Home »

Episode 7: Dr Kathy Stawarz: How to change your habits |Turning random ideas into helpful tech

In this episode:

Prof Anna Cox is talking to Dr Kathy Stawarz, a lecturer in the School of Computer Science and informatics at Cardiff University. She has a keen interest in technology for health, wellbeing and safety. We talk about the role of random events in directing the course of her career; her knack for spotting new opportunities, including her role in a start-up to create a sensor to stop fire-fighters over-heating. We also find out how a fun project to develop a wearable device to help martial arts students perfect their punches, led to another to help stroke patients re-learn upper limb movements. She also reveals the best app to help you change your habits, and what you really need to do if you want to change them for good.

Dr Kathy Stawarz’s research focuses on the use of ubiquitous technologies to support health and well being with a particular interest in how mobile devices, distributed systems, and smart materials can be used to support healthy habits, by leveraging people’s environment and routines.

Find out more about Dr Kathy Stawarz’s research

 Biography and publications

You can read Kathy’s biography, discover more about their research interests and find links to their publications here:

https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/people/view/1764545-stawarz-katarzyna

 Videos

Watch Kathy’s short video where she asks whether devices like wearable trackers actually help us change our habits https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpIzFd7mm-s

Other resources

Here’s a link to Kathy’s research relating to the online CBT programme that she talked about in the podcast https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3313831.3376510

Here’s a link to her research about designing apps to help habit formation that she referred to in the podcast https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/2702123.2702230

Follow Kathy on twitter

@Falkowata

Credits

Music by ScottHolmesMusic.com

Producer: Clare Casson

Sponsored by the EPSRC GetAMoveOn Network+

Transcript of interview with Dr Kathy Stawarz

Prof Anna Cox  0:08 

Hello, and welcome to a new episode of eWorkLife, a podcast where we talk about productivity, wellbeing and work-life balance. We talk to scientists and others who can help us make the most of our technology to get our work done, to keep connected to others, and to support our health and well being. I’m Anna Cox, Professor of Human Computer Interaction at UCL in London, and your host for this episode.

In today’s episode, I’m talking to Dr. Kathy Stawarz, a lecturer in the School of Computer Science and informatics at Cardiff University. She has a keen interest in technology for health and safety. We talk about the role of random events in directing the course of her career; her knack for spotting new opportunities to do this, including how a fun project to develop a device that helps martial arts students perfect punches, led to a device to help stroke patients re-learn upper limb movements; and why the best app for habit formation is the one that you stop using. But before that, let’s listen to some top tips from our other guests about how we can use technology to survive the digital age.

Dr Marta Cecchinato  1:26 

I’m Marta Cecchinato and not the tricking them for a senior lecturer in HCI. At Northumbria University. My top tip for using technology at work is to set digital boundaries. This can be separating how you use devices for work and personal reasons, or actively changing your online status on things like team and slack to monitor availability to be interrupted.

Dave Cook  1:47 

I’m Dave Cook, a researcher at UCL Anthropology, and my top tip for using technology to support your well being is to do a daily guided meditation using an app on a non work tablet. I like short, simple mindfulness meditations.

Prof Anna Cox  2:05 

Now today’s guest, Dr. Kathy Stawarz is a lecturer in the School of Computer Science and Informatics at Cardiff University. Her research focuses on the use of ubiquitous technologies to support health and well being with a particular interest in how mobile devices, distributed systems, and smart materials can be used to support healthy habits, by leveraging people’s environment and routines. So let’s get straight to the conversation with Kathy. Hello, Kathy, and thanks for taking the time to talk to me.

Dr Kathy Stawarz  2:44 

Yes, hello. Thanks for inviting me.

Prof Anna Cox  2:47 

So I wanted to start talking to you about the beginning of your academic career and actually go as far back as when you were an undergraduate student. So you studied maths and computer science in Poland?

Dr Kathy Stawarz  3:01 

Yes. Although studying is probably wrong word because I failed it twice.

Prof Anna Cox  3:07 

Okay, so tell me a bit about that.

Dr Kathy Stawarz  3:10 

Yeah, so that was interesting, because I wanted to study computer science. But there was one exam and it was just maths exam for both courses. So you have to get more points for this, of the higher marks, to get to computer science. So I ended up accidentally doing maths, which I didn’t take seriously enough, because I thought maths was easy. So I failed. And then the next year, I did the exams again. And this time, I had enough points to do computer science. But I figured like, I failed maths, I’m going to show them, I’m going to do it. So I went to the maths degree. And I signed up for advanced levels of every single module, which was a very bad idea. Because it was very abstract. So I failed again. And I wanted to do it for the third time because, you know, third time lucky, but my parents didn’t agree. So I just came to London for a break. And then I applied somewhere else to just the computer science.

Prof Anna Cox  4:12 

So what was it that had triggered your interest in computer science early on?

Dr Kathy Stawarz  4:19 

Oh, it was the, the programming stuff, just making computers work that was really interesting. And I think that was reflected in like my career later on, because I really wanted to code, the stuff that’s inside all the back end. But then as I was learning this, I kind of realised like, hold on, what’s on the outside, the user facing features, that’s more interesting; that has more impact. So I kind of switched to doing front end as part of my degree, but then near the end of my undergrad projects, I realised that actually you can do super nice looking front end, but if it’s not usable no one’s gonna use it. So I got really interested in usability. And then somewhere along the way, with reading about all this, I kind of discovered HCI. But it all started with just like, I want to programme things, because programming sounds cool.

Prof Anna Cox  5:15 

And so as part of kind of getting to know more about HCI, you went on to do a master’s and, and then a PhD. So, back when you were first doing computer, studying computer science, did you have an academic career in mind?

Dr Kathy Stawarz  5:35 

No, never. I didn’t plan on doing PhD until I read an ad and decided to apply. It was spontaneous. It was really completely random. Because I was, I was doing my masters. And I think I was looking for examples of distinction thesis or something. So I went to the website, and I noticed an ad for PhD positions. And I thought I would check because I never thought about this. And I always thought like, you have to be super smart  to do a PhD. So I was really curious what the requirements were. And I read them. And I was, like, I match all the requirements! How is this possible? Because of that, I was okay, I’m gonna apply and see what happens. And I have never planned this. I have no one in my family who ever done in the academic career. My mom was the first person to actually do the master’s degree, although she started after me. So if I didn’t fail my course twice, I would have been… So yeah, it was completely random.

Prof Anna Cox  6:37 

While you were doing this academic track, you also had interest outside of that, and ended up working on on sort of, like a little startup outside of your PhD working, with the fire service. Can you tell us a bit about that project?

Dr Kathy Stawarz  6:57 

So again, this was pretty random, because it started at a hackathon. It was, I think, App London Hackathon in 2013. And basically, I just went there randomly in the evening, because it was advertised as a prototyping. And one of the companies who went, who came there with a problem,  were the people from the Hertfordshire Fire Service. And they said they were looking for someone to help them with the, sort of, firemen dying in building fires, because the problem is that current safety equipment is so good that they don’t notice when it’s too hot. So then the body overheats. And they can die because of that. The old, actually the old suits, they used to have the ears outside. So when the ears would start burning, they would know it’s the heat and they would go out. But kind of everything progressed and become more complex. So so they described this problem at the hackathon. And I just banged it out with a bunch of random people who were interested in this project. And one of them came to the hackathon with a bag full of (indistinguishable) – that was Ross Atkins, very lovely chap. And we kind of sat down and we develop this prototype that would measure the temperature and it will start vibrating after it crosses a specific threshold or when it started going rapidly up. And we went to the hackathon. And then we got some funding to develop this and turn it into an actual project, an actual product. So that was very interesting, because I met those five random people at the hackathon. And then we ended up running business together. It didn’t end well. But it was it was interesting while it lasted, let’s say.

Prof Anna Cox  8:50 

How do you mean, it didn’t end well?

Dr Kathy Stawarz  8:53 

There was some conflict and the startup died, basically. But yeah, the idea was lovely, is just we didn’t agree on the plan. So half of the team wanted to just develop the product and release it and have help firefighters, but the other half, they really wanted to turn it into bigger business, and expand and just go into other fields. And it was almost pushing the development of the specific device of the vendor back. So yeah, we just didn’t agree.

Prof Anna Cox  9:28 

What was your role within that project? Were you specifically looking at like the user experience side of it?

