“Who knew I was happy?”​

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“Who knew I was happy?”​

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 (or Evidence Driven Therapy- it’s hard to argue with facts.)

One of our customers didn’t know he was happy. We’ll call him Bob. We’ll also make some of the facts a bit more generic, after all we want to maintain Bob’s privacy.

Bob suffers from bi-polar disorder and has been in therapy to help him learn to deal with it. Bob’s swings from manic to depressive have had a huge impact on his life and marriage, and like many who suffer from bi-polar disorder his own impression of his well-being tends to depend on where he currently falls between manic and depressive phases. Bob also happens to be one of WeFeel’s testers and has been using it since our early releases last year.

With Bob’s and his wife’s input we’ve been able to add features to WeFeel to help him both in his personal life and with his marriage. At the end of last year we added what we call dual customizable sliders to track things like where you fall between manic and depressive phases. Instead of just a Bipolar slider it’s completely customizable so you can specify what each end of the slider means…you want to track where you are on the scale of Homer Simpson to Elon Musk, you can do that.

My favorite “Bob” story so far is when he came in during a depressive phase, just a month or two after beginning to use WeFeel. As he started to speak with his psychologist, he was surprisingly upbeat. The first thing they did was pull out WeFeel’s dashboard for a quick look at his latest trends.

“Hey Bob, there’s a lot of yellow here.” (Yellow is the color WeFeel uses for Joy)

“I know, right! Who knew I was happy?”

Bob had been going through life assuming that, in general, he was a miserable person. It’s really easy to get stuck in that mindset, especially when you are fighting something like Bipolar Disorder. But then evidence was presented to him in a way that he couldn’t deny. After all, Bob created all of the emotion entries showing he was happy. When confronted with the facts, he was able to begin to shift his world view. Turns out in general, Bob’s a pretty happy fellow.

When when we talk about Evidence Based Therapy, or Evidence Based Mental Health care we mean practices and techniques that have been proven to work via recognized scientific research. But I think we can (and should!) take things one step further. In the business world we have business intelligence tools that can aid in evidence based decision making. WeFeel is essentially an expansion of those concepts adapted to individual mental health care. Previously it has been really difficult to gather and visualize empirical evidence about what has happened with a patient in between sessions. Instead, mental health care professionals have had to rely on not only their patient’s ability to recall past events, but also their ability to convince them to share.

Just like with Bob, you only need the first 3-5 minutes of a session for WeFeel to show facts and trends from events gathered as they transpired. We know that even with something as convenient as a phone, it’s still hard to remember to journal and track things. To help build the habit of capturing data, WeFeel helps patients to remember to track their emotions, moods, and pretty much anything you can think of by providing up to 10 random reminders throughout the day, and to schedule up to 3. That’s a lot of data points.

The good news is we sum it all up for you so that you just need to spend a few moments to check out the Discussion Points and Dashboard pages to identify important issues. Finally, you use those facts in helping to provide talking points, diagnosis, and treatment during your session. WeFeel doesn’t do the diagnosing, it simply provides an easy way to gather evidence. You then use it to help drive therapy forwards- Evidence Driven Therapy. It’s just an extra tool to put in your tool belt, but if you ask Bob, it’s one that makes you happy…or rather, one that shows you the happiness you’ve always had inside.


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Not It!

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(Or the difficult case of monetizing mobile Mental Health Care Solutions)

Get a crowd of people together and ask who should pay for mental health treatment, and the likely result is a race to see who can shout out “Not It!” the fastest.

With the stigma that still exists around mental health some individuals can be embarrassed or uncomfortable to even seek treatment, let alone contemplate spending their money on it. When they do think about spending their money, they end up with bumper stickers saying “Gone Fishin’! ‘Cause it’s cheaper than therapy!” There’s also the large population that needs help but simply can’t afford it.

Outside of individuals, you certainly cannot go asking the trained professionals to stop making a living by demanding they give away their expertise for free. Prior to the Affordable Care Act here in the U.S., some of the insurance people would be the first to flee, and depending on your country, your government organization may have just ran out of the room pretending they didn’t hear the question at all, while others flat out say: “What? Health care? Wait! Not even health care, you mean mental health care? We’re not paying for that!”

Sure that’s a broad generalization, somewhat exaggerated for effect, but I bet you know exactly what I mean. And that’s for mental health care as a whole.

What happens when you start to throw technology into the mix? Who pays for that? 

At the beginning of our journey here at WeFeel, we had to figure out that exact question. Something that is often forgotten is that technology costs money to develop, and companies must have a revenue stream to exist. The ridiculous amount of “free” apps have conditioned people to think that if it is on your mobile device it shouldn’t cost anything, while they having given in to being inundated with ads. We knew from the beginning the monetizing a mental health care service via advertising was fundamentally a horrible idea. I’m sure you can imagine some of the damaging scenarios that could occur when the two are mixed.

We decided to go out and talk to experts to see what had been figured out so far, but what we found was disappointing in the lack of quality and quantity of information. The vast majority of our research and advice showed that no one really knew. We were told people won’t pay for anything considered an “App.” We found that people had tried with mental health care apps before and failed because they couldn’t crack this one issue. We spoke with local practitioners, and the overwhelming feedback was they couldn’t see adopting technology if it meant they had to purchase something for their clients to use. So we sat down and decided we’d have to figure it out ourselves.

