Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: Dataset and Analysis of Real World Habit Building Attempts

The pursuit of habit building is challenging, and most people struggle with it. Research on successful habit formation is mainly based on small human trials focusing on the same habit for all the participants as conducting long-term heterogonous habit studies can be logistically expensive. With the advent of self-help, there has been an increase in online communities and applications that are centered around habit building and logging. Habit building applications can provide large-scale data on real-world habit building attempts and unveil the commonalities among successful ones. We collect public data on stickk.com, which allows users to track progress on habit building attempts called commitments. A commitment can have an external referee, regular check-ins about the progress, and a monetary stake in case of failure. Our data consists of 742,923 users and 397,456 commitments. Rooted in theories like Fresh Start Effect, Accountablity, and Loss Aversion, we ask questions about how commitment properties like start date, external accountability, monitory stake, and pursuing multiple habits together affects the odds of success. We found that people tend to start habits on temporal landmarks, but that does not affect the probability of their success. Practices like accountability and stakes are not often used but are strong determents of success. Commitments of 6 to 8 weeks in length, weekly reporting with an external referee, and a monetary amount at stake tend to be most successful. Finally, around 40% of all commitments are attempted simultaneously with other goals. Simultaneous attempts of pursuing commitments may fail early, but if pursued through the initial phase, they are statistically more successful than building one habit at a time.

Hitkul, Rajiv Ratn Shah, and Ponnurangam Kumaraguru. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: Dataset and Analysis of Real World Habit Building Attempts. Accepted at International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media (ICWSM) 2024.