#7 Habitual But Distractable

As the ThinkGen team delves deeper and deeper into habit marketing, new learnings continue to develop through the adsorption and application of new sources of information. While the heart of our efforts remains rooted in the principles of Habit EngineeringSM, based on the seminal book HABIT by our colleague Dr. Neale Martin, we spread our nets far and wide to learn what other thinkers and authors have to contribute to our habit marketing journey.

Nir Eyal is one such contributor that we watch closely. His first book related to our work, Hooked, provides a rather simplistic model of habitual behavior that is based on a “trigger” that leads to a behavior that is then reinforced. In terms of applicability to marketing, the “Hooked” model is less complete than the ThinkGen Habit Formation Model in several key ways. More specifically:

  • The Hooked model does not take into consideration the Context in which the habit is formed.
  • The Hooked model does not take into consideration Behavioral Beliefs, i.e., the expectations of outcomes that constitute the filter through which Feedback is interpreted.
  • The Hooked model does not take into consideration the Investment that is often made in a habit that makes it even harder to change.

For these reasons, our work at ThinkGen does not incorporate Eyal’s original Hooked model.

But A recent book by Eyal, indistractable, does bring a fresh perspective to our thinking about habit that is worthy of note. More specifically, in this work he presents a new model, which incorporates a new concept, i.e., the distinction between “traction” and “distraction,” both of which can result from habitual behavior. According to Eyal, if a habit helps to accomplish something that you want to accomplish, it gives you traction. On the other hand, if a habit actually gets in the way of accomplishing something that you want to accomplish, it is a distraction.

More generally, the implications of this thought are significant. What we see here is that in a given Context, we can have several different Cues, or in Eyal’s parlance triggers, acting in competition with each other for attention and action. Moreover, such triggers can be internal or external. Internal cues are most typically need states, often connected to the elimination of a psychological discomfort such as perceived social isolation or boredom. External cues can offer either threat or pleasure. As an aside, Eyal notes that potential threats are much more attention grabbing than are potential pleasure. As he explains it, pleasures can be nice but threats can kill you.

So what does all mean for the theory and practice of habit marketing? Quite simply, it means that the world is a lot more complex than Eyal postulated in his original book. Rather than dealing with one trigger at a time, we are often dealing with multiple triggers, each with its own attendant habit, competing for our attention. So, as we become increasingly expert practitioners of habit marketing, selling our products not by making them the customer’s choice but rather the customer’s habit, we must also work to make our customers “indistractable” by systematically eliminating competing cues that might get in the way of customers exhibiting the behaviors that we desire.

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