When data is lacking, logic and experimentation come to the rescue

Here is our thinking about different models:

Advertising revenue: As mentioned above this was simply a “No.” If it was the only way, then we’d simply rather not create the company.

Free: From the beginning, we knew that WeFeel had to have a plan to make money. That’s not why WeFeel exists, but we knew that we wanted features that no one was doing yet, like the ability to share data between individuals. That meant servers and technology running in “the cloud” (specifically Microsoft’s Azure in our case). That costs money, as does continuously improving the service and providing tech support. While we looked into creating the company as a 503c nonprofit, from a practicality side it just couldn’t work that way. So free was out.

One-time fee: Many apps are sold by paying a fee to an app store and then you get the app. The problem with this model is it generally only works if the data is stored locally on the device, because you don’t have the overhead of the cloud and often you don’t provide technical support (or if you do you charge a lot more). Storing data locally doesn’t allow for sharing between people, syncing between multiple devices, or restoring data if you loose your phone. Those were all key features we wanted in WeFeel, and so this model simply couldn’t work, unless we started releasing new versions and requiring people to purchase them each time one was released, and that gets old…fast.

Provider-based subscriptions: In this model, each mental health care provider pays a monthly subscription, and in return gets a number of licenses that they can give to their clients. The overwhelming feedback we found here in Utah is that many of them simply couldn’t afford it, or couldn’t be bothered with that. We talked to some people who had attempted that model before and couldn’t gain traction. Another drawback we found is that if a person switched therapists they would loose access to WeFeel unless the new provider also had a subscription. This made no sense to us. A person’s mental health is theirs to own, and if WeFeel can help the individual we don’t want access to be controlled by someone else. In fact a core tenant of WeFeel is that the individual owns and controls their data. A provider-based subscription simply won’t allow us to meet that objective.

Individual-based subscriptions: Thanks to companies like Netflix, Microsoft, Amazon, Spotify, and Pandora consumers are becoming more and more used to buying technology as a service. And yes, while we also sometimes think “not another subscription to pay!” in this case we think it makes sense. Our costs are tied to the usage of the service. More importantly it gives us some unique benefits. First,it also allows us to have a base, free-version of the app for people to try that limits access to the things that cost us the most to deliver: sharing, journaling, and hosting large amounts of data. Then because we can sell the subscription via app stores directly in the WeFeel app, it means we don’t have to store any identifiable information from the customer on our end. No credit cards, no email addresses, or phone numbers. We simply get paid a percentage from the app store.

This is huge for us in maintaining things like HIPAA compliance, and more importantly for us to help people feel comfortable logging their deepest emotions, since we physically can’t know who they are. The individual also gets to not only own their data, but to control who has access to it, including the ability to stop sharing with their therapist. By doing it this way we’ve created the concept of a mental health record that transfers from therapist to therapist at the control of the patient. We think that’s pretty cool.

But there are some downsides. What happens if a large organization wants to buy subscriptions for people? We solved that by creating a licensing portal that maintains anonymity, and when an organization buys a license they are purchasing it on behalf of the individual. Once a patient is licensed that subscription is tied to the patient, and not the organization. This is pretty much a hybrid of the individual-based and provider-based models.

The final hurdle is what is the right price? And to be honest we’re still working that out. Typically you price this things based on the utility they provide, but how do you value the ability to improve one’s mental health? We could compare it to medication and say many people spend upwards of $30 a month on pills, and so we could randomly state “we’re easily worth half that so $15 a month sounds right!” We could argue one’s mental health is worth more than watching TV, and Netflix is around $10 a month, so $10-$15 a month is still about right.

The problem is when comparing to those kinds of things, people simply do not want to pay for mental health services.  Showing the value of the service doesn’t necessarily work, and we don’t have enough data yet to make definitive statements like “WeFeel reduces the need for the number of sessions per patient by 10%”

So here’s where we are right now, we spent some time looking at subscription prices that we felt in general most people could afford. Then we did some experimentation. We initially tried $60 a year, which was seen as a bit high but doable by most of the people we spoke with. We didn’t randomly pull that number out of a hat, it was based on cost projections and helping to grow the company rapidly.

And it seemed OK, until we had couples come into the mix. In couples therapy you really need two subscriptions, and $120 a year per family was higher than some of our early adopters could afford.

We changed our growth model and dropped the price to $40 a year, and for many that was OK, even couples. But we were finding that the therapists in our test program were reluctant to ask a patient to go out and spend $40. So to alleviate that concern we put WeFeel on sale at $20 a year. Now the therapist could say that its roughly the same price you would spend on pens and notepads for a year, which you’d be buying anyway to do your “homework.”

For the sake of transparency, I don’t know that as a company we can sustain that $20 sale price for the long term (though I’d like to be able to). That low of a rate means we have to have 3 times as many subscribers to break even. But in the early stages of a company, especially when you are trying to create a market, sometimes a “low low price of just $19.99!” is what you have to do.

