You are addicted to your smartphone. You might believe you are the exception, that you use it when you choose to use it, but that’s probably not true. You are just in denial.

Here’s the thing, most apps are designed to be addictive.

Most of the apps and digital platforms you use are designed to hook you in through small specific ways. Until, like Pavlov’s dogs, you are so well trained and conditioned that you require no prompts or triggers from them to use them. You feel the urge to check them, use them, and in some cases, you could be one of those people that experience anxiety when they haven’t checked their smartphone after an hour or so has gone by.

The HOOK model. Source: Nir Eyal

How they hook you in

Don’t worry though, it is not because you are weak or are not disciplined enough, it is mainly because most apps are intentionally designed to be addictive and habit forming (just like crack). In fact, the actual user experience (UX) design principle for creating habit-forming apps is actually known as the “Hook Model.”

The model has four recommended steps for building an app if you want it to be habit forming and addictive. It starts with a trigger to get you to use the app. This can be anything from an app notification to prompts inside the app that entice you to keep clicking and using the app. Once you are triggered, the app will prompt you to take some form of action, to make a commitment of sorts, to click on a video, a link, anything. Once you’ve clicked, just like drugs, a reward that is unpredictable or leaves you wanting more is given to you, some apps do this through gamification, unlocking new digital badges, emojis, points etc. Lastly, to make sure you are hooked and to also improve the Digital Crack, the app designer tests your commitment and how much you are willing to invest in this new habit of yours by asking you to buy, subscribe, share some data like personal details, share with friends, etc. At this stage, once you’ve completed all the stages, you are hooked.

Rinse and repeat.


Now, knowing this, do you still think you are not addicted to some apps?

More importantly, what can you do to minimize this engineered addiction given that some of these apps form a somewhat important part of our lives?

It’s highly unlikely that app designers, chasing unicorn status and $1 billion startup valuations, will give up this design methodology as it is profitable. The most important thing you can do is to turn off app notifications. Yes, turn them off, all of them. At first, just like a drug addict, you will continue checking your phone regularly to see if you have any actions you need to take on the various apps you are addicted. That’s fine, it’s expected (you are addicted, remember?). It will take a while until you finally don’t feel the need to regularly check the app but are able to check it on a periodic basis that you determine. This is a key step as you’ve seen above, notifications are the first trigger to getting you addicted.

All the best in kicking the habit.

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