Dr Kathy Stawarz  9:35 

Yes. So I was the user experience and Human Factors specialist on the project. So for example, I spent one day on the firefighting training grounds. While we look at the fire chamber and a bunch of other places where people actually train, evacuations, doing firefighting. I got into the fire truck, we we’ve kind of had the chance to try on some helmets to see how people get trained. It was all a bit like really rapid ethnography. I was just following them taking pictures, taking notes, and then we use that to inform the actual form factor. So and yeah, cuz we’re trying to understand where the sensor should be, how sensitive the vibrations should be, and things like that.

Prof Anna Cox  10:26 

So that experience, I suppose, you know, it didn’t lead to you running that company long term. Did it kind of put you off working in industry? Or was it just did you like stick to academia because he thought, ‘No, actually, academia is definitely where I want to have my career’?

Dr Kathy Stawarz  10:46 

It’s been a mix of both, I think, because I think one of the reasons why I was happy to start the PhD was because I thought it would be more interesting, more flexible, I think, than the industry. So rather than working for, for this specific client, and focusing on profits, in academia, you can kind of do a bit more good. We tried to do this with the startup. But then because there was this focus on making more money, then I didn’t find this appealing. I mean, I find money appealing because like you need money to live. But it’s kind of I like the flexibility. And the fact that in academia, I can work on projects that may not necessarily be profitable, but they can do good. So like my research on behaviour change and habit formation, the main conclusion was that the best app for habit formation is the one you stop using eventually. And that kind of goes against of what they will have to do in, probably in industry.

Prof Anna Cox  11:47 

Tell us a bit more about that. What do you mean by the best app for developing a habit is the one that you stop using. That sounds totally counterintuitive?

Dr Kathy Stawarz  11:57 

It does, it does. And I was really surprised when I actually found this out as part of my PhD. So the plan was to develop this app or a device or something that helps people develop healthy habits, mostly in the context of medication as part of my PhD. But in general, the principles are applicable everywhere. But the problem is like when you using an app to help you form a habit, and the existing, and when you using one of the existing apps, they tend to give you reminders, or you ask to track things and you have to log in and people develop reliance on the app. So they develop a habit of using the app, not necessarily the habit of doing whatever they wanted to do. And so when the app stops working, or they get a new phone, or they just stop using the app for whatever reason, they’re more likely to stop actually doing their healthy behaviour, because it hasn’t been habit itself, the using the app was. So ideally, the app should be like training wheels on the bike, it should be something that help them start the habit. And then it should go away. Because obviously, if you using an app for habit formation for months, the app is not working. Because if it did work, you will have develop the habit and you wouldn’t need it. So that’s that’s the thinking behind this idea.

Prof Anna Cox  13:21 

So how long would someone ideally have to use an app like this in order to develop a habit?

Dr Kathy Stawarz  13:29 

Oh, so that depends on how complex the actual behaviour is. So if you look at the literature, I think the the average is about 66 days. But then the actual length ranges between 117 days to like a whole year, depending on the complexity. I always wanted to actually run a study to see how how you can phase out an app to see how long you need to use it. They haven’t gotten around to doing that yet. So that’s that’s still on the stack.

Prof Anna Cox  14:06 

You were saying that in your PhD research. He were really looking at this idea about healthy habits. And I think one theme that you kind of see through all the research you’ve done since then is like this focus on mental health and well being. And you’ve worked on some specific projects in the kind of mental health focus and the mental health space. So can you tell us a bit about some of the work you’ve done there?

