Starting with a drink of water
UX researchers, toddlers, safety, and routines
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Simone Davies writes about toddlers, but she might as well be writing about me.
In The Montessori Toddler, she says, “They like the predictability of knowing what is happening now and what is coming next. It provides them with a feeling of safety and security.”
As I’ve written about before, the last couple years have been differently hard for me, as they have been for so many of us. To say that my sense of safety and security has been challenged is a big ol’ trauma-infused understatement.
And so, lately, routines have been providing me solace and forward movement.
Morning routines, of course, are beloved by a certain subset of self-help gurus and journalists. I expect you, too, have come upon mentions of what so-called “successful people” do with their mornings, so that we can copy their daily lives and, we hope, their success. “Get up early,” we’re told, “and the world is yours for the taking!”
The routines I'm talking about are less glamour-seeking and more survival-making.
A series of Instagram ads lured me into downloading Fabulous, one of many habit or task-tracking apps I’ve tried. This one can be quite charming and pleasant, with soothing music, celebratory screens, and motivational illustrations that include a touch of fantasy.
I was surprised to discover that the app wasn’t exactly about routines to start—it was about habits. But of course, what is a routine, but several habits grouped together?
If you’ve explored self-help in the last few years, you've probably happened upon the idea of “habit stacking.” The idea is that if you want to make something a habit, you can decide to do it immediately after or during something you already do regularly, like brush your teeth or ride the metro to work. By associating a current habit with the desired one, you reduce the friction that it takes to establish the new one.
With Fabulous’s encouragement, I started with something simple and soothing: Drink water. And here was the key: Drink water as soon as you wake up.
I wasn't looking for it, but with this habit stacking, I gained a little spark of purpose each morning. Previously, I had been reluctantly responding to my child’s calls upon waking. I would roll over earlier than that and wish that I were relaxed enough to sleep until I did hear him call. Now, as my groggy brain shakes off the sleep I did or didn't get, I think, “Drink water!” and the day has suddenly begun.
While brainstorming this piece, I realized that certain UX research processes can become routines, too, once we’ve done them enough. If a study is going well, the sessions toward the end of the schedule start to feel familiar and satisfying.
Setup glides easily into greeting the participant, which flows into the body of the interview, which comes to an easy and natural conclusion—just before we take a moment to tidy notes and breathe before the next session begins. It’s a series of actions where we connect and digest and then do it again.
UX studies and personal life routines have something else in common, too. Success isn’t about how long you keep up your streak; success is resuming the routine when its rhythm and outcomes serve us.
We humans and UX researchers and toddlers are simply trying to find our way through this big, exciting, confounding world. Routines won’t save us, and they can offer their help amid everything else.
Mentioned in this issue: The Montessori Toddler by Simone Davies; the Fabulous app, (see note!); and, although not directly mentioned above, a Reel by ADHD Instagrammer Hayley Honeyman got me thinking about coming back to routines.
Two notes about Fabulous: 1. From my perspective, its advice about eating (and the eating habits it encourages) are out of date, so if your curiosity is peaked enough to try the app, please consider how exposure to these might effect you. 2. Fabulous uses the freemium model, where you get more features if you pay for a subscription, so consider how that suits you, too.
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