Tag Archive for motivation

Second Thoughts on UP

As I type this, I’m wearing my UP bracelet – so if you don’t feel like reading this entire post, you can just consider the UP experiment to be an ongoing success.

I learned the most about my ongoing relationship with the UP when my band failed. In fact, that’s when I found out it was a relationship in the first place! I spent more time than I’d like to admit unplugging, replugging, resetting, and recharging. I even gave my band a helpful pep talk! Needless to say, nothing worked. I called customer service, got a printable shipping label, sent my band back and had a replacement en route the same day.

After more than a week with the band, going without it was strange. Here’s what I noticed.

Wrist freedom. I’ve had trouble with RSI in the past, so I’m hyper-aware of wrist stress. While the band didn’t give me any problems, I never quite got used to it enough to stop noticing it. This is actually partly good; noticing the band reminds me of my commitment to healthy behavior. Still, I enjoyed the extra freedom, particularly while typing and knitting.

Knowledge is power. It was sad not to know how much I was walking every day, especially because during the three days I was bandless I ran around quite a bit. I didn’t realize how excited I was to have that data until, suddenly, I didn’t.

Consistency rules. I’ve been kind of annoyed by the band’s built-in alarm and its tendency to ignore my sleep goals when waking me up. However, I didn’t realize the system’s biggest benefit: it was just hard enough to reset the alarm that I was leaving it set for the same time every day. While I was bandless, I kept on waking up at that time – sometimes even before my alarm!

Now that I’ve got my band back, I’m once again syncing my data three or four times a day to see how far I’ve walked. I’m not using the built-in alarm anymore, but I’ve set my phone alarm to wake me at the same time every day. And I’m reconciled to the slight adjustments I’ve got to make while wearing it. For the moment, it’s clearly worthwhile.

I’m still waiting for Jawbone to give me better access to my data, but I believe they’ll eventually get this right. For the moment I’m fairly happy collecting a baseline set of activity, sleep and food data, and finding patterns on my own.

Previously: First Thoughts on UP

First Thoughts on UP

Tuesday night, I came home to find a package waiting for me in the mailbox. It was a Jawbone UP! I breathlessly peeled it out of its case (notably well-designed, by the way) and stuck it on my wrist. I’m not only a game designer, I’ve also been trying to stay active while writing my dissertation, which is harder than you’d think – so I’m analyzing this thing both as a researcher and as a user.

For those following along at home, the UP is a system that tracks your activity, eating and sleep habits. The system includes a rubberized wristband, which has an accelerometer and a button that lets you give it some explicit instructions, like “I’m working out now” and “I’m sleeping now.” It connects to an app, which lets you see your results, and also lets you take pictures of your food for later analysis.

Some things about it are awesome …

Always available. I’ve owned a pedometer for years. Guess how often I remember to clip it on when I’m heading out? I can wear the wristband anywhere – even in the shower. If I never take it off, I never have to remember to put it back on. Similarly, my phone is the one thing I can count on always having nearby. I can check my data anytime, which is super motivating. For example, today I decided to do errands on my way home, instead of asking my husband to do them, because I checked my activity level on my way out of the office and realized it was low.

Sleep data. In addition to telling me how much I sleep, the band collects data on the quality and depth of my sleep. It can tell when I wake up in the middle of the night, when I’m sleeping deeply, and when I’m only lightly dozing. It gives me an overall sleep quality rating, and a picture of when I was in which mode of sleep during the night. Very cool.

Activity and food reminders. The band can be set to vibrate at various periods during the day, if you haven’t gotten any activity recently. (I’ve got mine set for once per hour.) The app pops up a notification asking you how you feel three hours after each meal. Together, these reminders mean that you never have to think about the app; it nudges you when it’s time for you to take action, and it doesn’t have to occupy mental space in between. As someone who has a lot going on, I really appreciate that feature.