Dr Kathy Stawarz  14:38 

Sure. So the mental health project was an interesting one, because it involved real patients receiving real treatments. So it was really challenging and all sorts, there was a lot of responsibility. And there’s both, so we were developing, developing an online platform for delivering cognitive behavioural therapy for depression. So it is normally a face to face therapy, they’re usually well about 12 sessions. But in the UK, if you get six, then you’ve been lucky. So the plan was to see if we could provide a platform where it can be delivered online. But also the one that it’s not just you interacting with the therapist. We also wanted to integrate specific materials, because CBT is very practical type of therapy, there are lots of worksheets you’re supposed to do between sessions. So for example, when something upsetting happens, you can fill in a thought record, when you recall that what happened, and then separately, you record what you were thinking, and then separately record what you were feeling, because the point is to teach people to distinguish between thoughts and feelings, because they aren’t the same thing. And there is evidence that when people engage with those worksheets, they get better quicker. But in the face to face therapy, people just hardly ever do that, because you get the worksheets on paper, and people misplace them. So we interviewed therapists, and they said that usually just people don’t do it. Or they just do it at the last moment, like final homework just before the therapy starts. So they don’t get benefits of that. So the platform we were developing, was supposed to have this at the centre, so both therapist and the client would… yes therapists call them clients, so we have to be clear about which words we were using – it’s very interesting, yeah, so they were all both supposed to log into the system at the same time. And they could open the worksheet, and they could do it together, fill it in together. What was interesting and unique about the system was also the fact that we focused on instant messaging. So there was no video, there was no audio, and the therapist and client, were typing to each other. And the rationale for that was that previous research on online therapy showed that this is beneficial because it forces people to think clearly about what they are trying to say, and reflect on the answers. And also when they’re waiting for the therapist to write, it also gives them a bit of space to think about it. But all that research was done 10 years ago, and things that were seen as beneficial turned out to be really tricky when we we were running the study, because now everyone is used to when you have instant messaging, you can see the other person typing. And we didn’t have the typing indicator in our early prototype for testing, because there were there were more sort of pressing features, it was sort of falling down on the list of priorities. And everyone complained about this. So everyone was really confused. They didn’t know if the therapist was doing this on purpose. So there was the silence, which actually turned out to be good, because they thought, okay, the therapist wants us to think, so I want to just think about what they said. And it’s sort of show the new new possibilities of this sort of the typing interaction when you don’t really know what the other person is typing. We did have it eventually. And the randomised control trial is running now. So yeah, it will be interesting to see if there is a difference. But the the point of the whole system was to introduce this new integrated system for delivering therapy. And we will see how well it works after the trial.

Prof Anna Cox  18:51 

And these projects kind of sound similar in some ways, right? So that so you’ve got the mental health focus. You’ve got sort of like digital health, you know, thinking about helping people to remember to take medications. And then you’ve got sort of like health and safety if we think about the working with the firefighters. So is that something that you’ve kind of consciously thought about in terms of this is an important thread for you in your work?

Dr Kathy Stawarz  19:27 

I noticed it at one point, and I think it, so it started organically. It wasn’t planned. I guess most of the things I do aren’t really planned, like randomly applying for a PhD. But then I think once I notice I am doing digital health research, this is something I want to do. I am now trying to make a conscious decision when I’m starting new projects to do something that can help people to support the health or the well being So for example, the recent project we got funding for a couple of months ago, is developing a rehabilitation device for people who survived stroke. And it’s mostly, it’s supposed to be a wearable device that helps you practice movements of your arm. So for example, to help people to practice how they eat, or how they lift the cup, because this is something they they need to do. But this started as a punching project, which I did few years ago. So I had an intern who developed the wearable device for training, martial arts training, and that it was able, it’s still able to recognise like five different types of Taekwondo punches. And it was a really fun thing. It’s just the wearable thing. So you have this clunky 3d printed box, you wear on your wrist, and it had an accelerometer and the gyroscope inside. And then it was this long cable that ran along your arm and down your back, because we didn’t have time to make it wireless. And basically, you had one person holding a punch bag, and then you, you just punch things while wearing this prototype. And it could recognise five different punches. For example, we could give you a combination of specific moves to execute, and then you will do it. And the system will tell you if you’ve done them correctly. It had quite good accuracy. It was really. we were really surprised. But then it kind of ended at that, as it was a it was an internship project. But that was two, three years ago. But since then, I’ve been thinking like how can we turn it into something useful. And last year, I met Professor Valerie Sparks from medical school of Cardiff, who specialises in rehabilitation, and we started chatting. And the general conclusion was that if this simple device can recognise punches, which is simple movement when your hand goes up, or it can go sideways, and it can recognise where this is, it could potentially recognise similar movements that are used in upper limb rehabilitation. So we wrote a small proposal, we’re collaborating on this with researchers from Bangladesh, because we’re trying to make it really affordable, really simple system for that. And we will see how this goes. But again, started as a random punching project. And but now we’re going towards the sort of health and wellbeing support.

