Why Data Backed Behavior Change Works

Habits can be hard to form, but they’re necessary for anyone who wants to live a healthier lifestyle.

Before we truly commit to any diet, workout routine, or sleep schedule, we have to accept the basic truth that our health has a direct relationship to our actions. Once that acceptance takes place, our brains are more open to forming a psychological pattern called a habit loop.

In short, a habit loop is a three-part process:

  1. Our brain receives a cue to switch to autopilot
  2. We complete the action associated with the cue
  3. Our brain makes a positive association between our action and the presumed outcome

Data and technology can help at each step in this process, offering cues, actionable information, and rewards that we haven’t had before. And as our devices continue to learn more about our existing habits (or lack there of), there’s more room than ever for data to drive the way towards better behavior.

Trying to change a habit? Here are some ways data can help you get on track:

  • Write it down: Putting your goal in writing can make it feel more real. Taking a moment to record daily progress can serve as a helpful reminder of your commitment and why it matters to stick with it.
  • Know how to measure the benefits: When healthy habits are tied to a goal of weight loss, lower blood pressure, or steady blood sugar, it’s important to keep tabs on how well your new behaviors are working over time. Seeing results can be a big motivator.
  • Set personalized goals: Monitor your personal habits until patterns emerge, then set goals that make sense for you. For example, if you’re using a fitness tracker to count steps each day, you’ll know if the typical 10,000-step goal is right for you, or too big of a leap to achieve.

Overall, it’s most important to start simple and use data to inform a reasonable approach. As long as your new habits are achievable, you’re much more likely to keep them long past the 90-day experimental window that’s typically required for new behaviors to stick.