Experiments in Human Potential

What if you could achieve any goal that you set in front of yourself?

In the spring of 2010, Jesse Schell, a professor of game design at Carnegie Mellon, gave a talk about how game-like features were making their way into every aspect of our lives. 

The talk was mainly about ways that companies would use advances in persuasive technology to manipulate you. Techniques taken from the world of game design can be used to trigger your addictive nature, sort of like taking a trip to Las Vegas.

However, these techniques also have the potential to be used for good, as a way to support you and your goals.

Experiment #1

That thought led to a simple experiment that ended up being the genesis for Lift. We built a simple personal tracking tool that gave out points for any accomplishment, big or small, and gave out more points for streaks.

For the handful of early users, that system changed bad habits to good habits, made us more focused at work, and got us to exercise more. That simple system gave us an amazing feeling of power, as if the concept of procrastination did not exist.

That was the first step for Lift and was what attracted the rest of our team, people who have built, designed, and launched a half-dozen notable social software companies. 

Experiments #2-7

We’ve moved on from points and the world of gamification. We’re not building a game. However, we did take away a valuable lesson about the power of positive reinforcement. 

We’ve tried five different forms of positive reinforcement and each one has had an immediate and long lasting impact on people’s ability to achieve goals.

Our experiments also uncovered two other areas where we can have a major impact. The first is in the value of collecting knowledge about what works.

Runners have access to countless training books, some of which say you should run more miles, and some of which said you should run fewer miles faster. Dieters read books that say they should eat more protein or cut out carbs or eat smaller meals more often.

All of that conflicting advice creates an up front procrastination about not knowing what path to choose. We think we can help with that.

Then once you’ve chosen a path, you often have questions about how to actually make the first step and the second and so on. We can help here too.

Our early Lift users all reported the importance of seeing the details about how other people achieved a goal: where they ate lunch, how they structured their calendar, and even what brand of floss they used. 


There’s a philosophy about achievement emerging from our early experiments. This is a philosophy that will work for you even before we launch our official product.

Improve iteratively. Taking small steps creates built-in reinforcement. Each step is a tiny victory, and those victories create momentum and confidence. Also, let’s not kid ourselves, big achievements don’t come over night—they’re made up of thousands of steps.

Track results. Get a notebook, open up a file, start a spreadsheet and start writing down what you’re doing. This is the most important knowledge that you can have. Your log shows you what’s working, lets you know if you’re being consistent, and shows you how much progress you’re making.

Our as one of our teammates explains his personal success in transforming his fitness, “The secret was to pay attention.”