How to Make a Behavior Addictive: Zoë Chance at TEDxMillRiver


Translator: Mohand Habchi
Reviewer: Chryssa Takahashi I haven’t started any mass movement, I don’t have a mass movement to start but I can speak from experience. I’ll be talking with you today about a framework for understanding
things that create addictive behaviors. And it’s not my academic credentials
that qualify me to share this with you, it’s my personal experience as an addict. And I’m coming clean today
telling this story for the very first time and its raw ugly detail. In March of 2012, winter was ending, or so I thought, and the winter of my discontent
was beginning, when I purchased a device
that would slowly begin to ruin my life. And my husband is right here and he is smiling
because he lived through this with me. The device that I purchased
was a pedometer. You think, “A pedometer!” but some of you are thinking,
“I have that pedometer.” This wasn’t just any pedometer,
this was the Striiv. They market it as personal trainer
in your pocket. No. It’s Satan in your pocket, (Laughter) tempting you and tempting you to walk,
and tempting you to walk. So you know how you’re supposed
to reach 10,000 steps a day as an ideal goal for living
a healthy life and being a healthy person? How many of you have tried and measured,
try to reach 10,000 a day? It’s hard. Right. This is not trivial. 10,000 steps is 5 miles. When I was using the Striiv,
I was going 24,000 steps a day. You do the math. I’m not a distance runner,
and if you’re walking the only way that you can reach
10,000 steps a day is by not stopping. So that’s what I did. I would arrive at work,
I would grab an article, anything that I didn’t need to be
at the computer to do, and I would pace, down the corridor,
outside my office. I would come home, and while I was eating, or while I was reading, or while I was eating
and reading at the same time, or while my husband
was trying to talk to me, I would be going in the circuit between the living room,
the kitchen and the dining room, and the living room,
the kitchen and the dining room, My marriage was deteriorating. I spent a little more time
with my daughter, she was three at the time, and I only spent time with her because she was willing
to sit down with me on my lap and fool with the freaking pedometer
with me. (Laughter) So the only people
that I was getting closer to at this point in time, were my colleague Ernest,
who also had a Striiv, so we could set challenges
and we could compete with each other, and we could bond over it, and with the community
of freaks on the internet, (Laughter) who were addicts like me. I was creating spreadsheets to optimize and track – not my exercising, but my virtual transactions
in a virtual world that exists in our Striiv device. You know the game Farmville, it’s that really boring game
where nothing happens but it’s so addictive that it helped
cause the US economic collapse. (Laughter) Right? Those developers
developed a game inside Striiv, it’s called My Land, nothing happens except
that plants grow and buildings get built and nothing happens. But this game is so addictive
that you just can’t stop. I would say the last straw, was one night, it was midnight and I was brushing my teeth,
I was getting ready for bed and on the Striiv
this pop up challenge showed up. And these things surprise, you don’t know
when they’re going to happen. This pop up challenge comes
and it says we will you triple the points if you just climb twenty stairs. And that’s not a lot, two flights of stairs
you can do it probably in a minute. So no problem, I go down to the basement, climbed twenty stairs. I don’t have two flights of stairs
in my basement but you know up and down like a treadmill, but I finish it and then
another challenge pops up, and it says, “Great, how about 40 steps
and we’ll triple the points again.” and these are the points you can use
in that crazy virtual world, so, “Yes, of course, it’s a good deal,
it’s a good exchange rate.” Four more flights of stairs – A behavioral economist apparently. So, four more flights of stairs, and there’re more challenges
and even without the challenges I found that I can’t stop. And between midnight
and two o’clock in the morning, two hours that I’d planned on sleeping I am going likea nutcase
up and down the stairs in my basement, 2,000 stairs I climbed. I hurt my neck, and my neck is injured, because my head, my stupid head is bouncing up down like this. (Laughter) Right. And at this time I had become so neurotic that I was spending hours a day
counting my steps, and I found that even when
I wasn’t moving, I was still counting. The blessing of the stairs episode
was the neck injury. When the neck injury happened,
I had to take a break from exercising, which allowed me to take a break
from the Striiv, and I finally acknowledged what
my husband had been saying for a while, that I had a problem. (Laughter) I would have gone
for a twelve-step program but that would have seemed
like another challenge. (Laughter) So the only option was to go cold turkey. And at this point
I thought it was my problem. So I gave this Striiv to my sister. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts and we talk on the phone, and we’re
communicating with each other, she’s loves it, she’s so happy,
it’s a wonderful present, and I do notice that many of the times
that we talk to each other she’s walking around outside. It’s seems like a good thing
until my mom calls me and she tells that my sister Mika
has been walking around outside in Cambridge Massachusetts,
which many of you know is and urban area,
in the middle of the night, and she’s walking for miles. She’s taking her life
into her own hands when she does this. You guys other aren’t any
streetwalkers in Cambridge, it’s mostly college kids, but it is urban, and the only women who were
walking around at night for miles are crazy. (Laughter) And she’s crazy. She’s possessed by Satan in her pocket. I found out recently how many times
the average Striiv user checks their device. And I am just curious, do you have pedometer,
have you had one? No. If you had one, how many times
do you think you might check it in a day or week? Man: Every five minutes.
