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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Top apps and smart devices that make habits stick

Apr 03, 2024 02:24PM ● By Cloie Sandlin

In this month’s column, we explore a topic suggested by Michael, who has discovered a way to use technology to keep his mind active.

“As many do, I play games on my phone, particularly a golf game called Golf Rival. Lately, I’ve noticed an increasing number of in-app ads targeting seniors. I’ve come across articles highlighting how engaging in certain activities, like playing games, can promote mental health and keep the mind active as we age. It might be worthwhile to research and write an updated article on this, highlighting the health benefits and recommending popular games that fit the bill.”

Thanks for the idea, Michael, and the challenge to write about an important use for technology that should be revisited often. 


For some, technology is a tool. For others, it’s a toy. 

In the tech industry, “gamification” refers to the innovative ways used by hardware and software developers to create tools that make productivity and improvement fun by adding game-like features.

The most common gamification features include unlocking “badges” for consistent use of the app, earning credits for progressing through the app, unlocking new features or allowing users to compete with one another by sharing their progress.

Hardware manufacturers also use gamification to encourage self-improvement, project progress or add a level of enjoyment to an otherwise dull or grueling activity.

All games can help improve dexterity, increase familiarization with technology and challenge memory and cognitive skills. However, many apps and devices take the opposite approach, making the gaming aspect secondary to the app or device’s primary purpose.


Here is a list of popular apps that use gamification to make self-improvement, completing a task or forming a habit more enjoyable and emotionally rewarding.

Duolingo trains users to learn new languages. The app can be addicting as it rewards the user with badges, progress and fun animations as they progress through their language learning.

Forest encourages users to spend time away from their phones by rewarding them with virtual trees. The longer you spend away from your phone, the bigger your forest gets. You can connect with other users to add a competitive element to the app.

Khan Academy is a website and phone app that offers lessons on a wide range of subjects, from algebra to art history. Khan Academy gamifies learning by adapting to the user’s level and providing rewards for mastering new concepts.

Habitica is an app that converts your to-do list into a game, offering rewards as you make progress each day.

Brain training apps like LuminosityElevate and Impulse are designed to improve your memory, cognitive skills, dexterity and reflexes. 

Mint is a financial management app that motivates users to stick to a budget through badges, progress tracking and encouragement. It just moved, however, to Intuit Credit Karma.

Fantasy Fitness gamifies fitness progress in areas such as nutrition, exercise and health care.


There are also some great hardware options that turn everyday activities into dopamine and adrenaline-inducing experiences.

Meta Quest is a VR headset with two controllers that reverses the gamification concept by transforming games into a physically exhausting and fitness-building experience. Instead of eating chips and soda on the couch in front of the TV, players wear a visor and use controllers to navigate and interact in the game world, using their entire body to battle either computer or human opponents.

Fitbit or Apple Watch devices are much more than timekeepers and step counters. They monitor stress, heart rate, oxygen levels, sleep and distance traveled, providing users with data that motivates them to improve their habits and daily routines.

Your new car most likely uses gamification to encourage more eco-friendly driving habits. Displays that show average gas mileage and other eco-friendly driving metrics encourage drivers to adjust their driving habits to improve their “score” and reduce their environmental impact.

Fitness equipment such as Peloton’s stationary bikes take gamification to the extreme by tracking progress and, in a sense, taunting users for skipping workouts. “Saturday Night Live” recently did a parody commercial for “Pelotaunt,” a satirical depiction of the guilt Peloton users feel when they fall behind or lose progress.

Smart home thermostats track your home’s heating and cooling usage. They send alerts and kudos that can motivate homeowners to adjust their habits for more efficient energy consumption. Other smart home devices can gamify water usage, electrical consumption and screen time, encouraging more mindful usage of resources.

If you are someone who has difficulty forming habits, focusing on tasks, remembering to take your medicine or improving other aspects of your life, researching apps and hardware that gamify progress may be the key to achieving desired changes. 

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