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Episode 2 – Paulina Bondaronek: There are over 300,000 health apps available so why aren’t we all much fitter?

Episode title:

There are over 300,000 health apps available so why aren’t we all much fitter?  Prof Anna Cox in conversation with Dr Paulina Bondaronek.

Episode description:

Prof Anna Cox talks to Dr Paulina Bondaronek, an expert in behaviour change technology about her journey to studying psychology at university, how her father’s disabilities sparked her interest in health psychology, and how she dealt with her own mental health struggles during her PhD.  They also discuss her research on behaviour change technology which has shed light on how apps that are supposed to help us stay physically active, often fail. It’s a good question: when there are over 300,000 health apps available, why aren’t we all much fitter?

Dr Paulina Bondaronek is an expert in behaviour change technology, and is currently a behavioural insights advisor at Public Health England. Her PhD was on the public health potential of mobile health applications to increase activity, and she’s published on the relationship between popularity, and the likely efficacy of physical activity apps.

Find out more about eWorkLife, including tips for managing your own wellbeing and work-life balance, on our website https://www.eworklife.co.uk/

Episode transcript and show-notes: https://www.eworklife.co.uk/podcast/

Follow us on twitter @_e_worklife and @annacox_

Show Notes: Season 1 Episode 2:  Dr Paulina Bondaronek

In this episode:

Dr Paulina Bondaronek is an expert in behaviour change technology, and is currently a Behavioural Insights Advisor at Public Health England. Her PhD was on the public health potential of mobile applications to increase physical activity, and she’s published on the relationship between popularity and the likely efficacy of physical activity apps. In today’s episode, we talk about her journey to studying psychology at university, and how her father’s illness and disability sparked her interest in health psychology. We also talk about how she dealt with her own mental health struggles during her PhD, and how her research on behaviour change technology has shed light on how apps are supposed to help us stay physically active often fail –  and in the words of one of her participants, end up making us feel like physical activity is a bit like masturbation.

Find out more about Paulina’s research

Read Paulina’s research publications

https://www.researchgate.net/scientific-contributions/Paulina-Bondaronek-2130175648

Watch Paulina’s video on her research into health apps

Choosing an app to help you get fit can feel a bit overwhelming. No wonder – there are over 300,000 to choose from! So where do you begin? Should you ask your doctor? They’re probably as confused as you are, and the best-known apps aren’t necessarily the best in terms of helping you to actually change your health habits. Paulina Bondaronek, a researcher from UCL and GetAMoveOn fellow, has been investigating what makes apps easy to use and more likely to help you get fit, so you can find the right app for you.

Practical guidance on evaluating digital health products

Developed by Dr Paulina Bondaronek and Dr Henry Potts from UCL in collaboration with Public Health England: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/evaluating-digital-health-products

Connect with Paulina on LinkedIn

https://www.linkedin.com/in/paulina-bondaronek-bb88b32b/?originalSubdomain=uk

Follow Paulina on twitter

@paulinabond1

Credits

Music by ScottHolmesMusic.com

Producer: Clare Casson

eWorkLife Podcast Season 1 Episode 2

Transcript of interview with Dr Paulina Bondaronek

Prof Anna Cox

Hello and welcome to a new episode of eWorkLife, the 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 wellbeing.  I’m Anna Cox, Professor of Human Computer Interaction at UCL in London, and your host for this episode.

In today’s episode, I’ll be talking to Dr Paulina Bondaronek, an expert in behaviour change technology, about how her father’s disabilities sparked her interest in health psychology, how she dealt with her own mental health struggles during her PhD, and why, when there are over 300,000 health apps available, we aren’t all much fitter. But before that, let’s listen to some top tips for surviving life in the digital age from some of our other guests.

Joe Newbold

I’m Joe Newbold, a lecturer at Northumbria University, and my top tip for surviving life in the digital age, is to create different playlists for different parts of your life, so that you’ve got one for getting up in the morning, one for exercising, one for relaxing, one for cooking dinner and one foot working.

Conor Linehan

I’m Conor Linehan, a senior lecturer in Applied Psychology at University College, Cork. My top tip for using technology to get the best out of life is to be very careful when using apps to set new rules for our behaviour. Research tells us that following rules is very satisfying and rewarding, and can stop us thinking about whether the rule really works for us.  Moreover, breaking the ruel can be very stressful.