If you’ve made it this far, I’d love to get your feedback as to what you think is not only fair, but practical for your patients.

Finally, for those in the industry, we’ve also heard your concerns regarding people who can’t afford WeFeel at any price. How do we get WeFeel into their hands? I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately. And I’d like to run something by you all.

What if we instituted a pay it forward program?

Essentially it would work like this, each paid subscription would include the one for the individual who paid for it, and one to be donated to someone in need. To do this it would have to be all or nothing. Remember we don’t have a way to track who paid for what. That’s on purpose, but means we can’t allow a person to buy two subscriptions at a discount and then choose to donate one. It also means we’d have to at least bring subscription prices up to a point that we could cover the operating costs of a second subscription. So what are your thoughts? Would your patients be encouraged by the fact that in getting a subscription they are also helping someone in need? Would they see it as an added burden?

I look forward to hearing responses. Feel free to comment here on this post, or to email me directly at jeff@wefeel.us


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WeFeel: Therapist’s Toolbox vs. Therapy Substitute

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It’s hard to believe that it was almost two years ago that we came up with the idea for WeFeel. Despite there being hundreds of “mental health” apps already on the market we saw a huge hole that no one seemed to be interested in or willing to fill. Organizations have been racing to create apps that help treat specific issues, and there’s even some really cool tech out there that is trying to automatically diagnose individuals using machine learning and artificial intelligence to analyze an person’s environment, and physical response.

I think those are all great things. In fact, as someone on the autism spectrum, the idea of getting help without having to actually go get help is very appealing. But as we looked at things back at the beginning of 2015, we found the same results that have been reported in articles published more recently: many, if not most mental health care apps aren’t backed by any studies or clinical evidence, and worse…many are flat out damaging to an individual’s mental health. The problem, as we saw it, was that most of the apps and services being created were designed to be a substitute for therapy,

So what did we do? We went out and talked to psychologists, psychiatrists, marriage counselors, certified therapists and anyone else willing to provide input to find out what physical tools they already used, what proven techniques existed that merely needed to be converted to a mobile format, and then we got to work. Our philosophy became how do we help therapists by augmenting what they already do, instead of how can we replace them with an app.

We were lucky enough to have found Dr. Scott Seaman, a forward thinking psychologist based out of Orem, UT who was willing to test WeFeel with his patients (with their consent of course!). We spent six months or so refining WeFeel in a clinical setting, adding tools to help a therapist treat things like depression, anxiety, and addiction, and to help with couples therapy, and autism spectrum disorder.

The more we worked together, the more flexible WeFeel became. Our initial idea of having WeFeel prompt you once or twice a day to create an entry grew into adding up to 10 random prompts and three scheduled ones. Early concepts like the ability for a couple to share their emotion entries turned into the ability for a patient to securely share their data with a care provider, who then could remotely monitor the status of their patient. A quick and simple way to enter core emotions became a fully customizable interface that could track anything from a single item to 19 separate items- the 19th was because a customer emailed us and asked for just one more custom slider to help her track an item that would help her meet her goals.

Once we had data, we found that we could do really cool stuff with it. There were the obvious things like Dashboards to help visualize and narrow down patterns and triggers, and we used a bit of if computing power to be able to find topics to discuss via word clouds and sorting through entries to find those with the deepest feelings.

But, as we got results from real world use, we found that while it was nice to have all that data, data without action is only part of the solution. We knew that a common treatment step is to give the patient a plan or “coping strategy” like counting to ten whenever you are angry, or calling a friend when you are feeling depressed. We were missing that ability to help treat symptoms, and so we took a look at how we could help a therapist work with their patient to provide customized action prompts. We wanted to create a generic toolbox for the therapist to use to treat anything. It was just a matter of converting this existing and proven technique into something a mobile device could perform.

WeFeel already knew when a person was angry, since they already created an emotion entry for it, so it was just a matter of adding the ability to provide the therapist’s directions as a reminder. The solution was to just take that existing practice and simply add Coping Strategies to our toolbox. Now, the therapist can work with their patient to devise an action or behavior and enter it into the toolbox. Then when the patient logs that they are feeling a certain way, WeFeel will automatically prompt them to follow the strategy that matched. It can even have up to 16 different strategies to match different situations.

The next thing we knew we had patients using WeFeel to help them overcome addiction by prompting them to take action at the early states of feeling a craving. In this case, we made a super-customizable tool, and Scott came up with an awesome way to use it.

It turns out, as we created WeFeel, we were giving hope to people as they worked with their therapist to come up with their own unique way to use it. We helped enhance the bond between care provider and patient, instead of isolating them from their therapist. By working in clinical setting, getting real world feedback, and most importantly listening to our customers WeFeel is now making a difference, and I think that’s pretty cool.

 


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The Other Side of “We”

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We…

Imagine a large field. Populate it with images of people. Close your eyes and think for a minute about “We.”

Here’s a happy little field with a stream running through it to help you out:

When you envision “We” who joins you in your field? If I say to you “religion”, does the population change? What if I say “politics”? How about “nation”?

We are…

In your mind’s eye, what are the people wearing? What color is their hair, eyes, and skin? What are they thinking? What do they believe? What are their traditions? What makes them part of your “We”?

