personality

If you understand yourself, what motivates you, what barriers you struggle with, you will know how to help yourself or your user build better habits. Laura Pereyra explains.

As human beings, we create habits to build healthier behaviors and more efficient lives. We make it a habit to wake up at 6am to work out or we intentionally block our email or social media through freedom to stay focused at work. Habits are the heuristics of the mind. They just help.

But what might help us build better and healthier habits? The answer is having the empathy to understand yourself or the user for whom you are designing a habit forming product for. It may also be about being empathetic towards yourself as well.

Think about it. There are apps like Facebook, which you check more than you check the weather. There is WhatsApp, which you constantly use to communicate with family and friends. And then there are apps like RunKeeper that work to help a user stay on track with training. All of these apps leverage the motivations that drive people. Using empathy to understand these motivations is something we take for granted but it is crucial to designing better and healthier habits.

At this year’s inaugural Habit Summit, Gretchen Rubin gave a great framework to understand the secret for making and breaking habits. Specifically, she mentions four types of personalities that respond to expectations in their own very unique ways: the upholder, the questioner, the rebel, and the obliger. According to Rubin’s observational and anecdotal research, most people fall into the questioner and obliger types. Some even have a mix of two of the general categories. Which one are you? Or which type of user are you trying to build a habit for?

1) The upholder

This is the user who is motivated by getting things done. They dislike letting other people down or letting themselves down. I can vouch for this type of personality because I have a tinge of upholder tendencies. If I set a goal for myself, I want to accomplish it.

For example, I used RunKeeper to help me keep track of my marathon training. Not only was I internally keeping myself accountable but I had an app that was reminding me every Saturday that I had to go on a 17 mile run (the external motivator). When you are building for upholders know that you may already be building a product that has very ambitious users.

2) The questioner

This kind of user likes to question everything. No really. They want good reasons for why they should do something and if they don’t agree with it the don’t give it the light of day. An app that feeds into this certain persona is Twitter. Why should you follow someone or a conversation? People follow funny celebrities because they say funny jokes or they follow CNN to stay on top of the latest news. There is a clear reason. If it’s worth it, there is the motivation to act and build a habit.

As a person who always questions why I should do things, I can relate because as I watch political conversations on Twitter, I want to know why I should follow certain politicians. Are they representing my state? Are they providing me with valuable information?

If I’m getting valuable information then I want to engage. Otherwise the habit to look back into a conversation is futile. Give these users a reason to engage in the habit that you want to form.

3) The rebel

This user is looking to defy rules and is motivated by their sense of freedom and self-determination. A great example is Apple. This company gave people the freedom to create by being the first personal computer. They wanted to bring computers into the home of the regular Joe and tell everyone that if they wanted to make something happen all they had to do was use Apple. It’s inspirational to the rebel motivations. If you don’t believe me, just rewatch the 1984 ad.

4) The obliger

Obligers like to be accountable and not let other people down. Facebook is a good example of a platform that helps people build habits because it creates an external accountability factor with friends. You announce that you want to have a goal and your friends can help keep you honest.

In fact, so many people have developed a habit of sharing and exploring their friends’ lives on facebook that a lot of people become afraid of checking it for fear of missing out.

Keep in mind that all of these examples are not based on hard science. However, it’s worth thinking about how being empathetic to the type of ways you or your user responds to expectations can help you design better.

As Nir Eyal puts it: “When you design for everybody, you end up designing for nobody.”

You have to build a habit or habit-forming product for a persona and have the empathy to understand what the barriers they face are and how they look for solutions.

So as you’re designing and building a new product or building a new habit, ask yourself, “what kind of motivators am I trying to satisfy? Where does the user I’m trying to help build a great habit go to solve their problems?

Whether a user is an upholder, a questioner, a rebel, or an obliger, learning how to be empathetic and knowing what motivates each personality can definitely help build better habit forming products.

About our ambassador // Laura Pereyra is a communications manager at a digital design agency in San Francisco. She loves connecting her love for politics, design thinking, tech, and women leadership. She is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. Follow her on @laurapereyra7.

Image credit: Alvaro Tapia Hidalgo