technology familiar to v. – her mobile phone – i used SMS as the hot trigger.
the initial step i took was to facilitate the occurrence of the desired behavior. i know a barrier to v.’s ability was lack of routine and the effort it took to mediate. i’ve observed v. had mediated in the past when certain environmental factors catalyzes her desire to do so. specifically, when her bedroom was clean she tended to be more calm and meditative. and when the room was messy she found meditation to be less appealing. after v.’s room was cleaned i SMS’d her after work asking her to breathe deeply for 20 seconds and text me when she was done. within 5 minutes v. texted me that she had done the task! i followed pryor’s positive reinforcement model and expressed my enthusiasm through a positive text message.
over the course of 6 days i texted v. after she got home from work reminding her to breathe deeply for 20 seconds – the hot trigger. and the results were positive – she usually completed the task within 20 minutes of the text message. she reported that she felt positive after practicing the breathing exercise. but there were no tendencies to increase the behavior – she did not begin meditation over the course of the week, nor did she extend her breathing exercise past 20 seconds.
i consider the test a success, but i need to expand the next iteration of testing. if the deep breathing for 20 second exercise induced positive experiences to v. then through increased reinforcement and stimulation v. could expand that 20 seconds to v.’s ultimate goal of 30 minutes of daily meditation. for one, applying social encouragement – for example, meditating together would affect her motivation vis social pressure. and taking note of pryor’s comment that reinforcement often needs to be varied to be stimulating i believe i need more than just a positive text message to encourage v.’s behavior. i’ve noticed that physical artifacts – a chart, log, or even aesthetic representation – of other behaviors v. has been working towards – such as, daily exercise and diet monitoring – have been very effective for v.’s desire to progress forward with every check box mark she fills in by hand. i believe the act of just representing and marking v.’s patterns of behavior towards her goal will have a powerful effect towards it’s progression.