Here’s a peaceful waterfall to admire while you contemplate:

We are bound together by…

Now, in your mind you should have a picture of your “We”. You know what makes your group special. You know what ties you together. You know what makes you a “tribe”. If you wanted you could actually see the bonds between each individual, see each link that connects people to each other, and to you.

Perhaps one of the links says “family”. Maybe it says “community”. If you try you can break the links down even further into individual concepts. The link called “religion” breaks down to its constituents: beliefs about god, purpose, sacred rites, holy books and all those strands that make up the religious ties between you and your “We”. The link called “politics” does the same. As you imagine this you can see all the connections vividly, the most important connections thick like steel cables, unbreakable. When you imagine this you feel whole. A part of something bigger than yourself. Part of a tribe. Part of a family.

You now have your mind map of “we.”

Pause for another moment to internalize this picture you’ve created.

Here’s a cool visualization of the links that make up the Internet to get lost in:

“I” from “We”

Now that you are firmly rooted in your “We”, I have to wonder, what part of the whole makes the individual? Was this image created over time based on your upbringing, your income, or perhaps your genetics? Why is this your tribe and how tightly do you feel bound to them?

What would you do for the people within this cloud of connections you’ve created? Would you give your hard earned money to support them? Would you give them your time? Would you give them your life? What would you do to continue to belong to this family?

I find the dichotomy in many cultures that profess the importance of individuality while simultaneously stressing the importance of family, tradition, and loyalty to be confusing. Does your “I” depend on strands of approval those connections? Does your “I” venture out into the darkness of that beyond your tribe, or does it stay close, comforted in the knowledge that “We” have all the answers “I” need?

When you think about “I”, how much of you is held together by “We”?

Bonds, or Bondage?

I’ve seen it said that no man is an island, but I am. In fact, there’s an entire subset of people without the innate ability to create, visualize, or depend on those bonds that make “We”. Like most people, I was taught from an early age the importance of “We”. We are Family. We are Christian. We are Muslim. We are Jewish. We are Republicans. We are Democrats. We are rich. We are poor. So many different versions of “We”.

But I can’t see it. My mind map is empty when I do this exercise. I would guess that for many that thought is depressing, overwhelming, and possibly unimaginable. Maybe you feel sorry for me. Maybe your “We” does too.

I’ve chosen to see it as a blessing, because I am free. Once I stopped believing that to exist I had to belong, which I never could figure out how to do, I was able to stop trying to force those strands that make up the connections of “We” into existence . I was free to be wrong. Free to examine other forms of “we.” Free to see that:

With the bonds of “We” comes the bondage of “We”.

How many of your deep down core beliefs you hold as “truth” are really bonds that help you feel part of “We”? Is that thought too difficult to face? How many of life’s potential experiences have you missed because some of the bonds of “We” determine your actions? Do you find safety in the limitations or regret at lost opportunity?

How many good people will you never know because they are not part of “We”?

How many people in this world are “they”? When you imagine “them”, do you feel disdain and distrust? Are “they” evil? Are “they” scary? Are “they” they cause of your problems?

Most of all, what do you fear if you started cutting some of those strands? Will you be bullied, pitied or ostracized? If you identify those fears could you face them?

What will fear cause you to do in order to maintain your status as “We”?

Will you compromise your ethics to avoid becoming “one of them”? Will you support an undeserving leader? Will you become the bully? Will you refuse to speak up when you see wrong doing? Will you refuse to give “them” a chance to be heard, just because “they” aren’t contained within your mental image?

And that is the core of it all. From the beginning of this post I’ve had you creating mental images. Visualizations of what makes your reality. But if you stop to think about it that is all it is: a mental image. A picture in your head of how the world should be, and who should be in it. It is an ephemeral painting that you fight to make eternal and unchanging. And often with that fight comes intolerance, divisiveness, and hatred.

I’m not damaged. I’ve been given a gift. I can see both the power for good and the corruption that comes from “We”. I am the equivalent of a Mars rover, a robot observing and collecting data, weighing things based on logic and reason.

I’ve also been given a curse. I look in on all of the various versions of “We” from the outside, and I don’t know how to relate to you. I don’t know how to say “please just open your eyes to the bigger world” without offending. In fact, the minute I started asking people to consider their fears, some who read this became offended. Who am I to ask them to question their “We”?

So on my island, I sit alone; having loved ones around me. Part of me wishes that I could have that desire and ability to be part of a group. Despite the limitations that may come from a need to belong, I do see the advantages. Part of me wants to scream at the top of my lungs “HEY EVERYONE, YOU ARE HEADED ON A PATH THAT LEADS TO GREATER PAIN BECAUSE OF YOUR FEAR OF LOSING YOUR “WE”!”

I don’t have the right answer. So I leave it up to you. You have to decide. You have to have the courage to choose to expand your version of “We” to include everyone, despite the fact that it will break many of the ties that make your reality. For me, that process was painful, but nowhere near what I imagine it would be for someone who depends on those connections to be whole. I would guess the thought is terrifying. But I feel it is important to at least ask you to consider it. You can work to simplify the kinds of bonds that connect you to others, you don’t have to erase the whole picture.