Prof Anna Cox  22:41 

Sothis idea of like, something starts as kind of in a random way, and because you’re interested, or there’s something about it that grabs your attention, and then you seem to be really good at finding a way to turn these ideas into something that’s going to be really useful for other people. And it sounds like this drive to be helpful is really important to you.

Dr Kathy Stawarz  23:11 

It is yeah, and I don’t know where it comes from. But I like doing things that others might find useful.

Prof Anna Cox  23:19 

And is it therefore important to you that your, I suppose, your work has sort of like some real world impact?

Yes, mostly, because the random projects don’t necessarily have it. So for example, I supervise the student who built a smelly bot, which is this box you keep on your desk that releases a smell to make you take breaks from the computer. But the smell of fresh grass he ordered on the internet went bad. So it was literally a smelly stinky box. And but it did work, because the people, so the participants who had smelly box took longer breaks and more frequent breaks from the computer than the participants who have this smelly box that release the smell of chocolate.

Was this because they wanted to get away from the nasty smell?

Dr Kathy Stawarz  24:21 

Yeah. I don’t know where I could go next with this idea. So this is like the punching project that kind of sits at the back until I figure out how I could use nasty interactions to mess up with people for good.

Prof Anna Cox  24:42 

How do you kind of turn these little things into future opportunities or future projects? Where does that inspiration come from?

Dr Kathy Stawarz  24:55 

Mostly it’s from talking to people about those projects. So for example, when I was at Bristol, every day, three, four times we are day we would go to have tea together. So there will be one person saying, ‘Hey, who wants tea?”, we want tea, and there will be 2, 3, 4 of us taking tea. And we will talk about random things. And those would be the chance when I would mention some of the (indistinguishable) fun project or funny thing I read about or interesting about. And then we’ll do those mini brainstorms, which will, which weren’t always serious, they were just chats about this. And it will be two minutes. If we just went to get tea and come back. It could be 15 minutes chat. But that’s, that’s something I use the bounce my ideas off people or to contribute to their ideas. And then thing yeah, that’s the, that’s the magical ingredient.

Prof Anna Cox  25:52 

So that kind of informal interaction, like those sort of opportunities to sit and chat to colleagues are the kind of thing that lots of people have been talking about as being something that they’ve missed during the pandemic when everybody’s been working at home. So have you found ways in which to kind of keep that going for yourself?

Dr Kathy Stawarz  26:18 

So I have WhatsApp chat with some colleagues, where I just throw random thoughts or they throw random thoughts at me. I have a group chats and themes with new colleagues from Cardiff, because I joined last year. And that was another thing that actually made those random conversations really difficult, because my first day of new work, was the first day of the first lockdown. So it’s been over a year, I still haven’t been on campus, I haven’t met anyone in person. So having those randoms chances, it’s difficult. But I have a group chat with a couple of colleagues, and we just throw ideas at each other. So that’s been really helped.

Prof Anna Cox  27:06 

So how, tell us a bit more about that experience of starting a new job during the pandemic, because there aren’t many people who will have had that kind of experience. So like, have there been things that have been surprisingly easy, or good or things that have been really difficult that you’ve had to contend with?