Zoë C: Every five minutes. So you would be like me.
You would be totally insane. And what I learned,
is that despite being totally insane, we’re not alone. The average Striiv user,
the average one – not the crazy one, checks their device 29 times a day. What is it about this machine
that makes it so compelling, what is it that΄s so tempting. And what I want to share with you,
is a framework, that is the six human needs. And this is a framework that we shared,
first with me by Tony Robbins, who’s pulled these needs together, but it’s based on solid motivational
research in each of these areas. And Tony Robbins’ claim, is that any behavior that meets
at least three of these six needs is going to become an addiction
if it meets those needs in a powerful way. I am a scientist
and this is the kind of claim that can’t be empirically validated so I can’t go out and test it. But you can test it in your own life
and see if this works for you. The first of the human need… I’ll share how each of these fits
with Striiv as we go through. The first human need is for significance. And this is the desire to feel
that we are important, that we matter. It’s the ego. This is one of the key drivers
for human life, human behavior, and in a Striiv machine
as I shared with you already, first of all,
you’re completing challenges. So you’re feeling powerful,
you’re kicking ass, and also you have this virtual world
where you are playing God. It’s the garden of Eden
and a whole world depends on you. It’s powerfully significant. There is also certainty. This is another key driver
of human behavior, and the need for certainty
is wrapped up in the need for security. All species have the need
to feel safe and secure and we want to know
that our expectations about the world are likely to be met,
at least much of the time. In a Striiv device you have certainty that when you take one step,
you will get one point, if you’re walking. If you’re going up stairs you get three.
If you’re running you get five. You know when you wake up that when you climb 374 stairs you will get an award
called the Statue of Liberty, and you know what the little picture
is going to look like. Paradoxically, the third human need
is uncertainty. And this is our need for sense of variety
and surprise and spice in life. If you are a rat and you get food pellets
by pressing a lever, when it’s unpredictible
how much and when you’ll get food, you are going to press
that lever like crazy. This is also why we buy lottery tickets. We know that it is stupid, but sometimes we win,
and we don’t know when, and we don’t know
how much we are going to win. And with Striiv, as I was sharing with you there’re these unpredictible
little pop up challenges that are so tempting,
you can’t just possibly resist. The forth human need
is our need for connection. And this is the need that ensures
our survival as a species. It’s what allows us and encourages us and even forces us to form social groups. It’s how we make babies. It’s why we take care of our babies. And I told you that
when I was using this Striiv my family life was falling apart but I was feeling connected
to these other crazy people. I was feeling connected
to my friend Ernest. It’s maybe like a druggy
who feels connected to their dealer. The final human need
is the need for growth. This is the need to feel
that we’re moving forward, that we’re becoming something. Research on motivation in organizations finds that the most powerful
predictor of employee engagement is a sense of progress. That whatever job you’re doing, if you feel like
you’re making progress from day to day, you’re going to be excited about your job. And when you have a pedometer, even if it’s not a cool one like Striiv, you see the numbers flipping
as you’re walking. Right! And this Striiv also
has adaptive benchmarks. So you start out getting prizes
at 10,000 steps, but then when you beat your record
it goes up to 24,000. There’s a lot of growth you can experience and you’re also experiencing
growth and changes in your physical body, most of them being good,
maybe not all of them so much. With this framework of six human needs, I think this is a plausible explanation for why a device like Striiv
can be so addictive. And I think it’s also possible that we could predict
which behaviors would spread and which behaviors will not. Let’s take a different example