As you tear away the pieces, you will find that you only need a single strand: “human”. When you do, there can be no more “they” or “them”.

“We will work with them” becomes “we will work together”. But I fear that it is still easier to choose to remain “We” and “they”.

Because after all is said and done there is comfort in:

“We are righteous”, “We have truth”, and “We know what is best”.


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Limp Balloons (or Erroneous, Targeted Deflation)

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Someone reading the title is expecting me to open with a deflategate joke, so let me do a little panderin’ for just one picture:

Good news is I can make a real slick segue with that picture into today’s topic: Does stress ever make you feel like a football before Tom Brady gets his hands on it?*

Yes, today we are talking about good old fashioned stress, that thing that causes heart attacks, strokes, anxiety, sleep deprivation and all kinds of other badness. And, like most of you, I don’t particularly want or need any more badness in my life, so it sounds like we all should strive for stress-free living. In fact, if I google “stress-free living” I find that there are millions of entries, some by really smart people, with advice, books, pills, and pictures of happy people in open fields spinning around with their arms held wide…the universal symbol of people without stress (or inner ear dysfunction.)

I do love me an open-field, and and while spinning around isn’t my thing, apparently I’ve stumbled upon a goal we should have. Let’s all get rid of stress!

Trying to live stress-free is stressful

Is it just me or is the idea of all the work involved with living stress-free stressful?There are soooo many steps involved. Sure decluttering my life would be good, exercise each day sounds smart, and creating lists for the tasks I need to complete would prevent worrying over forgetting things. But, if I let myself become obsessed with all of the stuff I should do to avoid stress, I’ve added a gigantic pile of things to remember to do each day. Yay, more stress.

Seems we’ve found a situation like the one I talked about in Make Happy Little Cognitive Dissonance: Believing that we should be trying to be stress-free causes stress, just like believing we should be trying to be happy all the time causes us to be less happy. We’ve got our priorities out of whack again, and I think it is because we misunderstand stress.

Stress, on its own, isn’t the evil we think it is

Did you know that the idea of emotional and mental “stress” has been around for less than 100 years? Not only that, “Stress is not a useful term for scientists because it is such a highly subjective phenomenon that it defies definition.” I find it odd, that we try to eliminate something that is so ambiguously defined that even scientists feel the term is useless. Fundamentally, stress is just pressure exerted by “stressors” on our lives. As people often tend to do, they latched on to the negative connotations of stress, ignoring the fact that it also a necessary part of life.

No Stress, Eustress, Distress:

More than 100 years ago John Dodson and Robert Yerkes came up with a law showing that up to a certain point the more stress you have the more productive you are. Now back in their days, they called it “arousal” (remember the use of the word “stress” is less than 100 years old…pay attention class!), but nowadays a curve that says “the more aroused we are” means something entirely different, so we use the current term for the mental and emotional pressure put on us- “stress”.

Because of the negative connotations around the word “stress” we had to come up with a new word for “positive stress”- Eustress, or “good stress.” And to make the distinction between good and bad stress, we call bad stress “distress.” The, artfully handcrafted by me, chart you see above gives you an idea of how this law works. Without stress of any kind in our lives we get nothing done. Though sometimes sitting around and playing videos games all day sounds good, most of us want to accomplish something with our lives. Without any factors pushing us to do so, we simply won’t get anything done.

There is a certain amount of stress (which depends completely on the task) where we are “in the zone” and feel super-productive. That’s the area of eustress, the good stress that helps us find creativity, focus our energy, and meet deadlines. Eventually, if the stress levels keep building, we become less and less productive, eventually falling into distress (where banging your head on the keyboard seems a reasonable alternative to working.)

A balloon analogy

While it may be outside pressure (stressors) that cause stress, for me, stress feels more like I’m about to burst from the inside. I’ve never felt so much stress I want to implode, I’m all about explosions.

And that leads us back to limp balloons, and targeted deflation. (Not much of a segue there was it?) Here’s why:

Life without stress is as pointless as a limp balloon.

A balloon without any air in it is living a stress free life…nothing pushing on it’s thin walls forcing it to expand. That balloon is living in the state that we have errantly set as a goal. Are we jealous of the balloon?

No, of course not! Aside from the fact that it is a balloon and jealousy of inanimate objects would be indicative of larger personal issues, if you have a balloon and you never fill it up, what is the point of having it? It isn’t serving any purpose. I can’t imagine a child’s eyes lighting up when you hand them an empty balloon, and tell them not to blow it up. You certainly aren’t going to make many balloon animals out of it. It’s just a limp ol’ piece of rubber. You’ve got to add a little pressure, but not too much.

Life with distress is as scary as an overfilled balloon in a cactus garden.

Similarly, no one wants to be handed a balloon that has so much gas in it the slightest touch will blow it up. Sure it may have accomplished the task of being a balloon, but again, you aren’t going to make any balloon animals out of it. You are going to have to handle it delicately if you want to be able to enjoy it for any amount of time. You want to see stress-levels rise- go bat an overfilled balloon around with a friend in the desert section of your local botanical garden.

Embrace eustress, avoid distress, and stop trying to live without any stress.

