Wearing a fitness tracker has turned from somewhat of a novelty to almost commonplace as the wearables market has continued its rapid growth. According to the statistics tracking website Statista, there were 15 million users of app-enabled wearable devices in 2013. That number is projected to grow to almost 100 million by 2018, at an estimated value of $12.6 billion. Wearable devices include fitness bands, smartwatches, glasses, jewelry, and clothing.
Although the market has been growing exponentially, one of the challenges for device manufacturers is keeping users engaged over time. In a 2014 white paper the strategy consulting firm Endeavor Partners found that most devices fail to drive long-term sustained engagement for a majority of users. The paper went on to say that more than half of U.S. consumers who owned an activity tracker no longer use it, and a third of U.S. consumers who owned an activity tracker stopped using the device within six months of receiving it.
So how can you avoid becoming a member of the group of people abandoning their devices, and in so doing lose the fight to reach your health and fitness goals? The key is that your wearable must provide value, while also having a positive impact on your behaviors and habits. If your device isn’t helping you make constructive and meaningful changes, you’re more likely to abandon it.
To avoid this all-too-common pitfall, it may be helpful to understand what makes a new behavior “stick.” According to Endeavor, there are nine baseline criteria these products must meet in order to achieve “sustained engagement” by their users. A failure in meeting even one of these can lead to the overall failure of a product or service. These are factors you should evaluate when you’re deciding which wearable is the right one for you:
But beyond these nine criteria, there are three behavioral factors that are less well understood — but likely more important — to achieving long-term engagement with your fitness tracker.
Habit formation. According to Endeavor, “Sustained engagement with a wearable device or complementary service depends on its ability to help the user form and stick with new habits.”
Habit formation is a complex process that occurs over time. Likewise, breaking bad habits can also be a complicated and lengthy process. Wearable devices have the potential to make the process of habit formation more effective and efficient. However, the device has to go beyond merely presenting your data (steps, calories, stairs) and incorporate elements of the “habit loop” (cue, behavior, reward) that will trigger the sequences that lead to establishing new, positive habits, Endeavor states.
One way to do this is to appeal to people’s desire for overall and lasting wellness, making achieving fitness a quality of life issue rather than appealing to more one-dimensional concepts like losing weight. Think in terms of having a health coach on your wrist, rather than simply a calorie tracker.
Social motivation. Another factor in maintaining your interest is how well it motivates you to change your behavior and attain your goals. There are several ways that wearables can effectively keep you motivated.
The first has to do with competition and collaboration. When you share your goals with others it’s motivating because friends and family will either actively support you or compete with you, or both. If you communicate your goals in social media, it can be motivating simply because you don’t want to lose face by not achieving them. If you’re especially competitive, a little friendly rivalry can be very motivating.
Another reason being socially involved can be motivating is because, in addition to learning from our own experiences, we also learn vicariously from others. So if you see that your friend has lost 10 pounds by using an activity tracker, you might be motivated to replicate that behavior.
A third reason social motivation can help sustain behaviors brought about by putting on a fitness tracker simply comes from the fact that human beings are extremely social creatures. According to some research, our need to connect with other people is even more fundamental than our need for food and shelter. A number of the current fitness trackers and their apps provide opportunities to participate in communities of like-minded people, providing a way to connect with and make new friends and discover new training routes and routines and what’s working for others.
Goal reinforcement. In order for you to stay engaged with your device over the long-term, it’s important to feel like it’s helping you make progress toward your goals. Fitness trackers and other wearables can accomplish this because they are always there and always on, providing continuous, on-demand feedback. The devices that have a coaching component will give you an electronic nudge to remind you that you need to do something to reach your previously-established goal, and many devices reward users with congratulatory messages and badges when they do reach their goals.
Fitness trackers and other wearable devices have the ability to interact with you at levels that can help transform bad habits and establish new, healthier behaviors. If you are really looking to make a change, evaluate the device you are considering by taking into account how well (or not) it addresses the points above. Make sure the fitness tracker you choose offers features that will support the goals you are trying to achieve by interacting with you in a comprehensive and robust way. Carefully evaluating the various features of each device will increase the likelihood that once you put your tracker on, you’ll keep it on and use it to its full potential to reach your goals.
But in the end, it has to start with you. You have to be motivated to reach your health and fitness goals before you buy a wearable. Your device can support you in developing and maintaining good habits, but no matter how cool and cutting edge it is, if you’re not motivated in the first place, it’s unlikely that something you wear on your wrist is going to transform you all by itself.
January 05, 2016