Hi. I’m Jim Lucas. Your host of Self-Help Sat Nav. The show where you can discover the stuff that really works.
Welcome to episode #4. Today you and I are focusing on a real modern approach to wellbeing. You can think of wellbeing as a combination of feeling good and coping well. You can learn more about this in the Five Daily Helpers course here on this website www.openforwards.com This is a free 8 day course that gives you 5 simple actions that you can focus on doing every day that have been shown to make a significant difference to your life.
So, back to this modern approach. Well, at least in the western world it is. It’s been a practice in eastern cultures for many hundreds of years. Yes, you’ve might have guessed it. Its Mindfulness. And in particular, we are looking at mindfulness apps.
There are over 600 mindfulness apps available in app stores. And it’s hardly surprising either. Mindfulness has taken the world by storm. Not only does it form part of therapy. You see it in coaching, in corporate training, night classes, schools, pain clinics and palliative care. It’s the new CBT, which was the trend of self-help in the 80s and 90s.
Apps are fascinating as well. They are a great way to absorb information, tell you up to date things that help you out. They are also a great source of entertainment. Combine these things together and you have a system that helps you do things more efficiently and more effectively.
People are using apps on their smart phones and tablets every day of course. Over 76% of UK adults now have a smart phone and collectively UK consumers check their phones over 1 billion times a day (Deloitte, Mobile Consumer 2015). So mobile responsive applications are an essential way of delivering services and products. They help you reach people in greater numbers and more regularly.
As a skills set – something you can learn, practice and then routinely do – mindfulness has some great data behind it. I teach people mindfulness skills in therapy and when I’m training professionals in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT). It’s an intervention I am very familiar with. And it works. I’ve seen it work countless times.
The evidence-base has grown considerably in the last 10 years or so. A 2010 study brought together the results from nearly 40 other studies that collectively looked at the outcomes for over 1100 people who applied mindfulness in their lives. It was shown to be rather effective in reducing stress, anxiety and low mood.
Like with all types of therapy or intervention, outcomes are far from perfect. Although mindfulness meditation practice is more effective than medication for depression, it is not a panacea guaranteed to cure all ills. At this point in time, such a thing does not exist.
But, as a mental health professional, experienced therapist, university lecturer, trainee supervisor and all round consumer of scientific research, it is one of the best approaches around. It cuts to the chase. It deals with processes that people get stuck in all the time and it is relatively straight forward to implement.
I don’t want to confuse that with saying it is easy. Because it isn’t. Mindfulness invites you to experience whatever shows up in the present moment. And that something or different things can be painful, scary, unpleasant, shameful. But it does help you to let go of struggling. And what we know from the science is that when you struggle with your own thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations i.e. when you try to get rid of, fix or push away, then you end up suffering even more.
I could go on for ages at this point about what mindfulness is, what it tries to do and how you learn it. But that will take us away from the main aim of this episode. And, there are already numerous webpages devoted to this subject. You can even look it up on this website by going to www.openforwards.com/therapyandmindfulness.
The main aim here is to look at mindfulness apps so that you can go straight to the ones that work. I’m going to remind you and myself at this point of the four key yardsticks for judging the likely value of self-help. Firstly, it needs to be evidence-based – to have some data behind it. Secondly, it needs to acknowledge that pain is a part of life – stay away from stuff that promises eternal happiness. Thirdly, it needs to show you how to implement the lessons. And, fourthly, it needs to acknowledge that people lapse and give up, but not only acknowledging it but addressing how to deal with that.
A great study in 2015 looked at reviewing and evaluating the mindfulness apps on the market. They did a search in the apple and google play stores and came up with 600 unique apps. They excluded the vast majority of the apps if they just had reminders, timers or mindfulness tracks. They only included apps that had mindfulness training as well as education. They whittled the list down to just 23 apps in the end.
They used an interesting rating tool called the MARS (MARS). This tool assesses how well the app engages people, how well it functions, how aesthetic it is and the quality of its information. It also looked at customer satisfaction as well. To get a really detailed breakdown of the study and its results, you can refer to the show notes at the bottom of this page.
The list included apps such as Mindfulness Trainer, Simply8, Mindfulness Coach and Take a Chill. But the top three apps were Headspace, Smiling Mind and IMindfulness. Mindfulness Daily had an equal overall rating score to IMindfulness so it is only fair to give it a mention here.
In my world, Headspace seems to be the most well-known. I’ve personally used it as well and it has many useful features. It also scored the highest in all the MARS related items. It has a timer, reminders, tracking and a practice-based program. So, you can easily tick off the implementation aspects of good self-help. It is also evidence-based and the website does a good job of highlighting the science around what works.
The founder and main personality behind headspace is Andy Puddicombe. He has a book out where he shares his story of experiencing tragedy and developing a meditative practice as a monk in a Buddhist community. There he describes happening on the realisation that he could help many thousands of people by creating headspace. And looking at its subscription numbers, he is continuing to do a great job of giving people what they want.
Smiling Mind is an Australian created app with that specifically targets different age groups. It is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to get mindfulness meditation on the Australian School curriculum by 2020.
IMindulness is a Danish creation that focuses on helping beginners and more experienced practitioners. It has a number of additional in-app purchases as well to help you dig deeper.
I’ve decided to refrain from endorsing one specifc app above another. My advice is to try out an app from the top four or five on the list and see which ones suit you best. Try out the others on the list as well, because as we know apps change and develop. Some will improve and get better. Others won’t. Twenty three is quite a lot I know, which can take a lot of time. So you may want to make life simple for yourself. And the study is less only around 12 months old, so there might not be a lot that has changed in that time.
I do want to suggest you look at the Calms app as well, because I’ve heard from several people who use it and say they like it. It was excluded from the study last year probably because it doesn’t include educational elements separate from the meditations. But, if you already know enough about it then you may want to take a butchers.
I agree with the rating tool. That a self-help mindfulness-focused app needs to have a combination of good design, good functionality, helpful engagement and quality information. Self-help is an educative process and an interactive experience. I’ve seen several digital products over the years that have had some strengths in these areas and then some big limitations in others. Some have had great content, but have lacked good design to make it easy for the user. Others are very functional, but lack engagement support.
Educative and training tools need to think about instructional design and how to help people get the most out what they are offering. They need to help people digest information and develop skills. You need to help people take small steps progressing through and developing as they go. A mindfulness app that thinks about this and is built around this concept will be much more successful than one that throws everything at the customer is one go.
You need structure. There is a reason when you do a degree or post graduate course, that your course work is spread out across the year. There is a reason you take lessons over time and there is a reason you have tutorial support. The structure and the design helps you get more out of the course and it gives you a better chance of success.
So, what are the next steps. If you are struggling with a busy mind. Or if you suffer with anxiety, stress, depression. Or if you want to change your lifestyle like losing weight or getting healthier, then I’d encourage you to explore mindfulness practice.
You can start by trying out some of the apps mentioned in this episode. Or if you want to do a bit more research, then get on to Google. There a few ambassadors of mindfulness around. Ruby Wax is one. I’ve come to really appreciate and like Ruby Wax. I love her openness and her humility. I love that she brings humour to the discussion of mental health making it easier for us to have conversations about what helps and what doesn’t. It allows us to reflect more deeply and to express opinions that drive creativity rather than encourage stigmatisation.
Youtube is a great resource of many things. You need to be careful of course. Like many things, once something becomes popular, then a bandwagon attracts opportunists who want to make a quick buck. These opportunists lack the training and experience of what mindfulness really is. They water it down and they overstate what it is capable of doing. They exploit people rather than aim to help them in any meaningful way. So, stick to institutions, organisations, apps, websites and courses that have credibility. Judge this by a person’s training. Look for the expertise and proof.
If you have any questions about this episode, please leave a comment by going to www.openforwards.com/series/self-help-sat-nav. If you like what you’ve heard, please leave us a review on iTunes as it really helps to us to reach many more people.
Thanks for tuning in and listen out on the 5th of the month for the next episode.
Review & Evaluation of Mindfulness-based Phone Apps http://mhealth.jmir.org/2015/3/e82/