Stress in all its forms is something for which we should take notice. But just like with our emotions, we shouldn’t fear it. We shouldn’t avoid it. We definitely shouldn’t have stress about eliminating stress. Like most of the stuff I write about, it’s really easy to say, but not so easy to do. For me, the first step is to pause throughout the day and just try to figure out if the stress I’m feeling is eustress, or if I’ve gone over the edge into distress. Then, instead of trying to eliminate stress that is actually beneficial to me, I can simply acknowledge it and be on my merry way. When it’s too much, I don’t have to eliminate it completely, I’ve got the much smaller task of just dialing it back to more optimal levels.

So maybe Mr. Brady was on to something there: The balls clearly were in a state of distress. Had he emptied them of all the stress there’s not much to be done with a limp pigskin. Free the football from distress he cried! And then empathic ol’ Tom Brady deflated the balloons (err, footballs that is) to bring them to their optimal state of eustress. Or maybe he was just looking for an advantage in life.

The good news is, you can do the same, without the four game suspension. Instead of fearing stress, embrace it and let it help you succeed. When you do you can create things you never imagined possible.

*Does it count as a slick segue if you tell people you are about to drop a slick segue? Can we please start spelling segue segway? If we started spelling segue segway, would we all have to wear sweaters and ride around on weird two wheeled transportation devices?


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I Got to be on the Radio

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and it wasn’t as scary as I thought it might be.

There are things in life that are unknown, and because they are unknown they are scary. About a month ago I was contacted by someone I followed on twitter and was asked to be on her radio show. That was something that I’d never done before.

For a moment, when I read that my heart jumped up in my throat and I thought “Gack!” There was a little bit of fear. (and yes, I acknowledged it and recorded it in WeFeel).

However, I really believe in WeFeel and what we can offer to therapists and the general public so I wrote back and said, “Yes” because this would be a good way to get the message out there. At that point it was easy — the date was set a month away so I didn’t even really have to think about it. So I didn’t, because when I did there was that little bit of fear again. And then the day was upon me and it wasn’t so bad.

The host of Moments of Clarity, Tiffany Werhner, put me at ease and we had a great conversation about where WeFeel came from and how it can help.

If you’d like to listen to the interview, here’s the podcast:

 

or download it


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Borrowed Trust: who’s your lender?

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 (or When did I lose my ability to decide where to eat without the whole planet’s input?)

As you navigate through this age of overloaded information, you’ll find that, by necessity, you will have to take shortcuts when it comes time to making decisions.  If you use Yelp, Amazon, EBay, or any other service that features reviews given by people “just like you” then you probably have taken one of those shortcuts.  You know what I’m talking about, ’cause just like me you’ve thought:

“I’ve never heard of The Steaming Burrito, but 92% of the reviewers say it’s the best, and so I shall dine there tonight!”*

For me, and maybe some of you, it’s become an addiction. Maybe addiction isn’t the right word.  More like it has become so deeply integrated into my process that I won’t eat it, buy it, watch it, or hire it unless I can find something online that tells me it’s OK.  Anonymous validation that if I want a steaming burrito, it’s gonna be good (and not overstuffed).

Crowd sourced information can help us make better decisions

If you are from the “When I was young our video games had 8-bits, one d-pad, and two buttons and we grateful to have it because our parents’ video games were rocks!” generation you’ll remember a time when you talked to actual people to get an opinion on a purchase, new restaurant,  or movie.  Well some of us did that, some of us who aren’t so good with the talking just found one thing we liked and stuck with it.

But even the most outgoing, know-everyone individual still had a limited pool of knowledge to draw from.  We made lots of bad purchasing decisions.  Case in point:

While people have been pondering the concept of the “Wisdom of the Crowd” for a long time (we’re talking more than 2000 years ago when Aristotle wrote about it), there hasn’t been a way for an individual to have near instantaneous access to the thoughts and opinions of huge amounts of people until fairly recently in human history.

Lior Zoref, showed us what can happen if we take the idea of crowd sourced thinking to the extreme back in 2012 when he gave the first ever crowdsourced TED talk. He recreated a classic example of guessing the weight of an OX by bringing a live ox on stage, the results are impressive.

So that settles it right?  Evidence says turning to the crowd to make decisions is a good idea. I like good ideas. I like not having to expend mental energy on figuring out if I should spend my money on the latest mediocre remake of a mediocre movie from a time when I thought giant, sarcastic turtles that know karate were a good idea.

But…(and this time I’m not gonna flip it)

When we use online opinions we are borrowing anonymous trust

One of the benefits of the good ol’ days…or maybe just ol’ days, is that when we went and asked for an opinion from someone, we also had an existing relationship of trust with that individual.  We wouldn’t have asked them in the first place if we didn’t put some weight into the validity of their response.  That’s not to say, we don’t still ask our friends for advice, but that in many cases we have taken something that used to have an initial barrier of “Do I trust what this person will tell me?” and turned it into “Since lots of people have an opinion on this, it is equally (or more) valid than that of someone I know.”