On the other hand …

Alarm stupidity. The band’s got a built-in alarm system that wakes you up when it thinks, based on physiological signals, that your body is most ready to be awake. You give it a half-hour range and it does its best! The problem is that it keeps waking me up 12-15 minutes before I hit my sleep goals for the day. I’m walking around all day with a 99% full sleep meter, and wishing I could just tell the thing to be a little more chill when I’m about to get a full seven hours. But I can’t shift my alarm later because if it wakes me up too late, I won’t make it to the office on time. The app knows about my sleep goals; it should use that information to manage my alarm settings.

Requires connectivity. Instead of keeping my data on my phone, it logs it back to a central server every single time there’s an update. This might not be a problem for some people, but my office has neither wireless nor cell phone reception. It means I have to walk upstairs to check on my data – which, okay, okay, means I’m getting more activity, but it’s also kind of a pain.

Data analysis. Or rather, the extremely light-weight nature thereof. All you can really see is how you’ve done that day. No graphs, no charts, no trends – or if there are any, they’re so deeply buried I haven’t found them yet. I’m hoping they release better data analysis tools and more visualizations over time.

And here’s what I’ve learned about myself …

I sleep less than I think. I spent all of high-school and college perpetually sleep-deprived, so I like to boast about how getting eight hours of sleep a night is a priority. Turns out I sleep less than that – a lot less. My longest night of sleep so far was just over seven hours. If that’s a pattern, it needs to change.

I walk more than I think – a lot more. I like to walk, and for a while my husband and I were walking something like twenty miles a week, on top of our normal everyday activity. With my crazy deadlines, that’s fallen by the wayside a bit – but my “everyday” level of activity is still over 2 miles a day. That’s not awful, and I’m finding ways to increase it in one-minute increments. That way I can maintain a better baseline of activity even when I’m swamped, like I am now.

I rarely eat between meals. In fact, my biggest challenge is that I forget to eat, and then get hungry, cranky and headachy. I have to stop grabbing whatever’s handy at 3pm.

I’ll be reporting back in a couple of weeks, so I’ll let you know how much of this is first-blush excitement and how much is sustainable. I’m guessing the latter, especially if I can find some people I know who are also trying this thing. I wouldn’t want to share my data with strangers, but I’d love to collaborate with (and challenge!) my friends. So if you’re UP for it (oh, but you knew I was going there at some point) let me know and I’ll add you to my team!

On Building Glitch

Here’s a lovely article on building Glitch, the crafting-based MMO.

The most important line in the whole piece:

“We realized that if we incentivized things that were inherently boring,” Butterfield told me, “people would do them again and again—it showed up in the logs—but that they would secretly hate us.”

I can’t get over that word inherently. What’s boring? To whom? Does the boredom-value of an activity change with context? As a designer, I get what Butterfield means; as a scholar, I want to figure out how to anatomize boring, especially in the context of play.

The real insight, though, is that separation of action and emotion. If an activity is both boring and incentivized, players will both do it and hate you. Brilliant.

Reward That!

In third grade, I participated in the MS Readathon. Just like a Walkathon, the Readathon asked you to collect pledges for each book you read during a specific period of time. Depending on how much money you raised, there were prizes and rewards – books, posters, certificates, and more. Plus, our school held an assembly where the highest earners were publicly honored.

Now, as you probably know from following this blog, I love to read. Back in third grade, that was just as true. I spent my recess time with my nose in a book, and my favorite activity was going to the library.

I also, as it happens, love public recognition and praise. So as a third-grader, I set my sights on being the highest earner in the school. I wanted to stand up in front of everyone and have the principal say what a good reader I was, and how I was so committed to community service, and that everyone in the school should try to be more like me. I literally dreamed about it for weeks.

I was a smart kid, so I sat down and did the math. I could spend my time recruiting lots of donors – not really my strength. Or I could get a couple of per-book pledges, and then just read a whole hell of a lot.

I somehow managed to wangle a dollar-a-book pledge out of my parents, who should have known better. After hitting up my grandparents and my parents’ closest friends, I was up to $2.50 a book. After researching how much the previous year’s winner had raised, I figured that I needed to read at least a hundred books in thirty days in order to win.

