Hacking the human behavior loop: What wearables need to get right to actually work
Jul14

Hacking the human behavior loop: What wearables need to get right to actually work

Better, faster, stronger, calmer, happier: Wearables can make it all come true. Only, they often don’t — at least, not yet. Though the industry is still in its infancy, wearables are going to have a huge impact on people’s lives as research in brain science intersects with the innovation of devices. Because wearables can track our behavior better than we can on our own, they have great potential to positively affect our behavior change efforts. In my opinion, the gap between what people intend to do and what they actually do is our most significant limiting factor, not only to personal progress but also to our advancement as a society. In short, we are constantly doing things inefficiently due to quirks in the human brain. One of the most exciting prospects for wearable devices is their potential to work around faults in our brain to help us change our habits for the better. Here’s how it works. Getting to know your behavior loop Human brains constantly go through a standard cycle of perceiving, feeling, evaluating, and doing. A perceived threat or opportunity results in a negative or positive feeling, which in turn creates the drive to act. We may then respond reflexively or actually think through what action to take. And finally, we take some sort of action. Throughout this behavior loop cycle, the brain does miraculous things. However at each step of the process, the brain also confronts a host of significant faults, bugs, and hacks that thwart our best attempts at happiness, intelligence, and productivity. How wearables can hack your behavior loop When rapidly advancing brain science, psychological design, and wearable technology converge, we’re able to hack our behavior loops to achieve our goals and improve our lives. This is what’s so exciting. Wearables offer the ability to track activity and provide feedback. By tucking these capabilities into the standard behavior loop, wearables can affect and improve how well a user performs going forward.The end goal is to produce more of a desired behavior, or less of an undesirable behavior. Automatic behavior tracking offers most promise In order to know what kind of behavior-changing feedback to give, a device must first know what actions a user is regularly performing. The act of manually entering data is a dangerous one for someone trying to establish a new habit, as it introduces a second repetitive behavior. Take a typical sleep tracker: First you tell the device you’re going to sleep, and then you have to actually go to sleep. That additional required behavior increases the difficulty of the routine, which often means the new routine never sets in. The most promising wearables...

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