Prof Anna Cox 

Now to today’s guest. Dr Paulina Bondaronek is an expert in behaviour change technology, and is currently a behavioural insights advisor at Public Health England. Her PhD was on the public health potential of mobile health applications to increase activity, and she’s published on the relationship between popularity, and the likely efficacy of physical activity apps.

In today’s episode, we talk about her journey to studying psychology at university, and how her father’s illness and disability sparked her interest in health psychology. We also talk about how she dealt with her own mental health struggles during her PhD, and how her research on behaviour change technology has shed light on how apps that are supposed to help us stay physically active, often fail. And in the words of one of her participants, they often end up making us feel that physical activity is a bit like masturbation. So let’s get straight into it. Here’s my conversation with Dr Paulina Bondaronek. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me Paulina.

Dr Paulina Bondaronek 

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Prof Anna Cox 

So I wanted to start our conversation by kind of talking to you about how you created this interesting career that you have. So I know you started your university education by studying psychology. So what was it that got you interested in that in the first place?

Dr Paulina Bondaronek 

I think, first of all, I studied three times and only the third undergraduate I finished. And the learning (indistinguishable). I studied in Poland to become an English teacher. And then I studied in Warsaw to become, well, that was social psychology in English, it was the first course in Poland. And that I haven’t finished either, just because I loved London so much and wanted to be here. And the third course was psychology. And I think it took me a while because I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I still say – I’m 37 now – I’m not quite sure what I want to do when I grow up. But for those people who are still not sure, I think this is such a, it’s such a nice, comforting thing to know. But, um, so, psychology.  Well I think I was always interested in how the mind works. But also, I grew up with a father who was on a wheelchair, he stopped walking from one day to another, I was at the age of 14 now. And that was looking how he would adjust to long term condition like this not being able to walk for seven years before he passed. And I saw how little support there were for the social psychology, of adjusting to long term condition to make it easy for the person. So I think this was just helped me to ingrain this kind of psychology in me, to be motivated to be more interested in these issues.

Prof Anna Cox 

Okay, but it must have been really hard for, I guess, not just for your father, but also for other members of your family.

Dr Paulina Bondaronek 

Watching him have to deal with this. It was incredibly hard, but I think, well, we not that’s the other thing… I think the second motivator was just to get to know myself a little bit because it’s you wanted to work one on one. And this was the exciting bit that you see in the films. And then it turned out that it wasn’t so…  not maybe so interesting altogether. When I did the module in health psychology, I realised OK, this is it. I love this about healthy behaviours, this is about long term management of (indistinguishable) conditions. And that was the exciting bit for me that I associated myself with, and with growing up with my father being a little disabled in his (indistinguishable).

Prof Anna Cox 

And so you then went on to do a master’s in health psychology. And, and after that, you worked at the UCL School of Pharmacy, and on a couple of projects, looking at adherence to medication before starting a PhD and perhaps, you know, what led you ultimately to your PhD topic.

Dr Paulina Bondaronek 

During my undergrad when I did my health psychology module, I realised I just want to do research. I just… this is… this gives you such freedom. I just love this and just having just one topic and expanding it and expanding yourself was amazing. So this was a good thing that I realised I want to do something. I got first class honours. And then I got distinction from my Health Psychology, I thought the world is open. I can go… I’m just gonna get any job I want. And obviously that wasn’t the case at all. So actually, before I got the research assistant post, I was working in a lot of sort of social support worker roles with people with mental health disabilities, and then I managed to get a job in charity Mind, just like a temporary job. And I mean, I’m, I always wanted to be a research assistant because that was the next stage. To get university to PhD, I knew I needed more experience. So this was actually any sort of health psychology work, I was so open to it. And it didn’t matter what kind of topic it was. So it wasn’t like I really wanted to do this or that, I just wanted to be at University and just throw stuff at me, so I can do some research, gather data, write papers. I just needed more experience. So that was it. And I think… I think that was that, if that answers the question.

Prof Anna Cox 

Okay. Yeah. And so, um, alongside doing your PhD research, you also started working at Public Health England. So how did that opportunity come about?

