What Flappy Bird Can Teach Us About Habits

FlappyBirdFlappy Bird is the latest, wildly popular, video game for Android and IOS phones and tablets.  Many people who have played the game are puzzled as to why it is so compelling.  The graphics in the game are simple, even outdated.  The sounds are similarly reminiscent of video games from the late 1980’s.  The game play is just to make it through the gaps in vertical pipes.  That is it.  That is the entire game!  Why is it that so many people have become “addicted” to playing this game.  Many people who continue to play it even claim to hate the game, but still, find themselves going back to it day after day.  They continue to play just one more round, repeatedly, until, for many, hours have past.  This is exactly the way habits are formed and is a very good example of how habits are triggered.

When playing Flappy Bird, three things take place that entice players to play again:

Quick Restart

The game is very quick to restart.  There are other games that take some time to get back to the beginning screen.  Either there is some extended, game over sequence of animation and sound, or there are several steps to take to get the game started again.  This quick restart of Flappy Bird gives the player a feeling of little effort (in time commitment) to play just one more time.  Each time the game ends, the player is only committing to playing for a handful of seconds (for most, that is how long a round of Flappy Bird lasts).  Give it one more try, the cost is so low.  It often will feel like one final attempt, but the final attempts keep recurring.  It is only intended to be the final attempt at the beginning of the attempt.  When the attempt ends, there is just one more.

Success is so close!

The game ends when the bird touches a pipe.  Most of the time, the bird just barely touches a pipe.  The player is left with a feeling of being so very close to have made it through the gap.  That feeling of having been so close to continuing, so close to beating the previous person best score entices the player to give it one more try.  And as we have already seen, one more try is so simple, and so quick.

Desire for Improvement

The final thing that makes Flappy Bird so compelling is that success builds desire for more.  Most players, when playing the game for the first time, take several attempts to clear the first pipe gap.  The initial success of making it through the gap is satisfying, but then creates a strong desire to clear several gaps in succession.  There is a feeling of being able to do even better!  Just one more try and an new personal record for gaps cleared can be made.

From Enticements to Habits

Do you see something familiar with these three things?  These are three of the main enticements, triggers or motivations that drive the development of habits.  It is these very same things that keep compulsive gamblers, smokers, drinkers and even philanderers returning to their vices.

The gambler was so close to winning that hand of blackjack, that roll of the dice at the craps table, or that spin at the slot machine.  The gambler can quickly play one more game.  The gambler remembers that most recent win and feels as if an even bigger jackpot can be made.  Just one more try.

The overeater was so close to experiencing the best spicy hot potato chips ever.  And the extra large bag of chips does not have to be finished, but just one more chip, it will be the last one.  The overeater remembers how delicious the last indulgence of potato chips was, and thinks this will be the last, final indulgence.  The final chip fest to end all chip fests.  Why quit eating potato chips now, just one last bag  This will be the last time and then no more chips will be eaten.  No more extra large bags will be purchased.  Just this one last time.

The very same pattern happens to the drinker, smoker and to all people who are slaves to their bad habits.

It works for good habit too!

The good news is, that the very same motivators work for good habits as well.

Success comes from restarting quickly and restarting often.  Most people have read about how so many successful people reached success by restarting over and over again.  Common examples of successful poeple who just kept restarting are Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Edison.  They just kept restarting every time the previous attempt did not achieve the desired result.  Edison famously made well over one thousand attempts before an efficient light bulb was achieved.  Quick restarts with new attempts and increasing desire is a habit that drives success.

Success comes from being able to see the potential for a better result.  Being convinced that an improved performance is possible and a strong desire to achieve a better performance drives success.  Improvement is almost impossible without believing that it is possible.  Improvement is also equally difficult if their is not a strong desire to achieve it.  The key here is to focus on incremental improvements.  Break down the big goal into a series of smaller goals that one is already close to being able to achieve.  This is often the approach of people who set a goal to complete their first marathon.  They first set a goal to complete a short distance (5 km is common).  Successfully completing one distance is followed by running at bit farther.  With each success at a longer distance, eventually the full marathon distance is successfully completed.  Those that set out to complete longer distances initially often fail to complete a marathon.  It is this continual setting of incrementally bigger goals that results in success in achieving big goals.  That doesn’t mean that the big goal cannot be set, but that achieving it comes from setting many smaller goals along the way.  The habit of incremental goals drives the success of big goals!

Success also comes from continually setting new goals.  The setting of new goals is perhaps the habit the drives the greatest of successes.  The reaching of one goal is the launchpad for attempting even bigger goals.  Apple Inc. became the huge success they are today by continually striving for even greater ground breaking products, some products had less success than others.  There has been a clear pattern at Apple of not resting on the previous success (whether measured by sales, market share or simply the creation of new product niches) from the early day of the first Apple computer, to the Apple II, the first Macintosh, Newton, Powerbook, iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad and likely more products to come.  Apple keeps setting new goals, striving for new successes in new product areas.  Apple is not unique in this area.  Many other companies including Google, Amazon and Virgin have also achieved long term success by continually setting new and bigger goals.  But it is not only companies that do this.  People achieve success in the same way.  The previously mentioned Abraham Lincoln continued to reset goals on bigger achievements, until finally reaching the presidency of the United States of America.  This continually setting new and bigger goals is a habit.

Be the Bird!

Give the Flappy Bird game a try.  Pay attention to why the game ends up being played over and over again, then, set up your life so that your goals can be driven by the same three motivators.

  1. Make your goal achievable by making it easy to restart attempts.
  2. Break your big goal down into smaller goals so that success appears to be close at hand.
  3. Finally, make achieving success increase your desire for more success.

Just like playing Flappy Bird, success is a habit.  Make a habit of making good habits!

Watch for our next article where we give an example of applying the Flappy Bird technique to achieving goals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *