A phone app that nudges and nags

  • Article by: MAURA LERNER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 30, 2010 - 5:18 PM

Is there any less effective form of communication than nagging?

At some point, we all want to change somebody else's behavior. And it's tempting to offer friendly advice, especially to spouses and children, about how they could improve.

But I think we would all agree that nagging is basically counterproductive.

Which brings me to a new smart phone app, called the "New Year's Buzzer," by a California company called Iconosys.

Among other things, it's designed to help people keep their New Year's resolutions. Want to stop smoking or lose weight or get in shape? "New Year's Buzzer is built to encourage this concept," says a company news release. It tracks your daily progress and provides "a personal incentive to 'stay on the improvement program.'"

In other words, it's a way to nag yourself.

For years, health experts have been searching for ways to motivate people to kick unhealthy habits. Almost everyone seems to agree that if we could do that, we would dramatically cut our health costs and live longer and happier lives. The mystery is, how?

In the past few years, employers, unions, health plans and medical clinics have all gotten into the act. They've even created a new profession -- "health coaches" -- to cajole people to exercise, eat right and basically take better care of themselves, in hopes of cutting their risk of heart disease, diabetes and other chronic ailments.

One lesson they've learned is that not everyone is ready to change -- but with the right encouragement, some people will give it a try.

So how could a phone app inspire change? Well, said the publicist, Andrew Felix, "you enter in your resolution," and each day, your smart phone sends a message asking if you accomplished it. "You click yes or no. If you click yes, it sends you a 'Congratulations you've made it X days, keep up the good work. See you tomorrow.'"

Ah, yes. Maybe nagging's not so bad after all.

maura.lerner@startribune.com

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