4 Behavioral Change Strategies for a Healthy Routine

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In the past few years, I have taken a huge interest in Behavioral Economics, and have read some great books related to the topic such as the Freakonomics series, Predictably Irrational, and Thinking Fast and Slow, as well as listen to podcasts such as Freakonomics Radio and Hidden Brain.

A big part of my interest in learning about Behavioral Economics is not just to implement it in my marketing and research career, but in my personal life, especially for goal attainment. I hope this is something you also share, and that we can help each other on this journey. So if you came here for answers, you may leave with more questions!

I have been doing research for a couple of years (on and off) on how to set goals for myself, and commit to achieving them. Most people share the same common goals of eating healthy, getting fit/being more active, etc. That's also what I am focusing on, not because it is a social trend, but because it's what's missing from my life. I mostly lack discipline and routine because my life has no specific structure because for many years I've had flexible jobs that involve frequent traveling…. I love the freedom and flexibility, which just adds to my laziness and lack of discipline or motivation to do anything else haha

My habitual routine involves:

  • Sitting in front of the TV for most of the day, which I really love, especially when I can find something that really stimulates my brain and gets me thinking, or at least entertains me.

  • Spending hours on my smartphone, which I don't necessarily consider a waste of time because I focus on consuming useful articles related to my work/life, and maintaining social connections which is important since I live alone.

  • While I now maintain an overall healthy diet at home, I tend to indulge on unhealthy food when traveling since I have less control of what's around to eat, and I also tend to hunt for good food that isn’t available in my home town haha. This shouldn’t be much of a problem if I didn’t travel so often!

Every now and then, I muster the motivation and willpower, which research show aren't sustainable, to stick to a balanced routine of healthy food and workout... But that doesn't last for long before I switch back to my regular more natural habits.

Now I am trying to kickstart the healthy routine again, part of which is taking tje Behavioral Economics in Action course on edx to do something useful during the day apart from watching TV.

In the first unit, we learnt about 4 strategies for behavior change, that can be implemented to make changes on people’s behavior in the policy and welfare world, as well as business world… You can learn about them in the video below from the course, which is highly recommended!

So now I am thinking: How can I use these strategies to help me build a healthy routine?

This is what I got so far:

  1. Restriction on choices: Easiest implementation starts with only buying healthy food for home; which I've been doing for a long while. But I still need to control my portions (even healthy food in big portions isn't good for health!). Also, I worked on restricting TV and mobile use past 11 pm, where I switch to reading or podcast listening. What can I do further? Have you tried something that worked for you? Any ideas?

  2. Monetary incentives: Not sure I can give myself money to commit to exercising lol but perhaps if I commit to paying money to a gym/coach, then I can go more often?! I don't see that working out unless the payment is high enough that it would be a legitimate loss. Or maybe incentives can be other than monetary? Like in the form of cake that I earn as a reward for achieving milestones lol What do you think?

  3. Information and persuasion: Information is perhaps the only area where I've done the most work; I'm more of a mental/pensive than a physical/active person. So while I enjoy gathering useful information, researching, analyzing, etc. It doesn't always lead to persuasion to take action or sustain it! Am I simply just not accessing the "right" information that will persuade me to commit to action? What does research say about this?

  4. Nudging: This seems like the most promising technique, using “positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions as ways to influence the behavior and decision making of groups or individuals”, already with many studies showing its success, and entire top-selling books dedicated to it. It can be in the form of "reminders" that I set for myself to perform certain activities. Another possibility is to make changes to my home environment to add cues for certain habits, like putting fruits in a visible/reachable place to increase consumption. I wonder what kind of nudges would work on getting me to be more active... Even a simple few exercise routines that require no equipment or preparation don't seem to come naturally to me, and feel like they need to be forced/nudged. What nudges do you think would work? Anything you've personally tried or think of trying?

I would like to hear your opinions, thoughts, and anecdotes based on personal experience, as well as any interesting research tidbits that you might have come across, in the comments. Let's use this opportunity to make real sustainable change!

How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Edtech Trends

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“Technology will never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of great teachers is transformational"… a quote that quite supports the use of technology in education. Thus, there is no question as to whether technology belongs in education. The question is what and how!