within a Striiv. Let’s take flash mobs. So a flash mob is from all appearances kind of like
a spontaneously generated mass movement. A flash mob is a group of people,
who organize on the internet, convene at a particular location, do something bizarre
and usually pointless and then disperse. To me, in theory, that doesn’t sound
like an idea worth spreading. But in practice it spread like wildfire. The first flash mob
happened in February 2003, and by 2004 flash mob
was in the Oxford English dictionary. At this point
the American Bar Association, which is not the vanguard of cool they have a whole page on their website
dedicated to flash mob law. (Laughter) And the first flash mob
was completely lame. I think! 200 people,
convened in a department store, to look at a particular rug and say they were trying to buy a love rug
for their group apartment. (Laughter) But they got cooler. So you’ve seen them on the internet –
if you haven’t participated in one, there’s lot of singing and dancing, synchronize movement, zombie races – who doesn’t love that, pillow fights with five thousand people. In Grand Central Station
you have 200 people walking around going about their business and all of the sudden all of them freeze, for five seconds and then go about their business
as if nothing happened. (Laughter) Flash mobs are spreading
all across the world, videos are going viral. At this point, I think it’s kind of disturbing
and wrong for some reason, but you can even hire a company
to put on flash mob for you. (Laughter) So, what is it about flash mobs that has made them go viral? And looking at the six human needs again let’s think about it. So need for significance. You’re the center of attention. And I am taking in a perspective
of the flash mober, which is another term in the dictionary. You’re meeting your need for significance because you get to be
the center of attention. Everybody is looking at you
and you’re creating an experience that they’re going to remember and maybe other people
are going to relive this experience and even watch you online. You’re meeting a need for certainty,
interestingly, because even though
you’re doing something pretty weird, you’re doing it in a group. A flash mob performance
is an ensemble piece, and there’s no individual judgment
of you as a person. So you can still feel safe and secure. You’re meeting your need for uncertainty, because as we said variety
it’s the spice of life, you’re doing something
completely different but also this is a theatrical performance with no dress rehearsal,
no tech rehearsal, and no guarantee of what’s going
to happen when you get there. You’re meeting a need for connection, because group activities
and especially synchronized movements they create rapport. So when you’re coming together
in a flash mob with other people it’s as if you become this group entity. And you can also be meeting
your need for growth, if you are a person who values,
as part of your development, being someone who does things
that are fun, interesting and spontaneous. You’re creating stories that you can share
potentially even with your grand children. So flash mobs from this perspective, not so crazy that it became so popular.
Right? Let’s think about something else that’s much more obvious
that it would be a good thing. Wearing a motorcycle helmet
when you ride your motorcycle. No downside, obviously it’s a good idea. Right. But look at these needs
and which one of them is at meeting. Only certainty,
which is the need for security. There’s nothing else
that the motorcycle helmet is meeting and if you think about it, certainty and security
is not the need you’re trying to meet when you’re riding a motorcycle. Right? So not a contagious behavior,
and this is why we have to regulate it. My challenge to you, as you leave here
and as you think about these talks that you’ve seen here today, is that you consider taking this framework and using this as a way
that you could develop your own habit, or you could make your behavior
that you care about more addictive, help your ideas spread. I would love to hear about it. Thank you so much for listening. And I hope that
you will go forth from here, and prosper and succeed as you spread
awesomeness around the globe. (Applause) Thank you. (Applause)

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