Inventing a healthy digital habit

How can we make sure technology has a positive impact on our mental well-being? We believe the biggest opportunity lies in inventing new, healthy digital habits. Guided mindful reflection is our contribution.

The scientific evidence of how digital technology can be harmful to our mental well-being is stacking up. Facebook has acknowledged that passive consumption of the service makes users feel worse, and recently a randomized, controlled study from researchers at University of Pennsylvania showed that participants felt less lonely and depressed when they cut down on social media.

But the opposite is also true: technology can facilitate habits that truly improves mental health. Smartphone apps like Headspace and Calm have introduced mindfulness to millions of people and made guided meditation radically accessible.

Are there other behaviors that help our mental well-being that technology can facilitate?
We believe we’ve found one – a behavior that actually wouldn’t be possible without the help of technology.

We call it guided mindful reflection.

What is a guided mindful reflection?

We view it as a mental process, that helps you connect with your feelings, reflect on something meaningful in your life – for example what you appreciate in your partner or what a friend means to you – and put it into words.

Enjo guides your reflections in two ways:

1. By asking specific questions, and making you think of meaningful things you wouldn’t have done otherwise.
2. By helping you make the reflection, inspire thoughts, see nuances you’d missed, and phrase it in more detail.

For example, Enjo might ask you what you appreciate in your partner, and not only help you pinpoint specific qualities, but also express what it is about this quality you like the most.

Reflecting on how your partner is thoughtful is just the first step, the next is to add nuance: that you appreciate how your partner expresses this quality by being a good listener and offering support if it’s needed. This is not always easy to come up with, but here Enjo can help by suggesting words that fit the context.

By providing this guidance we can help the user make a meaningful reflection in just a minute or two – no matter what was on their mind before opening the app. We believe this is a sweet spot: providing a valuable experience that’s still quick enough to incorporate in your daily smartphone routine.

How mindful reflection improves mental well-being

A scientific study done on Enjo’s predecessor Shim showed that making mindful reflections regularly for two weeks lowered the participants’ stress and improved their subjective well-being (read a separate post about that study).

Why would mindful reflection have this impact? One reason is that it’s a way to practice gratitude. Actively reflecting on the good things in your life, is one of the most researched and proven exercises in the field of positive psychology. One example of how exercising gratitude improves happiness (by 25%!) is this study by Dr. Robert E. Emmons.

Another reason is that many of the reflections relate to the people that are most important to you, and make you more aware of their role in your life. Long term happiness studies, like the Harvard Study of Adult Development (that’s been running for 80 years!), have shown that the quality of our close relationships is the most important factor for our health and happiness. And viewed from the other side, being socially isolated put you at a greater risk of dying prematurely than smoking several cigarettes every day.

Enjo uses your own reflections to give you support

The benefits of making mindful reflections is just the first step however. What we’re most excited about is exploring how the mindful reflections you’ve made can help you feel better when you’re in need of support.

While working with Enjo’s predecessor we found that users really enjoyed being reminded of reflections they’d made and forgotten, whether it was a reflection about gratitude towards a friend or a meaningful memory. And many users found it had a real impact on their relationships when they (nudged by the app) expressed the good things they had reflected on to friends and family.

With Enjo we’re testing how those two mechanisms can be used in a systematic manner to provide instant emotional support.

When you’re feeling down, it’s easy to fall into the mental trap of black-and-white-thinking, conclude that everything is bad, and forget about all the things that are still good in your life. We’ve already found that Enjo can help shift your perspective by giving you a more nuanced view of your life, based on the mindful reflections you’ve made yourself. It’s of course not helpful for everyone, all the time – but the cool thing is that we’re constantly learning what type of reminder is helpful for what type of concern and what type of user. Our matching algorithm is constantly improving. Here’s what one of our users, a mom in Oakland, California, said:

”The app showed me a positive reflection I had written before, that I had totally forgotten about. It really helped me shift my perspective! I felt that there’s actually a lot of good things going on in my life.”

We’ve also learned that for some users there’s an even more powerful way to affect their mood in the moment: by helping them send a text message to a friend or family member, and express gratitude, remind them of a beautiful shared moment or express what this person means to them. These thoughts are not close at hand when there’s something bothering you – and that’s why Enjo can be helpful by just bringing them up and suggesting you to express them.

This will of course not solve your issue, but it has the power to change your mood, in just a couple of minutes. The concern weighing on your mind can be complemented with a sense of accomplishment, having done a small but meaningful action that makes you feel better about yourself – and most likely has had a positive impact on the other person as well. For some users, and in some cases however, this is not the right approach – and we’re working hard on improving the suggestion algorithm to make sure Enjo only brings up this strategy when it’s likely to be successful.

We’ve just began our journey of exploring how mindful reflections can be used to help you feel better, and we’re sure will discover even more ways.

The biggest opportunity lies ahead

Our digital ecosystems are in many ways pulling us towards the habits that aren’t healthy for our mental well-being – the passive consumption on social media, the never ending auto play sequences on YouTube, the social comparison between the real you and the Instagram versions of everyone else and the outrage inducing conversations on Twitter.

We believe the tech industry should not just be concerned about minimizing unhealthy behaviors – and promote well known healthy behaviors. We believe the biggest opportunity lies in the mission to invent and promote new healthy behaviors that wouldn’t be possible without technology. We hope more companies will join us in this pursuit. We’re beyond excited to be part of it!

Thanks for the image Iabzd.