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How to Create Habit Forming Products

Patrick Leddy | Whiteboard Strategies | 15 April , 2016

In the next few minutes I’m going to teach you how to create habit-forming products that keeps everyone coming back for more. In this episode we take a look at how to leverage triggers, actions, rewards and more from inside your app . Let’s do it!



How to create habit forming products

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Our automatic behaviors are often triggered by situational cues.


Video Notes: how to create habit forming products

The Hook


We all know that the products and services we use deeply effect and drive our behaviors. From the way we constantly check the most personal device we have (our smartphone), to the apps we use. Personal and social technology like Facebook and WhatsApp have changed our daily behaviour. We check them again, and again and again, countless times per day. These companies are masters of forming habits around the use of their products.


Our automatic behaviors are often triggered by situational cues: things we do with little or no conscious thought. The hook is an experience designed to connect the user's problem to the company's product, with enough frequency to form a habit. The four phases of creating these habits are;

  1. Triggers
  2. Actions
  3. Rewards
  4. Investment

In this Episode, I’ll teach you how to take concepts I learnt from Nir Eyal, in his book Hooked - How to build habit-forming products and apply them to the creation of mobile apps. 






A trigger is what we push someone to do next; rate this app, share with a friend, tap this button. The most powerful type of trigger is one that is associated with the formation of long term behaviors are what we call “internal triggers”.

Internal - Places, People, Emotions

Internal Triggers, are things that tell us what we need to do next. With internal triggers the information on what to do is stored as a memory. What we do when we’re with a certain person, in a particular place or experiencing a particular emotion. The most frequent internal triggers are actually negative emotions. There has been research conducted that shows people who are depressed actually check email more often.


After an internal trigger occurs, we are queued to action, defined as the simplest behaviour in anticipation of a reward. Where do we go when we’re feeling lonely? You go to Facebook, right? Maybe your not happy with the fact that you are still single, you see a happy couple walking down the street, it might elicit a negative emotion, an internal trigger is queued…you don’t know why but suddenly you find yourself swiping through Tinder.

This is an example of a company that has created neuro-associations between your daily emotions and their product. There is a formula to predict the likelihood of these behaviours devised by BJ Fogg, a researcher at Stanford University.

Fogg Behavioural Formula

For any behavior, we need the motivation, ability and trigger. Companies building habit forming products are taking this ability curve and pushing it as far right as possible. Because what they know,is that the easier a behaviour is to do, the more likely a user is to do it.


The unknown, the mystery, the variability… this is what creates fascination… it causes us to increase focus and become engaged. In all sorts of products that you find most engaging or most attentive, you will find these 3 types of variable rewards.

Nucleus Accumbens

The nucleus accumbens is the part of your brain that is implicated in feelings of being rewarded. In an experiment, test subjects played a gambling game while an MRI scan looked at what parts of the brain became most active. The results showed that nucleus accumbens was not activating when the reward was received but rather in anticipation of it.

Activation in Anticipation, Not on Receiving

Fogg also looked at which areas of their brains became more active. The startling results showed that the nucleus accumbens was not activating when the reward (in this case a monetary payout) was received, but rather in anticipation of it.

What Draws us to Action

The study revealed that what draws us to act is not the sensation we receive from the reward itself, but the need to alleviate the craving for that reward.

Rewards of the Tribe

Things that feel good, that have variability and come from other people. For example, on Facebook, when I login, I’m not sure what photos I might see, what comments I might have, or how many likes I might have received on a certain photo.

Rewards of the Hunt

An example of the rewards of the hunt is using slot machines, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, its that variability coupled with the labour or hunt you go through. The exact same psychology happens online. Consider the feed in the Twitter app as an example. The first, second and third tweet might not be that interesting, the fourth and fifth might be interesting, but the sixth is boring and so on. Tinder is another great example of ‘rewards of the hunt’ some profiles are interesting, some not so much, you don’t know what your going to get as you swipe.. it’s a lot like pulling the lever on that slot machine.

Rewards of the Self

Variable rewards of the self are things that are pleasurable, have variability, but don’t come from external sources. You don’t get this from other people, the reward is not information or material. Rewards of the self are intrinsically pleasurable, the search of mastery, consistence, competency and control.

Nir gives a great example, when you play Candy Crush, your not playing against anyone, there is no monetary payout, the reward is the feeling of satisfaction with ones self when you complete the next level.


Storing Value is a Huge Deal

The last phase in creating a hook is thought investment, storing value is a huge deal, physical products loose their value over time. They depreciate.

Habit forming products appreciate in value

Habit forming products should increase in value, they should appreciate over time. The more data you store, the more photos you upload, the more friends and followers you get. How likely are you to leave if you have invested all of this time and value? The product becomes very sticky, let’s face it, you’re not going anywhere.

Successive cycles through the hook

The best product does not win, it's the products that can successfully form habits that capture the market. Successive cycles through the hook will shape customer preferences.

Putting it Together

Predict when / where customers will be motivated

So how do we motivate our customers? This isn’t about figuring out better ways of motivating customers, it’s about putting triggers on the path of users that are already motivated at the point they are most able to act.

Figure out what they are already motivated to do

Remember earlier we talked earlier about bending the ability curve?

Don’t Be Evil

It’s not about you

Don’t be evil. It’s not about creating behaviors around what is good for you, and your business… Use MAT (Motiviation Ability and Trigger) around behaviors that are good for customers.

So that’s it for this video guys. If you have any questions as always… you can Tweet or Snap me @mobilemonktv, Don’t forget, when you leave a comment below the video, you inspire the whole community.

If you haven’t already done so, subscribe to my weekly mobile strategy hacks - never miss an episode. I’m Patrick Leddy, see you guys next time.