The Well-Being Journal

A Closer Look at Social Health Games with Trapper Markelz of MeYou Health: Part 1

Jennifer Rudloff

Playing games like Tag growing up was fun because these backyard games were social. We got to hang out with other kids. What a blast it was being part of a relay team or kicking the ball around at recess. Back then, movement was part of play (we didn’t really think much about it), and chances are our parents didn’t have to force us to go outside to race our bikes with the neighborhood kids.

Then we entered school and college and work... and our movement decreased as we grew up and became quote-unquote adults in the real world. We had to shift from the idea of play to the idea of work. Despite responsibilities of being an adult, play is still very much at the center of enjoying life. Which explains why we find fun ways to connect with others, whether it’s huddled around a game of Risk with friends, shooting hoops with our son or daughter in the driveway, or virtually teaming up with fellow gamers in World of Warcraft.

We are all connected.
The social connections we have as adults are just as important, if not more so, than the ones we had as kids. The connections we had as kids helped shape us. The ones we have as adults help sustain us.

In recent coverage by USA Today and Gail Sheehy, social interaction plays a key role in our well-being and happiness. So much so that women who spent one to five hours a day socially interacting - be it via Facebook, face-to-face, or by phone - had the highest well-being versus those who did not make social connectedness a daily priority. The key takeaway from Gail’s article and the data presented from Healthways is that the more closely we are in contact with our social connections, the better our happiness and health is. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

By making time for social interactions, we can experience a boost in our well-being. And that can have a significant impact on the health and wellness of our social networks.

There’s strength in networks.
At MeYou Health, we created Daily Challenge to be a social product that helps improve well-being through daily small actions. The goal has always been to promote new and deeper connections, creating support networks that drive meaningful change in our lives. The stronger these connections, the richer the experience. The richer the experience, the higher the commitment level.

The idea behind Daily Challenge is simple: do one small action at a time, each and every day. As we have learned through the work of Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler (best represented in their book Connected), we are all connected... and so are our behaviors. It turns out these connections run deeper than we realize, allowing our behaviors, both good and bad, to become influenced by people we might hardly know or possibly not know at all. Crazy but powerful stuff.

To study social networks and behavior change, MeYou Health is looking at both the social, mathematical and biological rules governing how social networks form (“connection”) and the biological and social implications of how they operate to influence feelings, thoughts, and behaviors (“contagion”).

With Daily Challenge, we can see for the first time how support networks are structured, along with what role high and low well-being play in their formation and influence. We are, in fact, building a one-of-a-kind map of well-being based on the information we have gathered since Daily Challenge’s launch in 2010. This information is leading to a whole set of controlled studies this year and clinically controlled studies next year to quantify the true effects of social mechanics on intervention engagement and improved well-being.

(Look for more in Part II)

Topics: Engagement Health MeYou Health Natural Movement Playing Games Daily Challenge Connected: The Surprising Power of Social Networks Behavior Change Games for Behavior Change Social Well-Being Health Games

Behavioral Change: The Science Behind MeYou Health

Jennifer Rudloff

Reposted from the Well-being Wire by MeYou Health

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 ourwords 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 with Munch-5-a-Day, 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!

Topics: Healthy Living Change Reaction Well-Being Community Clash Small Steps Health Prevention Stages of Change MeYou Health Path to Well-Being Munch 5-a-Day Wellness Monumental Daily Challenge Paths to Behavior Changes Connected: The Surprising Power of Social Networks well-being wire BJ Fogg Social Well-Being James Prochaska wellbeing wire Nicholas Christakis James Fowler Small Action Man