Dr Kathy Stawarz  27:30 

So I think that’s been easy for me, because I’m used to having friends or knowing people just online. So for example, I used to be part of a community in Poland, when we were publishing an online magazine about fantasy and sci fi. And there are friends that are people I’m still friends with 20 years later, who I have never met in person. And instead communicating via instant messaging, it’s something that I’m used to. Since coming to the UK in 2004. I’ve been chatting with people from, like friends who stayed back there. And it’s been easy. I don’t like phone calls. So talking about instant messaging is a good default for me and using themes to chat with fresh new people at work has been easy. And yeah, so that’s, that’s been easy. What’s been difficult, I think, has been finding out things that aren’t written anywhere. Because like when you sit in an office, you can hear people say something and talk about something like, Who’s the person to talk to you about x? Or who knows about something else? And you kind of get a sense of where to go and who to speak when you when you have a question about something. But when you’re just doing this online, you have a few people you can message you can talk to your line manager, you can talk to you a few colleagues from your secret chatting group. But then they may not know the answer. And I like to be the person who knows stuff, so that people can ask me questions, because I like to know things. I’m curious. And then suddenly, I can do that. Because I don’t know who to ask and where to go to find that information. So that’s been that’s been challenging. Although yeah, so I like I like having coffee with new with new colleagues, just the two, what they doing, and doing this online hasn’t been that fun. It still works, but it’s a bit more awkward. Because I know when you meet someone for the first time for coffee, and you go to a coffee shop and you don’t really know what to talk about and how to start the conversation, you can talk about random things you see. So there might be an interesting dog outside example. So suddenly you remember about this and you can show them the picture of the random dog itself. But online, it just it feels a bit more formal, it almost feels that if you’re doing a zoom call, you need to have an agenda. While if you’re going for friendly coffee with someone, you can just spend an hour actually don’t talk about work at all. And that’s fine. But other than that, yeah, it’s been, it’s been fine. It’s been really interesting.

Prof Anna Cox  30:17 

It sounds like you’ve tried having, you know, just kind of replicating those coffee shop experiences online. Like, did you purposefully seek out people to let sit in our remote workspaces at home and, and have a coffee together?

Dr Kathy Stawarz  30:35 

So I tried this at the beginning, because I figured that at least I should get to know the people from my research group, just because it’s, it’s fine. I mean, we have our weekly meetings anyway, but I thought it would have been useful. So I try that, and then with some of them, where we just keep talking on the chat. With others, it just didn’t, well didn’t work. I mean, it works, because I know what they do. So they know what I do. And we can chat. But it hasn’t turned into friendship forever. But I think it’s stopped at that. Because then all the other conversations I had with people were mostly motivated by, “Okay, let’s see if we can do a project together”. So they become suddenly more formal, more directed. So that’s how I contacted Valerie, for example, to talk about the rehabilitation project. That’s how I contacted the people from Bangladesh to see like, okay, would you be interested in doing this with us? So there’s been less random chat, say, hey, let’s have a coffee. That that hasn’t really happened. I am a member of the HCA women’s slack group. And there is one channel there where you get paired up with random people for random coffee. So basically, every Monday it lists pairs of people. So I tried doing this for a few weeks before the term started. And it was fun when I was paired up with people I already knew. But the two times I got paired up with someone, some someone completely different, it was a bit awkward at the beginning, because I just don’t know, we know nothing about them. I mean, you can look them up online, but I guess that’s a bit different.

Prof Anna Cox  32:20 

I guess that’s the kind of thing where maybe, if you met up with them again, it would be you’d expect it might be easier.

Dr Kathy Stawarz  32:28 

Yeah, probably. But the thing doing this follow up call and the next calls, that’s a bit more awkward online, for some reason. I don’t know why. Because if you meet with someone for coffee in person, and then you see them in the corridor, for example, you can say, hey, let’s have a coffee, or you meet them at the conference. Okay, remember, we talked about, let’s have a coffee, but I find the bit was awkward to email someone and say, hey, let’s have another coffee after that awkward conversation we have.

Prof Anna Cox  32:57 

But overall, it sounds like you’ve found it reasonably straightforward to settle into this new job, even though you haven’t been in the office?

Dr Kathy Stawarz  33:08 

Yes, it’s been surprisingly easy. I was worried about how the teaching would work online-only as well. But that’s been surprisingly okay, without many major disasters –  apart from one time when I delivered a session, while showing slides just to myself, because I forgot to share my screen.

Prof Anna Cox  33:29 

And no one told you?

Dr Kathy Stawarz  33:31 

No one told me.

Prof Anna Cox  33:36 

So as we get towards the end of our chat, I want to kind of come back to thinking about your, your research and the projects you’ve done, which have all had this sort of like theme about enhancing people’s life in some way, and often around helping people to manage some aspect of their health. And I wondered how you go about using technology to help yourself to be healthy. So are there things that you’ve taken from your research that you’ve implemented in your own life?