Year on year, educational technology (edtech) crosses decades in the world of innovation, with more technologies springing that find their way into the classroom and driving some of the latest trends in edtech, such as:

  • Learning Management Systems which have become the embodiment of convenient learning and teaching.
  • High quality contents that are accessed with technical devices and should be intelligible enough to bring change in the world of education.
  • Immersive learning through various technologies such as virtual reality, mixed reality and augmented reality that can bring learning to life.
  • Online social networking and social media tools such as discussions, comments, communication and feedback that can foster group studying and bonding.
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Even with their increasing popularity in education, such technologies still face several challenges such as:

  • A hesitation to change and adopt new tech, as it often requires a change in the teaching methods and standards.
  • A cost crunch as these new educational technologies often cost money that institutions don’t have adequate funds for.
  • Too many choices to handle with high competition driven by new startups and companies making it difficult to be noticeable.

These challenges, and many more, are addressed in the STIMEY project head on, to capitalize on edtech in STEM learning. Being developed based on a well-researched pedagogical framework geared towards STEM education, STIMEY ensures that the technologies adopted in its learning environment are designed for educational purposes and in support of teaching and learning, rather than merely being adapted in education for being trendy. Moreover, the learning environment is being built based on co-participatory design principles, with teachers, students, parents, organizations coming together with our experts and researchers, ensuring the best fit of technologies based on their needs, thus they’re less likely to resist the change.

The integration of several technologies such as robots, radio, and social media in a web-based learning platform with different capabilities also come at no cost to the users, giving institutions the ability to exploit their full potential. Additionally, the platform is open-access, giving institutions as well as individuals also the opportunity to add their own content, link their resources, and promote their edtech products and services in support of the users’ learning and teaching needs.

Thus, we’ve made it our mission in STIMEY to stay on top of trends while addressing their challenges, but we’d still like to hear from you in the comments of what other trends and challenges you think we should keep our eye on!

For collaborations and active participation in the project, reach out to us.

References:

https://edtechtimes.com/2017/09/22/xr-education-immersive-technology-in-education-today/

https://elearningindustry.com/6-edtech-trends-watch-2017

https://elearningindustry.com/edtech-trends-and-challenges-in-2017

http://www.thinkmind.org/index.php?view=article&articleid=aict_2017_4_30_10061 

Why You Shouldn't Learn From Your Mistakes

 Photo Credit: Denial by César Astudillo, on Flickr. 

Photo Credit: Denial by César Astudillo, on Flickr. 

It's been a while since I've put my thoughts in a blog form... Over a year actually... Not because I stopped having thoughts that I wanted to share, but rather I had been buried in my thoughts. 

One particular thought had been haunting me lately, as I've been through a difficult and confusing time, and had to make many major decisions within a span of a few months... And it wasn't easy. I have somewhat of a phobia of making decisions (not sure if there is a scientific term for that... Let me google it... *few seconds later*: Aha, it's called Decidophobia), mostly because all of my life, I've been afraid of making the wrong decisions, making mistakes and ending up disappointed with the results... Which is more than often what happened. I guess by the "Law of Attraction", we do always attract the things we fear the most. For most of my life, I tried coasting it by not really wanting anything in particular or pushing for certain things, but rather just taking it easy and doing the best I can with what I get. And alhamdulillah (Thanks be to God), I've had a pretty good life. I wouldn't say it's a happy carefree life, for most of it, I wasn't really truly happy, but I am also wise enough to know I got nothing much to complain about, most of the time. That, on its own, is a blessing to be thankful for. 

Yet, I can't help shake the feeling that I could have done more, achieved more, wanted more... It's the perfectionist in me that drives me to reach higher, but it's that exact part of me too that makes me fear to reach and fall to my failure. Wisdom entails that we look at our mistakes and our failures as learning opportunities... The thought that's been haunting me is: How exactly do we know what we're supposed to learn from our mistakes?!

It may seem simple enough for most of you, when you make a rash decision, that ends up being a mistake, that you need to learn to take your time before you make a decision next time... That if you trusted the wrong person, next time, you look for similar signs that deems another person untrustworthy so you may not fall in the same trap. Perhaps you feel that you make the mistake of being too open too soon, and you need to learn to hold back and control your thoughts and behavior... Once you've been through an adversity, your mind wanders to understand what has befallen you and why, looking for explanations, justifications, and perhaps a "bright side"... Perhaps one of the biggest fallacies we fall for is that "everything happens for a reason", and we often fall on the belief that the reason is that we were supposed to learn something from that experience...

Maybe we did need to learn something, but how do you know that what you deduced and learnt is actually the lesson you're supposed to learn? If it had been so easy to learn that lesson, just by experiencing something you probably still don't understand, why wasn't it obvious to begin with? Do our brains and logic really change so much by experiencing something negative, and suddenly we acquire clarity and wisdom we did not have before? Unless we've been through a trauma, we're unlikely to have changed so much that it actually enhances our logic... So whatever logic that got us first to make a mistake, is the same logic that got us to the "lesson" we're supposed to learn from that experience... Which, logically, will only lead us to make more mistakes!

So maybe the reason we push so much to try to learn from our mistakes is our fear from making the same mistake again... But guess what, no two mistakes or experiences are ever the same... It will always be different people, or a different situation, or a different mental state, etc. There are basically endless opportunities to make mistakes.... So maybe the best we can do is not to try to find some wisdom in it, and search for a lesson to learn, but just to accept it, let it go, and move on... And hope that with each adversity, since you may not be getting any wiser, you would at least be getting better and faster at getting over it.

What lessons do you think you've learnt lately?

My 5 Favorite Nerdy Apps

 Photo credit:  "Sharon & Nikki McCutcheon".

Photo credit: "Sharon & Nikki McCutcheon".

Do you spend a lot of time on your mobile using social networks or playing games? If you're like most people, you probably do... I am not saying I don't; I actually tracked how much time I usually spend on social networks and other distracting apps using RescueTime, one of the tools I recommend using for productivity management, and it's around 2 hours on average per day! Although you might be using each app for a few minutes every other hour, but these minutes pile up throughout the day, and you end up wasting hours with not much gain. I'm not advising you to quit social networking; as a social media consultant, it would be bad for my business if you do lol, but there are apps you can use to compensate for wasted time, and to enjoy as well as benefit from spending time on your mobile... Let's call them "nerdy" apps! So without further ado, here are the apps I recommend for some good mobile fun with great value:

Elevate - Your Personal Brain Trainer

I am IN LOVE with this app! Its aim is to "elevate" your skills in writing, speaking, reading and comprehension, listening and MATH (I know, I'm such a nerd lol). The free version of the app gives you access to a new set of challenges each day to build the skills you chose to elevate. Every challenge is a game designed in collaboration with experts in neuroscience and cognitive learning and are based on extensive scientific research. So basically, you'll have fun playing games that make you smarter! 

You get to train 30+ critical skills that are designed to boost productivity, earning power, and self-confidence; measure your performance and track your activity progress over time. You get to play three games every day, and have the option to switch a recommendation if you don't feel like playing a particular game, and you can replay the same game for a few times to enhance your score and reach a higher level.

As you can see, I'm all about math lol although I was originally excited about Elevate for the chance to improve my listening skills; they've got some fun listening games, with especially a practical one for name recall that would be quite useful when meeting new people and remembering information about them.

The app is available on iOS and Android.

Duolingo

I'm not sure if there is anyone who hasn't heard of Duolingo yet; in case you haven't, it's a FREE language learning mobile app that gives you the ability to learn a great selection of languages in a fun gaming setting. Learning with Duolingo is fun and addictive as you earn points for correct answers, and level up when you complete a set of lessons.

I am currently learning German, but previously I was practicing my Spanish, having learnt it on my own (prior to the existence of Duolingo). What I like about Duolingo is that it's fun, easy, practical and mobile... for anytime anywhere learning. The commenting feature on each sentence is also quite useful as native speakers and other learners often leave useful tips and links to supporting lessons that are helpful, and sometimes they just make really funny comments lol; giving you a feeling of learning in group or in class.

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What I don't like about Duolingo, however, is that it tends to repeat a few simple sentences for many times in a lesson, instead of adding new terms or more contexts, and sometimes some sentences seem to not make any sense (Have you spotted that in the example above?! lol). In addition, there are no explanations or materials to study and learn prior to lessons, which can sometimes make it very confusing and unclear, and you end up just playing a guessing game or learning through repetition like a parrot rather than clear understanding. So my advice is to couple the Duolingo lessons with another form of serious learning; my favorite is the Michel Thomas Method audio lessons, having used it to learn Spanish and some Japanese (before realizing that audio alone isn't enough to learn a language that has a non-Roman alphabet as I would also have to learn to read and write on my own). 

This app is available on iOS, Android, and Windows.

