April 12, 2016
Living With Purpose, On Purpose1
At JOOL Health, we believe purpose is a powerful linchpin for living a healthier, more fulfilled life. Two human measures that play central roles in helping people effectively pursue their life purpose are energy and willpower. To return to Seneca’s sailing metaphor for a moment, energy (or vitality) provides the “wind in the sails” that positively impacts performance, presenteeism, and daily engagement. But even given a destination and wind in the sails, one also needs a rudder—or willpower—to control executive functioning and behavior. Willpower (also termed “self-control” in the research literature) is directly tied to greater performance, presenteeism, engagement, injury prevention, and self-care.
Given this, it’s interesting to consider which behaviors most influence energy and willpower? Many studies have shown that both factors are boosted by improvements in sleep, mindfulness, physical activity, creativity, and diet. It follows then that an individual, motivated by a strong sense of purpose, coupled with a compelling desire for more energy and willpower, would naturally focus greater individual effort and persistence towards improving these five behaviors. And it’s here that our approach of meaningful technology can come to play a central role.
We’ve all felt it. That lull in energy that seems to come out of nowhere. Or a sudden inability to stay focused. Or a shift in mood or self-control that in a few minutes undermines a week’s worth of dieting discipline. Perhaps it’s a poor night’s sleep, yet another snowstorm, an overindulgent dinner, or an aggravating loss by our favorite football team2 that’s to blame. Instead of a traditional health risk assessment, that identifies our risks of disease and death 30 or 40 years in the future, what if we had a tool that predicted—much like a weather forecast—our levels of energy or willpower over the next few days? What if this tool examined a range of influences—not just of our health behaviors—that affect our energy and willpower? Factors like local and global news, the weather, the day of the week, the season of the year, the economy, sporting events, or even how our life partner is doing? And what if we were able to view and indentify trends and correlations among all these influences to understand how they support or inhibit our pursuit of greater purpose?
It’s true, nearly everyone makes observations about what’s behind their bad and good days – it’s part of human nature and essential to survival. The attributions of causality we make, however, have significant biases, inaccuracies, and other shortcomings. We don’t typically notice multiple days of behavior and their patterns of interaction with other behaviors (e.g., lack of physical activity combined with poor eating); or with environmental and temporal factors (e.g., poor sleep when combined with a Monday, on a snowy November day in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the day after a Chicago Cubs loss, etc.). All that’s about to change.
In time, we believe our approach to meaningful technology, employing a powerful integration of mobile smartphone technology, big data, biometric devices, and advanced capabilities in predictive modeling will help each of us gain meaningful, accurate, and actionable personal insights into our own behavior—allowing us to become, in essence, highly effective and engaged “researchers of ourselves.” And wouldn’t that likely prove more motivating than the 1970’s-era epidemiologic models of disease and death still typically employed today?
We believe that integrating meaningful technology into our lives to help us better understand our behavior will lead to a higher level of motivation to improve those behaviors that most influence our energy and willpower. But how do we take charge of changing those behaviors, in particular, sleep, mindfulness, activity, problem-solving, and diet?
Traditional health and wellness programs typically offer classes or self-help materials to change health behaviors. Yet this isn’t the way we typically seek help. A more relevant way to do so is by looking at others like ourselves who have successfully changed their behavior. In the world of technology, this is called “collaborative filtering.” Recommender systems, such as those used by Amazon, employ collaborative filtering algorithms to identify others similar to you who have used a product that would be likely to appeal to you. Through meaningful technology, we can, for example, identify others similar to ourselves who have improved their diet, and their strategies could be recommended to us. Over time, the tips that work best would receive higher ratings (just as Yelp allows us to rate restaurants and other establishments) and become elevated within the recommender system. Add to this an emotionally powerful micro-social component that engages close family and friends in a supporting role and a framework of sustained, healthy change truly emerges.
George Bernard Shaw once said that “the true joy in life” is, “being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” Rather than health and wellness tools that focus our lives on avoiding disease, let’s help our employees and health plan members become true “forces of nature,” energized by a mighty sense of purpose. Under this redefinition of what it means to be healthy, purpose in life becomes the stirring, engaging meta-goal that can motivate each of us to daily pursue healthier, more fulfilled lives.
1 Aristotle called this type of alignment “eudemonic well-being.” Recent research has found that, compared against individuals exhibiting “hedonic well-being,” those with eudemonic well-being tend to have lower expression of damaging inflammatory genes. Fredrickson BL, Grewen KM, Coffey KA, Algoe SB, Firestine AM, Arevalo JM, Ma J, Cole SW. (2013). A functional genomic perspective on human well-being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 110(33):13684-9.