the biggest challenge we faced at arivale was doing science-based habit change right.

Freemium App

Arivale’s core goal was scientific wellness. We improved the health of our members by giving tailored recommendations and ongoing coaching to people based on data from their blood, genetics, saliva, microbiome, and lifestyle tracking.

Rather than tracking objective results, I focused on tracking effort and life satisfaction.

Rather than tracking objective results, I focused on tracking effort and life satisfaction.

THE challenge

Our full service offering was quite expensive and hard to sell, so we wanted to explore possible directions for a fremium app. However, the design team was wary of focusing on habit tracking because only 20% of our users actually used the features we had, and most for only a few weeks.

My proposal to the team was that if our main goal is to help our members improve their health, that to do so will ALWAYS involve habit creation. The work our coaches did every day validated this core truth.

But our tracking feature was lacking. Checking off habits daily is a pain. Our interface wasn’t very exciting, and it didn’t reward people. We didn’t even have mobile notifications to remind people to check their actions off.

I argued that if we IMPROVED the habit tracking feature, made it easier, made it more friendly, made it more fun and rewarding, and made the entire interaction feel more like interacting with a human coach, that it may end up being our secret sauce.


science-backed solutions

I wanted to entirely re-think how we did habit tracking in our digital products, so I dove into research and created a document about the science of motivation, which included a long list of ways we could infuse our product with psychological hooks, gamification, and genuine empathy.

The document covered the basics of neuroplasticity, intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation, the Habit Loop, and supportive models such as the Transtheoretical Model of Change. It took highlights from various books (such as The Power Of Habit) and pulled inspiration from reviewing 15+ successful mobile apps in our space like The Fabulous and even Facebook.


The biggest challenge seemed to be how to gamify lasting habit change in a way that maintained the empathy and judgement-free space of live coaching.


taking inspiration from coaches

I’ll be honest: I made a big stink about tracking progress in a way that didn’t shame anyone or indicate that the value of an individual could be found in how successful they were at achieving their health goals. While it was super important that we celebrate every win (losing/gaining weight, lowering blood pressure, improving cholesterol), I wanted to find a way to help people stay motivated, even if the results weren’t obvious.

This is coaching. And my life coach training (happening at the same time) actually informed my design a LOT.

I advocated passionately that we deeply understand the problem. Why do people seek out a service like Arivale? Why do they stay and why do they leave? What do we mean by progress? How is lasting habit change actually created?

In breaking the problem down for myself, I was able to create a framework that would guide our work as a team in pursuit of motivating habit change in a way that was empathetic and based in science.


When I’m really excited about something, I tend to make a lot of documents outlining my thinking. I have no regrets about this.


The Framework

The high level points of the framework I created can be summarized in a few bullet points:

  • People seek help with their health because they are unsatisfied with that area of their life. We focus most on what is most stressing us out. So the subjective experience of satisfaction or dissatisfaction in an area of life may be a better way to judge whether one is “done” or “victorious” in that area than any objective measure we could come up with.

  • Health is complicated, and effort does not always lead to desired results. Maybe someone is exercising, but they’re also depressed, or have trouble sleeping, or is in a toxic relationship, all of which can impact stress and weight loss.

  • Health goals are actually comprised of many smaller actions. Because habit change can be so intimidating, it’s actually really crucial for motivation to break goals down into small, simple steps that can be completed and celebrated on their own. This awareness really supported our goal of being “better than Googling”.

Tracking Progress 2

reward the effort, NOT THE RESULTS

What I found most powerful was recognizing that PROGRESS could be tracked in 3 completely different ways:

  1. Whether an objective state has changed (weight, blood pressure, cholesterol)

  2. Whether a subjective state has changed (satisfaction with body, strength, energy, etc)

  3. Whether behaviors have been completed (bought shoes, got 10,000 steps, went to gym 3x per week)

All of these were valuable, but if we only focused on tracking changes to the body itself, we risked using shame as a motivating factor, and completely missed opportunities to celebrate members for their effort, and to track whether their satisfaction level was changing at all.


I don’t know of any app that combines effective habit tracking with live coaching and data tracking in pursuit of scientific wellness. Arivale had huge potential and I’m hoping I can pick some of this up again in another project.