Creating evidence-based health and wellness programmes for your customers and employees

Two Ways to Create Habit-Forming Products

Behaviour change is hard, there is no disputing it. We start out with an initial motivational high which slowly wears off so we try to white knuckle our way to success trying harder, using more willpower = struggling. We then tend to go off track because things have become too difficult.  The problem here is that we haven't given the new behaviours we so wished to form, enough of a go, performed them enough times to make them a habit and so we can then disengage or default to unhelpful habits that are more established. So how do we overcome our motivational slump and push through long enough for positive helpful habits to form? If you're designing a product or app intended to change behaviour here are two insights that can support you in making that product stick.

Consistency of repetition is what helps users make a habit of your app/product

When it comes to digital behaviour change we need to focus on consistency of repetition above all else (especially motivation). Doing the same thing in the same unchanging environment, place, time or connected to another behaviour is key. What does this look like pragmatically? It can look like getting your users to specify when and where their habits take place or tying in their new habit to an existing more established routine e.g., putting medication/supplements by the kettle; Spotify do this well with their Monday discover weekly playlist, or After Eight chocolates – it feels wrong to open these before a meal!

The context then becomes the cue/trigger to engage in the habit, so the user. It’s not habit-forming enough if you are asking your user to perform the behaviour in multiple circumstances, they need to tie it into their normal routine.

Two options for how you could do this for your app/product:

1. Ask your users what the behaviours are that they do on a daily, weekly or seasonal basis (depending on your product) e.g., coffee in the morning, socialising Friday night, pumpkin spiced lattes in the Autumn. Rather than trying to shoehorn something that doesn’t fit the context of their lives you can then start to look at where in the day would my product/app fit best for the user.

2. Support their autonomy, get users to specify when and where they would like to engage in your product or after what behaviour they wish to perform it (provide suggestions based on point 1). And finally, ask them if they would like to be reminded about it.

Failure needs to be seen as part of every successful journey

Everyone will fail at habit change. In fact, these failures are some of the best opportunities for people to learn about what works for them. I like to treat the first few changes someone makes in their behaviour change journey as experiments – encouraging users to reflect and reiterate and learn to understand what works for them. Giving people permission to fail (and in some cases even encouraging it) helps users feel less shame about going off track and thus makes them less likely to disengage. The key here is that users can fail in their behaviours, but they feel successful at using your app/product. What I mean by this is that is we don’t want people to feel like they can’t use your product properly at the start, we want them to feel competent and confident that they know how to navigate it straight away. At the start, the learning curve for your product needs to be low but for the behaviours performed as a result of it, it needs to be high. Essentially the learning needs to be focused on understanding more about the behaviours not on the understanding of how to use the product.

Two options for how you could do this for your app/product:

1.  In the language that you use/how you set up so-called behavioural “failure” e.g., treating failures as experiments, growth/learning opportunities, expecting failures (setting up implementation intentions), allowing for flexibility (e.g. hit the behaviour 2 out of 7 days that week).

2. In simplifying your onboarding and initial welcome processes for users so they immediately feel successful at using your product.

Do you want to implement these insights to make your product stickier?

Contact me here ( to see how that could look!

Published on 14th Feb 2022 at 10:00 by Dr Heather McKee

"Heather has so generously contributed to so many areas of our work this year, her thoughtful feedback and insights have allowed us to evolve our work and product in profound and impactful ways. I speak on behalf of all of us when I say we can’t imagine having done it without her unique, informed perspective and diverse voice. She has made an incredible amount of impact on our work in a small amount of time and we are so grateful for her."

Sara Rice, lululemon HQ

"When you work with Dr Heather McKee you know you are in the presence of a true professional. You cannot ignore the passion she has for her field of behaviour change, especially around healthy living. She is committed to making sure that you -- client, patient or project partner -- understand the key facts, appreciate the context and embrace the decisions you made together."

Edna Kissman, CEO The Wonder of Me

"Heather’s academic and applied understanding of behavioural psychology has been invaluable in helping us mould our proposition to the corporate wellbeing market over the last 12 months. Heather was a perfect fit with our culture; enthusiastic, diligent and highly skilled in everything that she does. We look forward to working with Heather on future projects"

Richard Westman, CEO KAIDO

"Heather's practical knowledge and expertise around behaviour change have been an enormous value-add for the Welltodo audience. By incorporating her tools and insights into our course curriculum, we were able to add a whole new layer of credibility. Heather is professional, reliable and an absolute pleasure to work with!"

Lauren Armes, CEO Welltodo

"Heather is a ninja when it comes to behaviour change, and a delight to work with. She has been invaluable to BetterSpace in working out how to nudge people into more mentally health lifestyles."



By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our Cookie Policy. DISMISS NOTICE

Copyright ©2024 Dr. Heather McKee

Dr. Heather McKee is registered in Ireland Reg. No. 687397 with the registered address at 314 Mother Teresa House, Loreto Abby, Rathfarnham, D14 NR20, Co. Dublin, Ireland

This work is in no way meant to replace any medical advice. Dr. McKee is Non-HCPC-registered. Photography by Dylan Madden.

Designed by Aeronstudio™