According to New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, almost 40 percent of our daily behavior isn’t intentional. We don’t think about it. We get up, have breakfast, go to work, attend meetings, write email, surf the web, make plans, all without being particularly aware of we are doing.
It’s just habit. And changing our habits is simple. Not easy, but simple.
In his new book, “The Power of Habit,” Duhigg says that everything, from alcoholism to obesity to Olympic gold can be distilled into a single idea. Here is his formula in one sentence.
“When __Cue__ happens, I do __Routine__ because it provides me with __Reward__.”
Interested in losing a few pounds? Here’s the author’s advice:
- Evaluate your current habits for cues, routines and rewards
- Choose to replace one habit. Identify that habit’s cues and rewards
- Consciously practice mapping a new habit to the old cues and rewards
- Change routines to reinforce new habits, avoid old cues or unhealthy rewards
- Create a support community for positive reinforcement
This maps nicely to most weight-loss advice: If you are tempted by certain foods, get them out of your house. Avoid bonking by eating more, smaller meals. Avoid insulin-spiking carbs. Avoid late-night binges with early bedtimes. If you want to start jogging every morning, lay out your running gear next to your bed every night.
The difference, according to a study cited by Duhigg, is that consciously tracking your cues, routines and rewards is twice as effective as typical weight-loss techniques.
Habit and Audience Development
So how does this principle apply to audience development? Visiting a website, checking an app, reading a newsletter are all habits. When building an audience, think about the following:
- The Routine: What habit are you trying to create? What behavior are you trying to activate?
- The Cue: What could be the habit’s trigger? Time? Location? Emotion? People? Previous activities?
- The Reward: What craving can be satisfied? How is it satisfied?
Take a look at your own online behavior. What triggers your visits to certain sites? When do you visit? What do you get out of the experience? You’ll have different answers to these questions depending on your favorite sites — a Facebook habit is different from a ESPN habit which is different from a Vogue habit — but all are routines, with triggers, and all have a strong emotional component.
There are dozens of potential experiments that spring to mind. For example, if you want to develop a daily audience, try something like a “10-minute lunchtime sports update” so your audience would come to identify lunch as being a cue to check your site. Better deliver the goods, though, Pavlov actually provided the lunch.