Hooked? More like Addicted.

The average smart phone user touches their phone 2,617 times every day (about twice a minute).

In Australia the average time spent per day on a smartphone is 2.5 hours a day (38 full days per year) (sourcehttps://www.averageaussie.com.au/smartphone-use-in-australia/)

In the first paragraph of Nir Eyal's best seller Hooked: How to build HabitForming Products, Eyal states that "One third of Americans would rather give up sex than our phones."

Hooked is certainly one way to put it.

Nir Eyal has written Hooked as a guide on how to build habit forming products, based on years of research (from within academia, the video game and advertising industry).

Nir Eyal's Hooked
Nir Eyal's Hooked

Habit forming products (such as Facebook, Google, email) influence their users to repeatedly use their service, thereby forming habits which increase the usage of a product and the continued use of said product. These products eventually become a part of our lives. We are bored and need stimulation, and so we check Instagram. We are feeling lonely, so we check Facebook to feel apart of a greater community. We are at the pub, unsure in which year HaroldHolt went missing, without debate or thought, we open Google for the answer.

The user forms a habit of using these products for certain situations.


A Habit is defined by cognitive psychologists as “An automatic behaviour triggered by situational cues”

Building a habit through the use of a product is obviously big business, the big players are on top for a reason.

But the use of employing habits is, without doubt, manipulation.Manipulation is not always as bad as it sounds, for example a fitness app can help to improve the life of someone who needs that extra push out the door.Over the past year I began running, I fell in love with running, and I owe a lot of this to the Nike Run Club app (NRC), which helped me to instil a habit of running, using the product and checking the app post run. But, as we all know, companies do not always have our best intentions at heart.

How have these companies managed to infiltrate our unconscious actions? How has my habitual response to boredom become, check email? It can't be a mistake that these products have infiltrated our lives (for better or worse).

Companies such as Google and their products, have risen to become some of the most powerful and influential companies in the world. These mega tech companies have such immense influence over our daily lives. How have they done this?

Enter the Hooked Model

Eyal's Hooked model (recreated by me)

The model consists of 4 phases

1. Trigger (Internal/External)

2. Action

3. Variable Reward

4. Investment


Repeat for a habit to form for a user when interacting with a product.



First in the Hooked cycle is the Trigger, A trigger cues the user into action, it is the spark plug for momentum. Triggers come in two variations: Internal and External


An External Trigger is often far more obvious. ExternalTriggers tell the user what to do next by placing information within the user’s environment. Billboard advertising, pop ups in a web browser, email reminders and notifications are all great examples of external triggers. Back to my experience using the NRC app, I was running almost daily, and I would normally feel the internal trigger to get up and go. But if I missed a couple of days I would get a notification “Time to go for a run?”. This was an external trigger.

An Internal Trigger tells a user what to do next based on associations that have been stored in their own memory. For example; boredom, loneliness, fear (Negative emotions often serve as strong Internal Triggers) ora need to share good news. Successful habit forming products tap into these wants. Successful companies have found a way to scratch our itch, and each time we feel bored and open up Instagram to see something exciting, we run ourselves through the cycle again. But the trigger for such products is often internal.They save us from ourselves, solving our problems.



The next step in the Hooked model is the Action phase.Having been triggered to respond a User must then take Action. If a trigger is not strong enough for the user to take Action then the model is broken. The easier to do, the better


Eyal outlines a formula for action




Where B stands for Behaviour.

A behaviour will occur when (1) the User has sufficientMOTIVATION, (2)  the user has the ABILITY to complete the task; and (3) a TRIGGER is present to activate the action.


In Eyal’s words “To increase the desired behaviour; a product must ensure that a clear trigger is present; next increase ability by making the action easier to do; finally align with the right motivator”


Evan Williams co-founder of Blogger, Twitter and Medium –quoted in Hooked.


“Take a human desire, preferably one that has been around for a really long time… Identify that desire and use modern technology to takeout the steps.”


Each iteration of successful products (say, blogging on a personal site in comparison to twitter) make the process as simple as possible, removing steps to help a user perform a desired action.


Ability is also influenced by time, money, physical effort, brain cycles, social deviance, and non-routineness. Ability depends on user sand their context in the moment of need.


Variable Reward

The third phase Eyal dubs, Variable reward.


After motivating a user into action there must be a reward.But not just any reward, Psychology students will be aware of the strength of variable rewards.


We’ve all heard of pleasure centres in our brain, stimulated through various acts and factors, but studies have shown that the centre does not light up on receiving the reward, rather the anticipation of receiving the reward.