We choose to seek out someone (anyone!) who already has built a trust with whomever we want to deal with so that we can minimize our risk. Once we find them, we can borrow their trust until we have some of our own.  The more people we borrow from, the more confident we are that we have made a correct decision. And thanks to group feedback systems, there are now efficient means of borrowing huge amounts of trust:

5247 people gave it 5 stars, it must be good!

It’s crazy if you think about it, in less than a generation we went from depending on the voice of a trusted few, to the voice of thousands of random people to help us with our decision making process. There’s just a slight problem with that:

Anonymous trust can be purchased, faked and manipulated

In our efforts to make efficient decisions, we’ve inadvertently made the online review such a valuable commodity that it’s now become subject to Campbell’s law/Goodhart’s law.  The gist of these laws/rules say that the more important a measure becomes, the more susceptible to corruption it becomes and that once a measure of something becomes a target/goal, it no longer is a good measure.

For example, on Yelp you have a restaurant and you know that 5 star restaurants get way more business than three star ones.  You need to boost that rating and so you “bribe” your patrons by giving a 10% off coupon when they post a 5 star review.  You took what was a good idea, providing people with a means of judging quality, and corrupted it by buying good reviews in order to draw in even more customers. As an aside I need to mention that, Yelp is doing all they can to fight these purchased and faked reviews.

And that brings me to what prompted this post.  Back when we were working on our (unfortunately failed) Kickstarter campaign, we were contacted by people offering to sell us likes on Twitter and Facebook.  There were places that would take our money to pledge it right back to our campaign in order to make it look like we had more real supporters.

We could buy fake trust and lend it out to all those people who needed to borrow some in order to trust what we were doing.  Being the naive not-so-little Aspie that I am, it made no sense to me until I started looking into the value of borrowed trust.  It turns out cheating the system is a huge thing.

You can go to fiverr.com and find thousands of people willing to sell you a review, but if you are thinking you could make a quick buck this way, you might get sued. And if you are a merchant buying fake reviews- Amazon’s already sued thousands of its own vendors so you could be next.

So what are we as intelligent (you are still reading this post that has gone waaaaay long, so you clearly are smart) individuals supposed to do? I did the search for you and found a piece of advice that I really liked on a page from some attorneysthat will get fake bad reviews removed for you:

Trust the 3 star review

That’s something I never thought about. I normally jump to the 5 stars and then the 1 stars and ignore pretty much everything else.  Logical to me- see what the best and worst of something is.  But something in that article stuck with me:“Nobody leaves a fake three star review.”

So for me, I’m going to change how I borrow trust.  I will start by looking at the 3s; taking the time to read the comments.   People who post 3 star reviews seem to point out both the good and the bad of whatever it is they are reviewing. There’s no rabid fan loyalty and no agenda. I’m certainly not saying don’t trust places with 5 star reviews, and definitely not saying choose the mediocre 3 star somethings.

Give loyalty to the services that are the best out there.  Just be smart about the unknown.  The trust you are borrowing may not be real.  If honesty is what you value you most in your trust lender, then right there in the middle with the 3s are a great place to start.

*Ok, so I made up “The Steaming Burrito” but you know what I mean.


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A toolbox, for all your tools

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Introducing the latest addition to WeFeel – a toolbox with emotional tools you can use on your own or with a care provider. The toolbox was on our project map from the beginning and has been the most requested item as we’ve introduced WeFeel to therapists and care providers over the past few months. Take a look at what the toolbox has to offer and give us some feedback in the comments.

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The landing page for the toolbox

The Toolbox Landing Page

My Goals:
Once you click on the toolbox icon you land here where you get a quick overview of how you are doing on the goals you have set. I find seeing the progress I’m making, and how much more I need to do motivating. This gauge shows the progress over ALL your goals, except the ones you have completed.

Self-Talk Scratch Pad
How we talk to ourselves has a big influence on us. Changing negative self-talk to something more positive is a great skill to learn. This gives you space to jot down things you want to say to yourself to improve that skill. If you’ve got a mantra or affirmation you like to repeat, this is a good place to put it.

Important People and Services
There are people and services you can rely on for help. Since WeFeel is available across many countries, those services can vary. Taking the time to put in services for your area and people you can rely on will help you if you get to a crisis. You might not need to call, just the reminder that they are there for you might be all you need.

Goals

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The Goals page

Goals are ways we improve ourselves. Even if you don’t have them written down, there are things that you want to do, places you want to go, or aspects of yourself that you want to change. Writing them down can be scary because it makes them real, but it also gives you a way to actually accomplish those things. The goals page gives you a place to write down your goals and keep track of your progress.

An important part of being able to accomplish big goals is to break them down into manageable parts. You list them here as sub-tasks, and as you check each sub-task off the progress meter for that goal will go up. You can add or remove sub-tasks as needed, so when life throws a monkey wrench that might have derailed you in the past, you can just make an adjustment to what you need to do.

The free version offers you one goal to track (hey, we gotta eat too!), but in the paid version you can have as many goals and sub-tasks as you want. That gives you the freedom to break really big goals into smaller sub-goals and subtasks that don’t seem too intimidating.

The goals list shows the goal and your next sub-task. Just tap on a goal to see all the details and check off the sub-tasks as you complete them.