Dr Paulina Bondaronek 

So this is through the Research Councils – give this kind of opportunity that you could choose a place. There’s so many different places, I mean, government, these are governmental institutions, and you can apply your skills to actually do some stuff, to use your skills in a governmental institution or in public health institution. And I always wanted to do something in Behavioural Insights, because I heard about behaviour science. What… about behaviour insights more, so applying what we know about behaviour science, to public health issues. So this was this opportunity where you could take three months off from your PhD, officially, if you are funded by Research Council, and I did this internship.  I took an opportunity. I had an interview, they liked me, they took me on. And then after three months, they asked me to extend which actually was possible. And so I did it part time, and then they I got employed, and I’m still there.

Prof Anna Cox 

Okay. And I guess, you know, that kind of public health message and the importance of understanding behavioural science seems super topical right now. So there’s been, you know, lots of talk in the media over the last few months about whether the government is following the science and in coming up with its COVID measures. And also, I think we’ve had a number of scientists talking about how we can use behavioural science to help us I guess, help people to keep themselves safe. So those are the sorts of things that you’ve been looking at whilst working there.

Dr Paulina Bondaronek 

Yes recently – and there’s more of things are put on hold because of COVID. And we just saw them as priority. So the recent work I’ve been doing is looking at the contact tracing system of Public Health England, to analyse the feedback, the customer feedback data. So the qualitative stuff that’s there, following the service completion and looking into sort of what’s, what are the themes, what people have problems with to try to make the service better. And so use some, you know, just use semantic analysis, see, what are the issues. So this is more, I mean, this doesn’t… it’s not strictly behaviour, science, sort of feedback data, how can we improve the service, but this is still extremely interesting in terms of what kind of issues people have with the system. But, what I was working on… so for example, so a good example would be a bit of strategy behaviour analysis. So this is something we use to improve interventions that are nationally available. So for example, the one I’ve done is antimicrobial resistance, and I was involved in the project. So, the target behaviour is to decrease antibiotic prescribing in primary care. So, what we will do in the first stage is we would identify the behaviour and then look at the influences on that behaviour – so the barrier and facilitators to decreasing antibiotic prescribing in primary care. And then we would look at the interventions that are already there, implemented, to see if they target those influences on the behaviour. And then again, are the gaps there that we could potentially target. So, for example, if we see that all the interventions that are nationally available target knowledge of the GPs, because its okay, but that might not be the best way, if it shows that the impact – that the influences – are more environmental rather than knowledge base. So an example of environmental will be the lack of time. That’s a big one, right, especially for general practitioner. But if we target their knowledge, how likely it is to change the behaviour? Quite unlikely.

Prof Anna Cox 

If the reason that they’re prescribing is because they’ve got a lack of time, and that’s the thing that’s driving them to make that decision?

Dr Paulina Bondaronek 

Yeah.

Prof Anna Cox 

Okay. So it sounds as though working there, you’ve got to use… you’ve got to… you’ve had the opportunity to think about how to design behaviour interventions, behaviour change interventions, and now you’re looking very much at designing digital services. Is that right?

Dr Paulina Bondaronek 

Hmm, mmm. I improved digital service. Yes, yes – even sorts of work that we wouldn’t…that’s the thing I like about working in such an issue, you work with so many different projects. So most of this is not designing anything new, but providing some recommendations. So looking at the landscape and making it… trying to make it better. But yes, I’ve been involved in work where we tried to design interventions from scratch as well. Or, actually, yes, so there’s less of that actually, we’re doing more in academia, it’s more looking at the interventions that are already there and trying to improve them, I guess, and see, where should we focus now. 

Prof Anna Cox 

Okay, yeah, it sounds really interesting, and that you’ve had the opportunity to successfully combine today working in the academic world, and doing academic research, with also this opportunity to work in Public Health England, and like, apply what you know, to real problems that influence everyone in their everyday life. And one of the things this makes me think about is that for most people, when they’re doing their PhD, just doing that on its own is hard enough. So I wondered like, how, how did you manage to do both, to fit both alongside each other.

