A mobile phone lies face-up on a table, with an image of a race track on the screen. A tiny, three-dimensional athlete crouched on top of the phone at the starting line of the race.

Forget habit tracking – ADHD brains need habit-rewarding apps

I’m pleased to report that my efforts to write a minimum of 200 words every day continue strong. I haven’t managed to write every single day, but I have managed to be forgiving of my slips, and to pick up where I left off after only a day or two. And that in itself is a big deal for me.

Still, I’m aware that like all habits I try to develop, the hardest part will be keeping myself motivated when I’ve been doing this long enough that the novelty factor of “I’m actually writing nearly every day!” wears off.

Yesterday I caught How To ADHD’s YouTube video on “the motivation bridge”, which essentially talks about the same facet of ADHD I covered in this post: that ADHD brains struggle to be motivated in the absence of some very specific elements – novelty, challenge, or urgency.

It was a useful reminder (because another facet of ADHD is that our epiphanies are easily forgotten once their own novelty wears off!) and got me thinking about what kinds of external rewards I could use to keep my daily writing habit feeling fresh and exciting.

And because I a) love my smartphone and b) hate accumulating actual stuff, my immediate thought was an app.

Growing habits, growing trees

The app I’m trying out first is called Grow.

With Grow, you create a habit and give yourself a set number of days over which you want to consistently practice that habit (the default is 66 days, which is apparently based on studies in the European Journal of Social Psychology that suggest 66 is the average number of days it takes to establish a new habit). Everyday that you complete your habit adds another green dot to Grow’s calendar – but more importantly, it adds to the growth of a tiny virtual seedling that.

So every day that I write 200 words, I am rewarded by the chance to work on growing a healthy, watercolour-style tree.

It’s incredibly simple in both concept and interface, which is perfect for me – I need apps that can’t distract me too much with customisation options and other bells and whistles.But I can already tell that the actual reward is going to lose its novelty value quickly.

The tree only has so many growth stages, so most days I don’t see any change at all. Since there’s only one design of tree, after I’ve grown it once I know what it will look like at every stage, so there goes the novelty value. And worst of all, apart from ticking “yes I did this” every day, my role in the tree’s growth is entirely passive. How am I supposed to stay excited about that?

Reward me!

Here’s what I think would be perfect: a habit-tracking app that combines the simplicity and streak/reward focus of Grow with the actual rewards of something like Habitica – or Animal Crossing, Neko Atsume, or any number of other addictive smartphone games that revolve around customisable rewards.

For example: every day that I complete my writing habit, as well as seeing my calendar streak, I get rewarded with, say, one guava.* Guavas are a currency – once I’ve accumulated enough, I can use them to “buy” pieces of furniture which which to decorate a virtual house. Or flowers and statues for a virtual garden, outfits for a virtual family, body parts for designing a virtual species (personally I would love this one, but I might be an outlier), toys for a virtual cat, and so on and so forth.

The point is, for keeping up with my habit I don’t just see the same growth of the same tree. I get to take control over what rewards I earn and what I do with them.

Ideally, there would be extra rewards for reaching streak milestones (say, at 10 days unbroken streak I unlock a new colour palette for my rewards?). And for each new habit I would get a new virtual room/garden/whatever: a blank canvas that I’ll be able to play with only once I get habitting.

Anyone know if there’s an app like that out there? Or alternatively, any app designers want to take a crack at it?

Because that is a habit-rewarding app that I would pay good money to try.


*Guavas are a callback to my all time favourite writing tracker app, Writeometer, which was essentially perfect for me and has tragically gone the way of the dinosaurs. Return

Image by composita from Pixabay
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