“The stud(ies have) revealed that what draws us to act is not the sensation we receive from the reward itself, but the need to alleviate the craving for that reward”


Eyal outlines 3 types of Variable rewards


1.    Rewards of the tribe: Social rewards fuelled by connectedness with other people (How many likes can this post get)

2.    Rewards of the hunt: The search for material resources and information (Think chasing a win on the pokies)

3.    Rewards of the self: The search for rewards of mastery, competence, and completion (Video games are fantastic at this, levelling up, grinding, becoming better at the game to take on new challenges)



Back to my experience as a runner.


When I would run without the NRC app I would generally know the outcome. I became tired and sweaty, sure I would feel a bit stronger in the long run, but as far as results I wasn’t feeling anything too exciting. But when using the NRC app, after my run I would quickly pause the app, and check my stats, each time my stats were different, had my extra work paid off? Was I faster today? How many calories do I burn in an hour? What was my pace? Each time I looked the stats were different, my reward (Reward of the self) was a fantastic feeling of knowing I was improving, the stats were there to prove it, and each time I checked I was getting a new reward. Strava is particularly popular amongst runners because not only can they share their most recent runs, but they can also view their friend’s and communities movements (Reward of theTribe)


Another example are the hated loot box mechanics we see in video games. Maybe I complete a daily task, I am then rewarded with a virtual box containing 4-5 prizes of varying rarity. The anticipation of opening the box is often accompanied by exciting music and explosions, the anticipation builds. Did I get a rare this time? This mechanic keeps people completing daily tasks, spending more time in game and opening more boxes. Reminds me of doing chores for pocket money as a kid, so that I could buy more Pokemon cards, and the feeling of opening a fresh pack just being glorious (Reward of the Hunt).


To keep users coming back, there must be a level of trust that the user has that the game will continue to be the same game. Users don’t like surprises that go against the core mechanics of the product. The reward must also be variable otherwise a user tends to get bored. Eyal uses the example of the hit TV show Breaking Bad, each episode followed a similar formula, Walter White has a problem, solves all or part of the problem and at the end of the episode a new problem arises, hooking the viewer into the next episode (which will be aired next week). As Breaking Bad neared its final season viewership soared, but once the show ended, viewership, of course, dropped. Now that the story was over how many people would re-watch the program, having already experienced and learned the story? The audience was hooked, but progressing through the cycle no longer held a variable reward.



If the action phase is all about doing something, here and now, the investment phase is all about our future use.


Take Spotify for example. I love Spotify. I have trouble imagining life without it. I don’t even think about Spotify, it’s second nature to plug in and listen. The more I use Spotify, the more valuable it becomes tome. My Discover Weekly is often a fantastic mix of strange and interesting music, sometimes it is way off, and I love that! The way that Spotify uses my investment (time and information) makes the service far more valuable than say an itunes 10 years ago and the more I use it, the more interesting it continues to become (I would love to see a better podcast algorithm though).


Other programs such as Photoshop get better and much easier to use once you have invested time and energy into them. Photoshop is a horribly daunting program to come across without any prior knowledge, but once you’ve put some time in, it becomes an amazing creative tool.


Investments increase the likelihood that a user will go through the hooked cycle again and again, as further use of the product brings the user back to a new trigger.


What Next?

So here we are, we have completed the cycle.


But what do we do with this information?


Build the next Facebook?


Create the next Candy Crush?


Get the world hooked on Loot boxes?


Well, Eyal has some advice on this, he outlines this using his Manipulation Matrix

By Nir Eyall, reproduced by me

Ideally you would be The Facilitator someone who would use the product themselves that you believe would make the users life better. The founders of Google believed this, they found an amazing way to index and search the internet, they did this because they believed that it would make using the internet faster, more accessible and a better experience for someone using the internet.


In stark contrast we see The Dealer; someone who would not use the product and does not think that it benefits the world, this is called exploitation. Casinos offer an evening of fun and excitement, but we’ve all heard of the punter who gambles away everything, just for a crack at the jackpot.


The Peddler believes that the product can improve people’s lives, but does not use the product themselves, a rather inauthentic way to continue with a product and consumers tend to see right through this.


The Entertainer on the other hand uses their product but does not believe that it benefits the world. The Entertainer is in the business of keeping people entertained, we see this in video games. The lives of games are often short lived, the highs are high, but the entertainer must know that all they are doing is working towards the next big hit. I love video games, but the yearly Call of Duty instalment isn’t a particularly great argument for improving people’s lives through that particular media.


Hooked is a fantastic book, not only does it outline the way in which these products keep us coming back, it also passes responsibility onto the reader. This power should be used for good.


I highly recommend reading it if you have a passing interest in the products that shape our lives.


I am looking forward to incorporating what I have learned into future products.


Right after I clear out my inbox….