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Put your smartphone to work – applications supporting habit building


In his popular book “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg presents many ways to unlearn bad habits and replacing them with new ones which are healthier or more effective for us. The effectiveness of this change is impacted not only be repetitiveness and consistency, but also proper motivation (e.g. by means of rewards). In practice, it is difficult for many people to maintain this system for a sufficient period of time for the new habit to be strong enough. Can technology help?

The same methods that the authors of many applications and games use to attach us to their programs can be used for your own purposes. The smarter our smartphones are, the more of their functions can be used to automate this work partially and support you on your road to self-improvement. Here are several tools and methods that you can try to shape new habits or simply for regular learning and exercising your brain/memory/well-being/health (delete as appropriate).



New habits

A smartphone will not do physical exercises for us and will not write a chapter of our master’s thesis, but it can track our progress, remind us of the tasks we want to do regularly and strengthen the reward system. Let us take reading books or writing that we would like to do on a regular basis, e.g. one hour a day, as an example. While you have to do the activity yourself, the smartphone (even by means of a simple alarm clock) can remind you of this every day (at a certain time or asking whether you have already done it today), remember for you how long you have managed to keep a new habit, and when you tend to forget it (which allows you to have better insight into your actions and to notice that, for example, you go easy on yourself on Mondays, etc.). So-called habit trackers, that is applications combining the functions of alarm clocks, calendars, and personal reports, may make it easier. They differ in the design and additional functions, but their basis is very similar:

  • we define habits that we want to create and track or the purpose we are pursuing (e.g. a 30-day challenge).
  • we set appropriate reminders (e.g. alarms at the right time, notifications, timers as in the case of applications monitoring working time, which you can read more about in the article written by Filip Żyro).
  • we track our progress (by entering it into the application, answering questions and notifications, and in the case of those which can follow activities on our smartphone, this may sometimes happen automatically).

Personally, I use a very simple application called HabitHub, which reminds me aHow to organize your relations with technologies – 10 tips on digital hygienet relevant times of the day of various activities, while I answer whether I have done them. I have to admit quite frankly that it has helped me to return to regular daily reading, but not to exercising. ? A similar solution, available on more platforms and devices, is offered by Habitify.

If you look for something more extensive, which will also allow you to manage regular tasks, TickTick is an application for planning and organizing work with an built-in function allowing you to trace habits. The creators of StickK went in a little different direction and equipped the application with an option of social control of our commitments and even betting money on achieving or not achieving a given goal.

However, if ordinary tables, alarms, and even monetary bets do not convince you and you want more motivation, like in a game, then you should definitely check Habitica, a mixture of an RPG game (Role Playing Game) and an application for strengthening habits. The scheme used in Habitica, which was described above, is extended to including the narrative and the atmosphere of a game, in which our successes and failures are rewarded or punished not only with points, but with the development of characters and artefacts. Habitica is not only about esthetically pleasing elements, but also real competition and adventures. If we want to choose the multiplayer option, we can work together with a team of other players in the magic world, whereas our regularity (or lack thereof) will translate into joint successes (or failures), e.g. when fighting against a monster.


Regular brain and memory exercises

Readers of this blog probably understand perfectly that science does not finish at school. However, it is hard to deny that, after passing the last formal education exams, the time when someone makes sure (and sometimes forces us to do so) that we learn and memorize new things on such a mass and regular basis is gone. Meanwhile, regular brain exercises can improve its everyday performance and help to maintain health for a long time. Yes, if you solve riddles, like exercising your memory, or learn new languages even for entertainment, you also take care of your health.

Here technologies prove helpful as well and, apart from popular applications for learning foreign languages (with Duolingo, Babbel, or Memrise being leaders), it is also worth using technologies that stimulate our brain to remember better, read faster, estimate mathematical results, or solve logical and visual riddles. Additionally, in line with the message of the previous paragraph, they encourage regularity so that brain exercises become our everyday habit.

Among many applications, two are worth trying out first: Elevate and Lumosity, which were built on the basis of the research on what activities and games improve our memory, concentration, and cognitive skills (we can read more about the research they use to build games on each application website). Both apps consist of a set of minigames, in which we can continuously improve our results at an increasing level of difficulty. The more regularly we play and the better are results are, the better the applications personalize challenges we face in order to boost remembering what we have already learned and to support those areas where we have worse results. If you look for something to distract you every day for a few minutes and at the same time will not be pure entertainment, then use of those proposals and try to play it on a daily basis, for e.g. 30 days. This is how long the most popular online challenges usually are!

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