Let me say that again. A hundred books. Thirty days.  If I wanted to get on that stage, I needed a plan.

On the first day of the Readathon, I went to the library. Instead of heading for my usual haunts, the science fiction and adult sections, I went straight for the kids’ room. I picked the shortest, thinnest chapter books I could find. Ramona Quimby? Two hundred pages. Out. Frog and Toad Are Friends? Sixty-four pages. In. Forty books were no problem for me to carry home, and at that length I could handle at least one a day with ease.

Next I hit up my sister’s collection. She was in kindergarten at the time; even though she’d also been an early reader, her books were nice and short and simple. She wouldn’t let me take them out of her room, so I put a pillow on the floor and dug in. I could easily read five a day, in addition to my library booty.

To make a long story short: in thirty days, I read a hundred and ninety two books. My donors were flabbergasted. I raised a whole lot of money. I got up on that stage, just like I wanted. And after the ceremony, the principal called me into his office to explain that I hadn’t exactly kept to the spirit of the contest.

“You mean raising a lot of money?” I said. “I did that!”

“Well,” he said gently, “how you do it also matters.”

I wasn’t going to smart-talk the principal, but I knew better. If the how mattered, they would have put it in the rules.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my Readathon experience lately, because it’s a classic case of what’s referred to as “undermining intrinsic interest with extrinsic rewards.” I loved to read because I loved disappearing into a story. I loved learning new things and challenging my mind. I loved talking to my dad about books, and I lived for the approval he’d give me when I had something interesting to say about them. But for thirty days, all that was on hold. My approach to reading became an instrumental one, all about quantity rather than quality. Instead of thinking about what I was reading, I was thinking about how fast I could finish and what I would look like up on stage. I was thinking about what reading would get for me, not what reading meant to me.

Now, that doesn’t mean I think that all rewards undermine your interest in things. In fact, most complicated rewards start out as extrinsic to the individual. We’re biologically programmed to find certain things rewarding (food, affection) but over time we develop more complex desires. Even if humans have a common hierarchy of needs, the ways we think we can fulfill them are defined by our shared culture and our individual experiences. I may have an innate need for novelty, achievement, respect, and creativity, but learning to get those things through reading took time and was supported by rewards that weren’t always related to reading per se.

The question, then, is how to design an external reward system that supports intrinsic interest rather than undermining it. I found three lessons for reward system design in the Readathon, so I’ll share them with you.

First, reward the right things. The Readathon rewarded the total amount of money raised, which lent itself to exploitation. I knew kids who saw that as a challenge to read as little as they could. Instead, they spent all their time soliciting pledges. I was terribly jealous of a girl in my class who was getting more than ten dollars a book! Similarly, my “read only easy books” approach was all about gaming the system.

Second, control reward potency. Part of the reason that I dropped my pleasure reading for a month was because the external reward – being publicly praised – was so powerful for me. Now, not everyone feels as strongly about recognition as I do, but not everyone loves reading as much, either. The key is to start with a good ratio between the value of the extrinsic and intrinsic rewards, and to lower the relative value of extrinsic rewards as intrinsic motivation increases.

Finally, consider your audience. One of the Readathon’s unspoken goals was to get kids more engaged with reading. But I was already a passionate reader who could handle adult books! I don’t think I read a single book at grade level, let alone at my actual reading level, in the whole month – but for another child the books I read might have been challenging. A system that’s going to include a young Jessica, a grade-level reader, and a struggling reader has to have rewards and roles for all of them.

Fortunately for me, my Readathon experience didn’t change my lasting attitude toward books – but not everyone who encounters a broken reward system is so lucky. That’s why I spend my time working on reward system design, and trying to come up with principles that can help other designers do it better.

Passion and Work

I’m generally hesitant to write about studies I haven’t read yet, but I was so fascinated by this piece about passion and work that I’ll break my own rule. (But I’ll get the original article when I’m back on campus next week!)

I came across this piece as part of some research I’m doing on meaning-making and intrinsic motivation. Passion – what an awesome thing to study! But what really captured my imagination was Vallerand’s distinction between two types of passion: harmonious passion and obsessive passion.

