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Behavioral Change: The Science Behind MeYou Health

Written by Bob Curley

It would be nice if we could all just wake up one morning and say to ourselves, "Today I'm going to start eating healthier foods," or, "I'm going to start working out today." Well, actually, it is easy to say it, and sometimes we even stick with our vows to change. All too often, however, our will fails to attain what our words promise.

The truth is that change is a process, not a one-shot deal. That's why all of our products at MeYou Health encourage taking small, achievable steps toward better well-being, not shooting for the moon and running the risk of seeing your lofty goals plummet to earth. Our products also include a huge social component, so that you'll never have to walk alone on your journey of small steps towards positive change.

Cutting-edge behavioral-change research helps inform the design of products like Daily Challenge, the Path to Well-Being, Munch 5-a-Day, and Monumental. Even the lighthearted adventures of MeYou Health's Small Action Man, are based on serious science.

Psychologists James O. Prochaska, Ph.D., John Norcross, Ph.D., and Carlo DiClemente, Ph.D., developed one of the seminal theories of behavior change in the 1970s and 1980s, when they wrote that change is not an event but rather a process that occurs in five stages: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. MeYou Health's Daily Challenges, for example, raise awareness of problem behaviors, get you to weigh the benefits of change, and encourage you to take small actions toward lasting change — the "action" stage where people "have made specific overt modifications in their lifestyle, and positive change has occurred," according to Prochaska.

Of course, how ready we are to change varies widely from person to person. "What is unique about Daily Challenge is that the challenges we offer up on a daily basis may touch on a new or an existing behavior, depending on the user, but it helps to move all users to make positive impacts on their well-being — whether they're doing the action for the first time or repeating and reinforcing a behavior they've attempted before," says Josée Poirier, Ph.D., director of program design and research at MeYou Health. "In either case, the completed challenge influences the user, regardless of what stage he or she is in."

Just as there are many paths to enlightenment, there are many pathways to change, as well. Researcher B.J. Fogg, Ph.D., of Stanford University describes behavioral change in terms of "dots," "spans," and "paths": dot behaviors are those that take place one time, span behaviors take place over a duration of time (a month, for example), while paths are lasting changes.

"Our Daily Challenges are all 'dot' behaviors" points out Poirier. "We believe in focusing on the present: what can you do today to improve your well-being? We've all made long-term commitments in the past and see them fail. What we aim to do with Daily Challenge is keep our members away from the all-or-nothing mentality: go to the gym 6 days a week or don't work out at all. We want to empower our members by making them realize that it's okay not to become an athlete or a gym addict; what matters is to take one step toward a more active lifestyle today."

To connect these dots, so to speak, MeYou Health draws on the pioneering research of Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler, who found that behaviors — good ones like quitting smoking, or bad ones like obesity — can be spread, virus-like, through our social networks. The "contagion" of positive behavioral changes is at the core of MeYou Health products like Daily Challenge, Community Clash, and Change Reaction, where your social networks are engaged to support your efforts, while at the same time you can encourage your friends and family to join and improve their own well-being.

"Feedback and member posts have demonstrated again and again how helpful these social interactions are to our members," says Poirier. "We also see that members who have a close circle of connections within Daily Challenge — friends and family — tend to complete more challenges than those who do not."

"If we affect our friends, and they affect their friends, then our actions can potentially affect people we have never met," write Christakis and Fowler in their book, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives. "We discovered that if your friend's friend's friend gained weight, you gained weight. We discovered that if your friend's friend's friend stopped smoking, you stopped smoking.

And we discovered that if your friend's friend's friend became happy, you became happy." So, by completing your Daily Challenges, "climbing" Mt. Everest with Monumental, or eating your daily recommended intake of fruits and veggies, you're not only changing your life for the better but possibly your friends', too — heck, maybe even your roommate's brother's cousin in Cleveland!

Article Reviewed: June 29, 2012
Copyright © 2014 Healthy Magazine

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