Mind Games

This one is actually more of a game, I promise... though for brain training as well! Mind Games is a great collection of games based in part on principles of cognitive psychology to help you practice different mental skills.  The games, ranging from free to pro, are aimed at enhancing various mind skills such as visual skills, focus and speed, working memory, and attention among many others.

I don't use this app as much as the rest, but it's still quite fun for short intervals every once in a while, to keep the brain sharp. While the design may not be that great, and the ad popups can be annoying, the games are fun and addictive, and they're far from being easy. All games include your score history and graph of your progress. The main app shows a summary of your best games and the day's scores on all games. Using some principles of standardized testing, your scores are also converted to a standardized scale so that you can see where you need work and excel. What's good about it is that it doesn't just track and measure your progress against yourself, but it also compares your score to the "normal standards" according to your age and gender, telling you if you're as good, better or worse than others like you.

Mind Games is currently available on AndroidApple iOSWindows Phone 8, and Windows 8.1.

QuizUp

If you're into classic fun and competition, QuizUp is the right app for you! It is a free, award-winning multiplayer trivia game, where you can challenge friends and meet new people who share your interests. The topics range from entertainment trivia testing your knowledge of music, movies, and series to more serious knowledge trivia like arts, business, history, language, sciences, etc... And everything in between! 

The app quickly turned into more of a social network, where you can follow and be followed by people, follow and like topics and communities, and get users' updates on these topics on your homepage, which you can also like and comment on. You can customize your own profile, search for users based on their age, gender, location and interests, challenge them, track your progress against theirs, chat with them, check their profiles to see what they play and what they're good at, their trophies and titles in each game and rank in their country.

 Follow me on quizup!

Follow me on quizup!

As you can see, I'm among the top 10 in How I Met Your Mother and and #1 in Family Guy in Saudi Arabia :P. So although I don't quite use QuizUp for really brainy topics, but I still consider it a good memory and speed training app. Even if you're not particularly knowledgeable at a topic, the more you play, the more you learn and the better you get... All while having fun!

QuizUp is available on desktop, AndroidiOS, and Windows Phone.

EdX

Although it isn't quite an educational gaming app, but it is definitely worth mentioning. EdX is a massive open online course provider and online learning platform, hosting online university-level courses in a wide range of disciplines to a worldwide audience, some at no charge. It offers online courses from some of the world's best universities, such as Harvard University, MIT, Berkeley University, etc.

You get to take as many courses as you like, with flexible learning as most offer an open study plan to learn at your own place, anywhere, anytime. With over 500 courses in subjects like humanities, math, computer science, psychology, etc. you're sure to find something of interest to you, or that can actually be useful in boosting your career level. You can choose to pay for some courses to get a certificate acknowledging your course completion or you choose to audit courses for free, with no need for certification. Part of each course, you will find the detailed courseware with videos and information and quizzes, reading material, a discussion where you'll find a community of your classmates, and you can track your progress in the course. 

No matter what your interests or career goals are, I'm pretty sure you'll find courses you'd love to enroll in. I'm currently enrolled in an MIT User Innovation course and an Introductory Psychology course; not that I check in daily, but I try to make some progress from time to time whenever I can.

EdX is available as a full version on desktop, with a mobile version for iOS, and Android, giving access only to courses that are mobile-enabled.

So these are my favorite nerdy apps at this time. Do you use any of them? Or do you have any other nerdy apps you'd recommend I add to my list/mobile? Comment below!

My Top 5 Productivity Tools

 

As an independent social media consultant, I have the flexibility of working from home (or mostly hotel rooms and wherever I am while traveling)... And while I very much enjoy that I can work in my PJs, wake up and sleep whenever I want to, work at my own pace while watching TV, and take a break or travel when I feel like it... I have to confess that it tends to get out of hand, and I easily lose focus and track of work. Try to separate work life from personal life when you work from your personal space, and your job is all about spending time online on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the tons of other distracting social networks! So while my work life might look awesome on the outside, on the inside it is quite hectic, unorganized, confusing, and can get overwhelming... Up until I decided to restructure and organize it! And given how I'm all about tech, I of course turned to tech for help and began my search for tools and applications to manage and increase my productivity. Whether you work independently, or just want to make your job easier, here are the tools I recommend:

1. RescueTime

This is the first app that I found, used and was mind-blown by it... It is so simple yet very crucial! It basically tracks how you spend your time on the devices where you have it installed (I have it installed on my laptop and mobile phones) and gives a visual report of what the time was spent on with different categories, ranging from very distracting to very productive. You can set a goal of how long you want to spend on Business/Productive tasks vs Distracting tasks, and know exactly how to work towards that goal as you see where your time goes... The app has so many awesome features that you must check out, but I specifically like that it syncs across all my devices, and sends me a weekly summary, seen below, of how my time was spent, showing the most productive days, times, activities, and applications, and the most distracting apps that I need to learn to avoid (Whatsapp much?!).