Dr Paulina Bondaronek 

So technically, the nice thing about this internship is that you get those three months off your PhD, and you still get paid your studentship. But what I have done – I timed it well – so I was recruiting for my trial. So I’ve done a trial for my PhD, assessing physical activity apps. So I would be in the office in the morning until 5pm. And then I will run around and recruit people. And that was perfect for me, because actually gave me a little bit of anxiety relieving thing, because it took me seven months to work out what I’m doing for my PhD. And that was extremely stressful for me. And I was just not good enough for my expectations. So actually, this bought me some time, so I could run around London and recruit people and run a trial during that. So to answer your question, actually, you’re supposed to take those three months off and refresh yourself – leave your PhD – but I don’t know how many people do that. Is it even possible to leave your PhD for three months? I doubt that. But I think I managed it very well. I was absolutely exhausted at the end of that because I was running a trial and doing a full time job. But I’m so used to it, I used to just you know, I had to support myself in London, and I was a waitress for eight years whilst I was studying and sometimes I was full time studying and full time being a waitress. So I’m kind of used to that. It’s okay for now.

You’ve built up lots of kind of skills in being super organised and ensuring that you know exactly what you have to do across all of these different areas of your life, and making sure that you deliver on all of them. Do you think of yourself as being a really well organised person?

Dr Paulina Bondaronek 

(Pause) No, no, I don’t. When you say… it’s funny, because when you describe me, even nice, positive things, like you manage to do a PhD and then not many people have experience, I’m listening to this, I think I really like what you’re saying, but I don’t associate.  That is the critical mind. And I always say this is why I meditate because I don’t receive any of the positives. I just get on with it. But I think it must be in me because, um, you know, you learn a lot about those self-regulation techniques during, you know, in behavioural science. It feels like this is the bread and butter of designing interventions which we can talk about. I mean, it’s not great, but you know, this self-monitoring, goal setting, action planning, feedback and behaviour, how to improve, re-evaluate, do it again. And I quite loved that because in… well, I never, I was never familiar with agile working, but I think that’s the part of it like sprint planning and doing a sprint review. And actually note that I need to do it for myself. So this is kind of work.. I work for digital for the Public Health England digital team (indistinguishable). And we do every two weeks, we do the sprint review, sprint planning, I just love this kind of stuff. I think I need a little bit more of that. Because the PhD is finished. And rather than writing up my fellowship, you can get very, very used to doing other stuff.  And I think you’ve done this. And you’ve, you’ve been really good at that. I’ve been really impressed when I saw you doing your, do you have like six months? Every six months?

Prof Anna Cox 

In terms of planning? Yes. Yeah, well, I try. And I go through a process every quarter, with my PhD students and my postdocs. And we all sit down and we plan the next three months. And we think about what do we want to achieve in that time? And how are we going to fit that into the time that is available?

Dr Paulina Bondaronek 

Mm hmm. I think I need this now. I had it, because it’s a tangible, you know – you need to finish a PhD. (Indistinguishable). But now it’s a little bit… I think I need a little bit of that. Because you can see, it’s just, there’s some stuff on the horizon: that’s output, and output makes you actually scared of it. Because you need to achieve something. But how are you going to do it? It’s just not there at the moment. Yes.  In terms of… I’ve done this before, in my life, I was dealing with mental health issues. And what I did was create… every day, I had a diary, writing about what the issues are. And then every week, I would re-evaluate how am I. How am I going towards recovery? Of course, when I was able to do so because at the beginning, if you’re completely lost in your sort of mental health issues, you don’t have time to do goal setting. Oh, definitely a motivator. And so that helped me a lot in the past, so I might need to do it again, a bit more.