Harmonious passion, Vallerand argues, is passion that fits into one’s life. Work is experienced as joyful, harmonious, and consonant with one’s larger life values. Obsessive passion, on the other hand, involves uncontrollable urges and a sense of lack of control. Instead of work fitting into one’s life, the work becomes one’s life.

While I couldn’t easily find the passion type questionnaire online, I used the examples quoted in the article to give myself a quick self-test. Do I engage in my work with a harmonious or an obsessive passion? Based on their six questions – half the test – I seem to be harmoniously passionate.

What was most useful to me about this model was actually how I feel about my passion. I sometimes feel guilty that I’m not more obsessive about my work. I’m very happy when I’m singing, or sailing, or reading, or talking to interesting people. If I couldn’t do the work I do, I can imagine other work that would satisfy me. For a long time, I’ve wondered if that dooms me to being creatively and professionally second-rate. Conceiving of this experience as successful harmonious passion, instead of unsuccessful obsessive passion, lets me see the power and advantages of my approach. I call it my ‘magpie mind’ – my ability to see all the things I do in the context of the questions that interest me. When I’m singing or reading or sailing, I’m doing so as the same person who writes and designs studies and conducts research. That lets me bring the lessons of those experiences back into my professional life.

On the other hand, I do have an obsessive passion. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you can probably guess what it is: reading. I think about the books I read all the time. If I don’t read, it impacts my mood. I sometimes can’t stop myself from reading when I really should be doing other things.

According to the article, obsessive passion is linked to a whole host of negative experiences and outcomes – but reading is an enormously positive force in my life. I wonder if that’s because it’s a core part of my identity. It’s part of my work and part of my play, part of my relationships and part of my deeply private life.

All that said: after some of my recent reading, I can’t stop hearing the class assumptions behind any discussion of work and passion. I’ve definitely got to get my hands on that original paper to see whether they’re conflating a psychological experience with a sociological construct. You may be hearing more from me about this then.

Eyeballing and Scoring

Screenshot of Eyeballing game.

Screenshot of Eyeballing game.

I just spent some time playing The Eyeballing Game, which has convinced me that you can make a game out of just about anything. This game asks players to tackle a series of visual tasks, from bisecting an angle to finding the point of convergence of three lines. (Shown: create a right angle by moving the blue line!)

There are three things, as far as I’m concerned, that make this experience a fun one. First, the game challenges skills I don’t often have the chance to explore. Visual perception may be useful in some professions, but it’s never been a particular strength of mine, and I certainly don’t use it much from day to day. It was very satisfying for me to feel my brain stretch as I got better at the exercises!

That brings me to the second point that made this game successful: the game gives you feedback on how you did. After each of the seven mini-games, it shows how many “units” you were off by, and actually shows you what the correct answer looks like. This helps you get better over time, both because you can consciously try to understand why a particular answer was off and because you unconsciously get better at seeing. For example, I developed a conscious strategy for the right-angle game, namely turning my head until the base of the angle looked horizontal; I also found myself more able to perceive when the blue line was very slightly off the perpendicular. Because you get to play each game three times per round, you can actually watch yourself improve!

That brings me to the third thing that’s successful about this game: that the game tracks your progress over time. Not only do you get to see your three scores per game per round, but the game tracks your best score on a particular computer, and it lets you compare yourself against the best recent players. Even the simple guideline of “lower is better” helps shape your relationship to these games. When I’d make a mistake and be off by, say, 30.9 units, I’d find myself cringing at the thought of what it would do to my average.

There are lessons for Advance here. The bad news is that this game has only made me more sure that we need to get our feedback to players just right – and I’m not sure we’ve managed it yet. But on the bright side, if this game can be motivating and engaging by introducing scoring and feedback, so can ours. While we’ve made some early prototypes that show our basic gameplay is fun, we’re relying heavily on our scoring system to get players to think carefully about bias. This game reassures me that getting the numbers to be as big or as small as possible can be highly motivating, at least for players like me.