What I love is that by knowing which time and day I am most productive, I can plan to have the most daunting tasks performed then where I am less likely to prone for distraction. The only issue however is that social networking sites are categorized as Very Distracting, which is realistic, but given that my work involves social media, I can not separate between the productive/business use of social networking sites and the distracting/personal use. Still, that's a problem you only have to worry about if you're in my line of work; otherwise, you're going to love it! 

2. KanbanFlow

This is a web-based tool where you have a work board with tabs to manage tasks and to-do lists. It's quite easy to set up and use, and leave open in your browser for a quick glance to stay on top of your work responsibilities. The tool has so many useful features such as adding description, tags, color-coding tasks, adding due dates, subtasks, team members, sending you email reminders when you're approaching due dates or tasks are overdue, etc... Ok you get it, it has everything and it's awesome and I love it :P It's usually the first thing I check out every day and regularly update! FYI (for your information/inspiration), below you can see a snapshot of my own workboard... 

I just love clearing out that "Do today" and "In progress" columns, and look at all the tasks I've "Done" to feel like I've accomplished something! As That itself increases motivation and productivity. The downside of Kanbanflow is that it is only web-based; it would be great to have a mobile version of it. 

3. Handle

This beautifully designed app is an integration between email, to-do lists, and calendar; so it is the perfect app if most of your work happens on or comes from your inbox! I personally didn't use it much, as I was already using KanbanFlow to organize my projects' to-do list, but I recently felt that Handle can be better suited to "handle" those small tasks that are coected to an email message, and can save me the time to manually add it to KanbanFlow with a link. So you may want to save the large recurring project tasks to Kanbanflow, and use Handle for small/communication tasks. But even on Handle, you can organize to-do tasks by project, and add reminders and due dates that would sync with your Google calendar...

Unfortunately, I seem to be having trouble adding due dates, not sure why; the other downside is that it does not have a mobile app, but rather a browser extension/desktop app ... Don't these developers know we spend most of our time on mobile rather than desktop! But we can't complain, the app is practical and free, and would sure come in handy. 

4. Toggl

This is more of a project time management tool that basically works as an automatic timer, with an option to add time manually, to track how much time you spend on each specific project, as opposed to RescueTime which tracks the time you spend on a specific application/website instead of project. It can be useful especially when different projects have different time priorities, and are costed differently based on hourly rate, to make sure that your time is spent on the most profitable/top priority projects, and you're being productive where it actually counts!

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The upside of it is that there is a mobile version of this app, but the downside is that I personally often forgot to click "Start" for every task I started working on, and sometimes I forgot that I had the timer ruing for a task while I was not really working on it but was actually distracted or even away. Still, it can be useful if you can actually remember to use it, and it can especially come in handy where the other apps may fall short, like in tracking the time you spend on doing online research for work by visiting many different websites. You can then log in that time as "productive", when RescueTime would not recognize the significance of those sites separately and may even consider them distracting (unless you manually go change each site's categorization in the app).

5. gTasks

It's a little embarrassing perhaps to include this in the list with the others, but it is the first app I started using long before the rest. gTasks, or Google Tasks, is a simple task list app by Google that integrates with your Gmail tasks. The advantage of it is that because of how simple and easy it is to use, it saves you time and effort in adding tasks and due dates. gTasks is my go-to app when I'm out in a meeting, or moving around, and need to quickly make a note/list of things to do, before I move onto the other tools for more elaborate task management. You can also easily send the list by email, or share it in many other means; you can check tasks as done in one tap, and see everything in one place. The same developers also developed another similar app called TickTick that you can also check out if you need something like gTasks but more advanced. TickTick lets you add attachments, comments and location to your lists, as well as active links.

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So this is it! That's all I need and use so far to manage my productivity and I hope you give them a try and find them as useful as I did... If you do try them, let me know what you think, and if you are using other productivity tools that work well for you, give me your recommendations below.