Prof Anna Cox 

Okay, so I wanted to talk to you a bit about your PhD research as well, in a bit of detail, because I just recently I saw a pre-print paper that’s become available, um, but showed that when the UK went into lockdown, that people’s physical activity dropped quite dramatically.  They – as you would expect, right –  people weren’t able to go out of the house, they weren’t commuting to work, they weren’t doing the school run. So all of that kind of incidental walking around disappeared. They were also not able to go out and run or whatever they normally did; they couldn’t go to the gym or the gyms were closed. So it’s perhaps not surprising to see that these indicators of physical activity had dropped dramatically over that period. But what I found really interesting was that even by mid June, which was a month after the lockdown had kind of been relaxed, and people were now allowed to go out multiple times a day, the physical activity data hadn’t recovered back to its original levels. So it seems – this paper seems to suggest – that people lost the opportunity to be physically active, and then when those opportunities came back, they weren’t able to reinstate their old practices and so on. And I know that in your research, you’ve been looking at physical activity apps. And so I wanted to talk to you about whether you think physical activity apps kind of hold the key to helping us get back to where we were before lockdown with our levels of physical activity and perhaps even surpass that. Because I guess one of the things we know is that people aren’t as active as we might want them to be for optimal health. So it seems particularly worrying I guess, now, if the levels are much lower than they were before. So I thought maybe we could start by talking about what it is in behaviour change theory that would suggest are the important parts of an intervention, if it’s going to help us change our behaviour. So what do we need to know from the theory and put into our interventions?

Dr Paulina Bondaronek 

Mm hmm. So there’s no such thing as one theory that we could put into it. But I think there’s two things. There’s one thing, let’s look at an example of the apps that I’ve been looking at. And I spent far too much time in the App Store! I spent about two years looking at Google Play and iTunes, and I knew what was high ranked and what’s popular. So I looked at, I focused on the most popular apps. And this is, I think, worth saying, what they… what they miss and whether they hold the key, I think will answer the question that you asked.

Prof Anna Cox 

Okay.

Dr Paulina Bondaronek 

So most of the apps on the market, and these are downloaded in millions, um, they focus on what I mentioned. So these are the things that we call self-regulation technique. And if you think about self-regulation, as a word, it has to do with something that you do to yourself, you regulate yourself in one way or the other.

Prof Anna Cox 

So you kind of take control of your own behaviour.

Dr Paulina Bondaronek 

Yeah. And so these are stuff like monitoring your running, elevation, time, and doing your seven minute workout challenge. You know, again, you’re monitoring – ticked the box, I’ve done it. And then it shows you a feedback, how many times a week you’ve done it, how many times you ran for how long, and how many calories you’ve burned. And then sometimes it helps you to set some goals, not always, and helps you to action plan towards these goals. And so even if we look at this simple, these features, which are prevalent in most apps… and there’s a social support bit, but mainly the social support, I find a little bit primitive because it’s sort of: yes, I’ve done my run, give me a little thumbs up. I think we could do much better. Okay. There’s a little digital rewards as well as things like that, little prompts, and that’s pretty much it. And now if you think about behaviour science, if we know that people like Daniel Kahneman, who popularised the dual process theory, so the system one system two, which is simplification, but still it’s really helpful. This is one of… the system one is the one that is more emotional impulse. It relies on habits. It’s a very automatic process. It’s cue dependent, I see chocolate, grab the chocolate, a chocolate, because I’m stressed. And then the other one is the self-regulation one – the decision making process, the deliberate decision making process, the effortful system. Okay, if you think about that, I would argue that the apps target the second one, which is the effortful decision making – I make a goal, I stick to the goal,  a regard, re-evaluate my goal.  And I think that this is a huge problem because we are not those robots – rational human being – that we think that we are ourselves, because my motivation, I don’t know about you but bitter experience from my life shows me that I will decide something and I will decide for sure in the morning; in the afternoon it goes away and in the evening, forget about it. I’ll start tomorrow. Now I convince myself that I’ll start tomorrow again and I will be so sure about that. And then again, I mean, I had it with trying to quit smoking. I smoked for six years, you know how many times you promise yourself that this will be for sure your last cigarette, you know, and this is because the system one is the emotional one, the cue dependent one. Again I see cigarette, I smell cigarette, and I think I really need one.

Prof Anna Cox 

And you’re saying that the system one drives a lot of our behaviour, but we kind of when we’re thinking about trying to change our behaviour, we tend to focus on system two and that and the technology is all around system two. 

Dr Paulina Bondaronek 

Yes this, thank you, summarises very well.  I just talk too much about that but yes, exactly. Because I think also, it’s much difficult – well, I don’t know if it’s much difficult – but it’s easier to, you know, set the goal in apps. I’m not a designer, and I don’t know, in terms of technology, what’s available there, but I’m sure we can do better than that, in terms of helping people to, you know, to help them in terms of sticking to behaviour, even if, if this is not something that you feel at the moment (indistinguishable) are fighting their habits that they would like to get rid of.

Prof Anna Cox 

Uh huh. Yes. So do you think that, um… it sounds like you’ve identified a real gap there, that, that we need to be thinking about – system one, and it impacts on behaviour. But the technology isn’t really helping us there. So do you think that’s something that technology can help us with?

Dr Paulina Bondaronek 

This is why I love multidisciplinary work. Because I think it can. And I think we need to work – so behaviour scientists, practitioners of physical activity, let’s say, and designers, and people from you know, human computer interaction, like yourself, and work together, and answer this question, because actually, I don’t know if technology work, how technology can help us. But I know we can, if we only get away from this self regulation stuff that’s already there. Because if you think about it in behaviour science, if we look at what works now, physical activity, we’d say that those feedback monitoring, goal setting works, and of course, it does work. But the problem is that we don’t have evidence for any other stuff that’s not there at all, or is so scarce, that we can’t conduct systematic reviews on those to say that, the self-regulation, to say that those things work, because they’ve a bit more obscure. And they might have been tested. But not tested enough to be certain as we need to be well, certain, to certain degree, in science that this works. So if I was to design tomorrow, behaviour, change intervention of physical activity, I would have to put self monitoring goal setting in there because that’s what everyone does. And of course, it does work to a certain degree, but it’s not sustainable. Probably also, I think I’ve seen review recently that for older people actually, the self regulation techniques do not work, really. So we need to work together to do that. And I think this thing’s… like when I look at the behaviour science – so first of all, if you look at a goal setting theory, because you’ve asked about theory, even that is not done very well, because yes, we have this feedback, we have goal setting, we have self monitoring, but what’s very important in in this kind theory is that you need to really re evaluate your goals. Okay? And apps don’t even do that. So it’s not only that this is okay, this is tick box, we’ve done that bit, the (indistinguishable) apps hardly ever ask you to re-evaluate your goal and maybe readjust it. Now it only goes as far as tells you that you done it, or you haven’t done it yet. So if you see, for me, this is quite primitive. What about changing identity? What about talking about the emotional bits, for example? And could we do something about identifying yourself as a role model in certain way and think, you know, this kind of stuff, which is a bit more fuzzy, how do you design for that? Well, that’s why we need this multidisciplinary work. How do you design for to create, to develop an identity as a healthy person? And work out, necessarily physical activity, how does that spill over to other behaviours? So we need to go bigger, I believe,

Prof Anna Cox 

In order to have the kind of impact that we really need to have.

Dr Paulina Bondaronek 

Exactly. And I think that’s why possibly people stopped doing physical activity during COVID and maybe didn’t get back to it. That’s just my thinking that because it was extrinsically motivated often, possibly, that it just faded away, because it wasn’t so much ingrained in intrinsic motivation. I love this stuff, and I am a healthy person. And I love I know that this run oh my goddess it’s raining and I don’t want to do it, but I know how it’s gonna make me feel, like also focusing on the pleasure as well. That’s another thing recently I was looking at American Psychological Association, they have a book on sports psychology and exercise that came out recently. And one of the academics in the first chapter said we haven’t come up with anything new for years. I mean, living where I live the same stuff, we not doing very well. But what about the pleasure in physical activity? What about the hedonic motivation? Why do we do you know, this kind of.. and it’s true, it’s all about goal setting and action planning. And that makes this kind of stuff make me really excited. So how can we come together and design something, you know, something better than focuses maybe on the fun of physical activity for God’s sake? There’s no fun, is it? One of my last thing I want to say, one of my participants, because I assessed the seven minute workout challenge. And he said to me, it’s like, so you do the heat based seven minute, you know, if I start at ten, seven past ten, I’m done. There’s no excuse not to do it. And he said, Paula, this is something dirty. (I’ve done some qualitative interviews after the trial was finished.) This is like, this is like masturbating. I’m closing my door. I’m doing it for seven minutes. I’m done. Thank God I can get on with my life. Is this what physical activity is about? Like, is this? I mean, it just doesn’t make sense, does it?  If we think, if we actually reflect.  So to answer your question, yes, I think those apps are not very effective, especially in the long term.