Screenshot_20160730-163917Coping Strategies

As you learn to recognize your emotions by tracking them, you will also want tools to help you deal with them. You can create coping strategies on your own or with a councilor, therapist, or partner to have them in place before you feel them. These coping strategies integrate with the emotion tracking side. Whether you record emotions based on a scheduled or random prompt, or are feeling something strongly and decide to record it, a prompt will pop up reminding you of the coping strategy that you enter here.

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A coping strategy pop-up

For example, if you are working on anger management you can put in coping strategies for the various levels of anger. Then when you feel anger, those strategies will pop up and remind you in the moment.

In the free version you can add a coping strategy for your Outlook. The paid version offers coping strategies for Outlook, the 6 core emotions, and the custom items you track.

Medications

The medications page is a place for you to write down any medications and supplements you might be taking. While WeFeel isn’t designed to remind you to take medications, we know it is hard to remember all the complicated names and dosages every time you are asked to provide a list. This lets you have it with you on your phone when you need it.

There you have it — the toolbox in a nutshell. We look forward to hearing what you think of the toolbox and how you use it.


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Visualization to let you see what you feel

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In the world of emotions what you feel right now colors what you remember you felt before. And that’s ok — it is just how the human mind works. Usually this doesn’t cause too much difficulty, until you are trying to work through a complex emotional problem on your own or with a therapist, or if you are suffering from depression, anxiety or other mental illness. If you track your emotions on a regular basis, in the moment, you have a way to overcome that. A paper emotion journal is good for that, but you’ll have to go back through the entries, page by page and even then you’ll only have a feeling of what was going on. This is where WeFeel excels over a paper journal. All your emotion entries in the cloud means we can show them in a variety of ways. For you, that means you can SEE what you’ve been feeling, and so can anyone you share it with.

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The dashboad on a tablet

The dashboard starts off with a view of your outlook trend. By default the dashboard pulls in the last 10 entries, but you can use the filter button at the bottom to choose any number of entries up to 21 or 180* depending on the version you use. More than that, the Outlook trend gives you the ability to see how your outlook has changed over time. Using the other filters with outlook trend will let you see if a specific location or activity affects your outlook. For example, if you have a better outlook in one location than another, you might want to take some time to consider why  this might be and what you can do about it.

Core emotion trends chart

Core emotion trends chart

The core emotion quick summary shows you two things: the strongest amount you have felt each emotion and the average intensity that you feel each emotion. You can get a better view of your core emotions by going to the Core Emotion Trends chart. On a phone, just use the arrow to go to the next page, on a tablet click the straight face icon and you’ll see a chart of how you’ve been feeling. Any filters you’ve set carry through all your pages views. On the core emotion trends pages you can also isolate individual emotions by turning the other emotions off by tapping on them. If you want to get an idea of why you were feeling especially happy or angry, just tap on that bar to see the note you wrote when you added that entry. These controls work the same for the custom* emotions chart.

The word cloud in the Themes from my Entry Notes

The word cloud in the Themes from my Entry Notes

Clicking over to the notes or journals* brings up a word cloud of what you write about most often, either in the quick note on an emotion entry or in a journal entry. The larger the word is, the more often you added it to a note. This gives you a quick way to see the why behind what you are feeling. This provides an easy way to start a conversation about your emotions, especially with a therapist or loved one.

There is a lot more you can do with the dashboard and filters, so we invite you to play around with it. If you find a cool way to see something, please share it with us in the comments.

*These features are part of the paid subscription version.

 


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Security – Your information locked up tight

Emotion and journal entries can be very sensitive information. For the same reason we say “I’m fine” to most people, when we really are not, we don’t want notes, journal entries or emotion logs to fall into random hands. Security has been important to WeFeel from day one, and it exists on two sides: your phone and our cloud.

On your end, your entries are as secure as you want them to be. The first layer depends on what you use to make your phone or tablet secure. Does it take a fingerprint, pattern, or password to get into your phone? You have control of the security for your phone or tablet. You might want to consider updating the security of your phone if this is something that concerns you. One of the updates we are considering is adding an optional layer of security by letting you choose if a 4 digit pin is required to log and view entries. If that is something you want to see, let us know in the comments. You could push it up the priority list for development.

On our end of things there are multiple layers of security. The first one is that your information cannot be retrieved to a phone, tablet or computer without the same 3rd party authentication you originally set up. We support Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft authentication, and you choose which one you want to use. The next level is an optional pass phrase you can set up when you create your account that will double encrypt your files. That means that even if someone was able to guess who you authenticated with AND was able to get your username and password, they would still need to know your secret pass phrase to get your data. But it has to be something you won’t forget, because unlike your password to your email or other logins, we can’t retrieve it for you.

The last layer of security is our cloud. WeFeel uses the Microsoft cloud to store our data. Microsoft’s servers have a level of security and privacy that complies with storing other sensitive data, like medical records. Your data can only be accessed by you (and those you have shared with)* and it requires a long string of “dna” to find that data and send it back to you. We don’t use your email address or other identifiable information to mark your record in the cloud, which means even if someone was able to get past all the security we have in place and access the data they couldn’t identify you.

To find out even more about our security, check out our Tech and Security pages.


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