Dr Kathy Stawarz  34:21 

So I’ve been I’ve been using my research and habits to try and make myself do healthy things. So for example, when I wanted to start running a bit more instead of using an app to track it, I make sure like I run three days a week, I don’t use any reminders or anything. I just decided to have this routine, like wake up, eat a banana and I go for a run at least twice a week. It doesn’t matter which day. I’ve been failing this somewhat some weeks but then the other weeks it worked and after six or seven months, it’s been long, I kind of feel like I have to go running at least once a week. And it has to be this specific routine, I wake up, eat my banana, I eat something bigger if it’s a longer run, and then they go for a run. I tried running at different times of day, but because it’s it doesn’t fit into my routine is just happens once and then never happens again. So this idea of having the contextual cues and having the specific routine that I talked about in my research, that’s been really crucial, because it helped me find the right spots. Another thing for my research was the fact that it takes trial and error to find the right routines and the right cues, which was nice to know, because when my routines were working for me, rather than discourage me, I would think that, okay, so this one isn’t working, which and it’s completely fine. So let’s try something else.

Prof Anna Cox  36:01 

So tell us about what you mean by contextual cues in this situation.

Dr Kathy Stawarz  36:07 

So basically, when you trying to start a new habit, it is the environment, that’s the best sort of trigger to action. So if you do something in the same place, or at the same time, or in between the same other actions you’re doing, all those other things can start to trigger your behaviour. So they are almost like a reminder and as a prompt to action. So for example, if you always wake up, brush your teeth, eat a banana every day, then you can decide that I will do this new thing right after eating the banana.

Prof Anna Cox  36:44 

So that’s going to be your new –  so it becomes kind of part of a routine or a chain of events that you just practice on a daily basis.

Dr Kathy Stawarz  36:53 

It doesn’t have to be exactly on a daily basis is just every time this whole sort of the same, it’s not a ritual, but the same sequence is repeated, it’s it’s a nice prompting to do the healthy behaviour.

Prof Anna Cox  37:09 

That’s certainly something that you’ve looked at in your research, but doesn’t require any technology, I guess. So…

Dr Kathy Stawarz  37:17 

I know – that’s the best bit!

Prof Anna Cox  37:19 

I suppose that kind of brings us back to where we were.  We were talking at the beginning of this conversation about how technology can end up being redundant in these situations, or you want it to, you might use it as a support for creating one of these routines, but then the sort of ultimate aim is that you’re not using it.

Dr Kathy Stawarz  37:41 

Yeah, pretty much. So I sometimes set up reminders when I want to do something. But the reminders are usually for things that are one off. If I want to start a new thing I will be doing regularly, I may use technology as just to check on me as a reminder that I’ve done it rather than something to tell me to do it, then the goal of this for me is try and do those things without relying on technology.

Prof Anna Cox  38:09 

And is that something, like is there is there a reason behind that, like a purposeful aim to try and do it without technology?

Dr Kathy Stawarz  38:19 

Mostly because I know that if I’ll be responding to technology, I will learn to respond to technology. And then when I don’t have my phone with me one day, I will probably forget to do the thing. And also, I’m just trying to use technology less basically. Although that’s not a conscious decision when it comes to this exercise.

Prof Anna Cox  38:44 

How do you mean you’re trying to use it less?

Dr Kathy Stawarz  38:47 

Oh because technically, if if it continues the way does, my phone will grow into my hand. So I am trying not to have it with me. And if I rely on reminders, and I don’t have a phone in my phone that in my room, then yeah, that’s that’s probably a bad idea.

Prof Anna Cox  39:08 

All right, Kathy. Thanks for a really interesting discussion today.

Dr Kathy Stawarz  39:12 

Yes, thank you. It’s been really fun.

Prof Anna Cox  39:14 

Thanks so much to Dr. Kathy Stawarz. You can find her on Twitter @Falcowata. You can find a link to her website and access to the show notes for this episode on eWorkLife.co.uk where you’ll also find links to our other episodes. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe. You can find us on SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple and Google podcasts. And we’d love it if you can give us a five star review. It really helps other people to find us. I’d love to hear your feedback on this episode. You can find me on Twitter @AnnaCox_ if you enjoyed this episode. Please tell your friends and you can also leave us a star rating and review wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks as always to our producer Clare Casson. This episode was sponsored by the EPSRC GetAMovdeOn Network Plus.  Music by ScottHolemesMusic.com.  eWorkLife, powered by UCL Minds.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai