Out With Goals – In With Habits


Losers have goals. Winners have systems.

Tim Ferris interviewed Scott Adams when working on Tools of Titans and from which the meme, “Losers have goals, Winners have systems ” was published. The essence of Scott’s idea is that we should choose projects and habits that, even if they result in failure, in the eyes of the outside world, give you skills that inevitably allow you to succeed. “What persistent skills can I develop over short term goals? ” The former has a snowball effect, while the latter is a binary pass/fail with no consolation prize.


In order to drive engagement in banking, goal setting has become a popular feature in many digital banking experiences. Yet they’re working neither for neither bank nor customer. There are three core reasons for the failure:

  • Lack of post goal setting engagement
  • Wrong goals – too big, hard or easy
  • Goals create losers – binary pass/fail. Does that seem like something you want?

When most goals are set within digital banking today that is all that happens. The goal is set. You get a graph, with a line and some numbers , very little else and certainly;y very little post goal engagement . This looks very different to what happens when I set up some goals on my iWatch. In fact, when you dig in, its very little about goal setting but habit building. I open the app, there are some present goals and I go to work, setting habits.

There is increasing recognition that its not about goals but habits. Many of us brush our teeth each morning and night. It’s kind of a goal but its not very SMART – Most of us would just like to keep our teeth. We didn’t set the goal, our mums, dads and dentists created the habit when we were children and we kept it up. If we want to get great at things we need to form habits around them. Tim Ferris in his Tools of Titans books talks at length of this as he interviews his Titans. If we want to be great, we have to develop the capability, we have to develop the day-to-day habits that get us there.There is nothing more powerful than a good habit. Nothing that holds us back quite like a bad habit. We are what we repeatedly do.

Research published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes on average 66 days to install a new habit. Habits work by breaking big goals down into smaller micro goals that are more achievable and present opportunities for platforms to drive engagement. By breaking down the goals into smaller actions, we can wire up AI driven rules engines to trigger the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine through numerous game mechanics, leveraging the way our reward centre in our brain works

Jamie Pride calls out three steps to building powerful habits. He describes how weighing yourself everyday leads to people losing weight because it becomes a cornerstone habit; eating, exercising and sleeping better because of it. His
three steps to building the habits and therefore achieving the goals are

MINIMISE – Chunk down the goals

  • The best way to eat an elephant – one bite at a time
  • Easiest way across a desert – one step at a time

The idea is to create action

  • Are you looking to take up mediation? Start with a minute of mindfulness.
  • Want to get fit? Start with one push up.
  • Want to write a book? How about writing 50 words a day.
  • Want a jet ski? Save $40 now!

The point is to eliminate the excuses and lower the bar so that action occurs and can then be repeated

STACK the habits

Once the daily habits are established, the next step is to chain them. There are three components to a habit;

  • Cue that triggers the habit,
  • the Action or Routine that you take,
  • Reward upon completion of the habit.

In Game Design and inherent in the way the GameSystem has been built the “If This Then That” engine drives the stacking

  • Cue – Monthly Pay Arrives
  • Action – Pay bills
  • Reward  – Deliver Notification

Its not the goal setting that’s important when trying to drive habits and in the world of finance, financial fitness. Its ensuring the engine drives the stacking of the behaviours to enforce the habits. The engine must define and pick up the cues, motivate action and enforce repetition through reward.

In the Jetski example, even once the goal was sent, we can see there was an immediate opportunity for micro events and actions (make first payment)  to be taken off the cue (Goal Set) to be followed up by a Reward.

BECOME – the habiteur

“A vegan, an atheist and a cross fitter walk into a bar. I only know because they told everyone in the first two minutes”. These three communities are well known because they are heavily linked with an individuals identity. Their activities are more than actions and goals they are a way of life, as habits become ones identity, you become what you want to achieve. One goes from writing a book to becoming a writer. One goes from having a jetski to becoming a JetSkier.

As banks around the world seek to exist on purpose and seek opportunity in financial wellness, they must become more grounded in the science of what it takes to deliver change, helping customers build strong savings and spending habits by embedding behavioural economics through game design into the digital experience.

Banks have spent the last 15 years building user experiences by firstly making systems available to users and secondly removing the friction from the user experience. Some call this making the experience “buttery smooth” . That’s what everyone’s  been doing for the last 15 years . How is your digital bank going to be different. How will it be compelling? Helping people to be successful is a powerful platform to compete on. Success is built by stacking habits over a lifetime. As George Washington said. “Many nickles make a muckle” (an old Scots word meaning ‘large quantity). Businesses are built from the humble work of everyday. Trees that grow strong grow slowly.  Its the little things, the habits, stacked on top of each other that make the difference, that define success and who you are. Its not sexy or bold, but its dependable. Deliberate, incremental, consistent work gets you there, where “there” is the launch pad for the next “there”. Its the process not the outcome.

Multiple websites reports that a fill-in-the-blank superfood fights cancer. Guess what?  No single food will end cancer. What do we know?

Eat fresh produce. Don’t smoke. Exercise regularly. It’s not sexy, but it’s key to staying healthy. Its the stacking of habits. They define us.

MOROKU Step 4 – Build the Story

In the absence of data we make up stories. They giving meaning to what’s happening in front of us and how to respond, mostly out of self preservation. Religions are a classic example. This is why organisations are riddled with them. Dopamine fires off when we recognise and complete patterns. Stories are patterns. “The brain recognises the familiar beginning-middle-end structure of the story and rewards for clearing up  any ambiguity, even if that story is wrong” Before we Minimise, Stack and Become, we must create the story. This is why story telling and doing so through game design are so fundamental . We have to firstly create a new story about who we are , including that for the customer. At Moroku we believe strongly the story around financial fitness; everyone doing their best and getting better. This becomes the true north of the business, guiding product and service creation along with customer experience and engagement. It’s polar opposite are slippery service engines targeted at selling. As we collect data we are extremely well positioned to add precision, moving from being data driven to event driven, placing  events within a story, architected through game. The story recognises the many player archetypes that coexist within our customers, regardless how niche, motivated by different things and, as the pandemic reveals, new truths beyond price are becoming more prevalent.

Behaviour follows the status quo unless it is acted upon by a decrease in friction or an increase in fuel. Almost every User Experience designer on the planet is engaged in trying to remove the friction. We’ve removed so much of it, we now risk over thinking friction, making it buttery smooth. The smart money is on adding fuel, adding fuel to the habit bonfire by placing them within meaningful stories. We must move away from setting goals for people that always seem too hard or boring and towards helping users stack habits and create systems for success , powering peoples goals, not just setting them.

The Moroku GameSystem methodology helps banks define player journeys that create these habits. The GameSystem platform then embeds them into the digital experience and provides the guard rails to add the fuel to stack them. We are here to help banks win by helping their customers win and do what the bankers in the clip below from “Jack Ryan” thought couldn’t be done with computers; build trust and relationships.

Out With Goals – In With Habits – Moroku


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