Prof Anna Cox 

So in terms of trying to address this, like, current problem of people, not, you know, people who have been more sedentary and not being as physically active as they were even, you know, nine months ago, say? And it sounds like you’re saying that the current apps we have are not the key to solving that. Do you think they have… they offer something, though? So even if they’re not going to solve the entire problem, are they effective in helping people to change their behaviour and to be a bit more active than they were before?

Dr Paulina Bondaronek 

Absolutely. I think I’m just being quite negative, because for the sake of it, because that I’m a pessimist. Absolutely. And you know what the beautiful thing in my trial is, because I had people from 20 year olds to 60, 70 year olds. And the one guy said, you know, I got, I took out my shoes, and it’s like, my running shoes, it’s like being reconnected with an old friend. And the app for running that was peach was new ‘Couch to 5k’, help you start running again, and for certain people definitely did work. It’s sort of that the app has to be introduced at the right time at the right moment, and those critical moments when you are more likely to change. And I think yes, of course, if you told me in the 80s, that there’ll be little thing in my pocket that can tell me how much I run, set goals for me, you know, ask my friends to maybe to give me thumbs up. It’s an amazing thing. It’s just that it has to introduce at the right time. So of course, apps has lots of potential and it did work, they do work for some people. And with the trial, I needed to show that it worked, it increased physical activity for some people. For some people, there was no change. And actually, there was a decrease for some people. So it definitely works. And I think this is what I’m writing, in my fellowship, sort of to try to find out who it works for, when is it okay to introduce those apps? And if the apps don’t work, can we just have something else? And this is where my work at Public Health comes in right? We know that this is not the thing that will change the world, right? We need to work on so many different levels. And it’s not just about physical activity. Like it’s not, you know, like this masturbation thing for seven minutes and stuff. It’s about healthy living, right? Yeah. And yeah, and work life balance and healthy eating and spending time with family and in the current climate is very hard to do because we are workaholics or many of us are.

Prof Anna Cox 

Okay, so thinking about um, I’m curious to know how your, research and your knowledge on this area, how do you bring that into your own life? And we’ve talked a little bit already about how you organise yourself and make sure that you know, you, you balance, multiple different jobs or things that you focus on, but how do you keep yourself physically and mentally well? Do you use physical activity for that?

Dr Paulina Bondaronek 

I do. But that’s quite recent. I think in Poland, we have a very good saying and we say a shoe maker walks without shoes, meaning if you’re drawn into certain fields, like psychology or behavioural change, it’s because you see it as lacking in you, and I’ve seen that before. So I’ve seen that a lot. So, but yes, physical activity, definitely. So, actually, but the reason was because of my mental health. So my mental health went down during PhD, because I have innate tendency to criticise myself immensely, and have high expectation. I thought, I’m going to finish my PhD in a year, for sure. And I just it’s, and often I just have to ignore that voice. And so mindfulness is a huge thing. And, but actually, regular mindfulness. So mindfulness is something that’s more cognitive change techniques, I call them, however, the sticking to the behaviour is definitely behavioural. So then, so how I started. So the implementation intentions here really helped me which is, you know, I did this at this time, it’s very specific setting. Setting of goals. So that helped me with meditation, you know, I’ve got my meditation couch, that’s where I sit down. After I brush my teeth, I sit down, and I meditate for 15 minutes. And the more I stick to it, the more habitual it becomes. So this this is a really, really nice technique. Physical activity: so because of my mental health issues, I was doing my PhD in in Hampstead in Royal Free hospital. Yeah, this is a wealthy area that you could never live in,  but there what they have is the ponds and the Parliamentary Lido. And there are only three lidos in London that are unheated. So I started swimming in them. In cold water, yes, yes. And that’s my fourth year this year. And it’s just so amazing for mental health. I mean, I go in, I lose all my – I leave all my troubles there, and I come out as a fresh, amazing human being. And everything is just there. Everything. It’s an amazing feeling. And then I think there’s more research coming out about that – the benefit of cold water immersion for.. so yeah, mental health. So this is what I do. But I also run well, now I actually moved to my partner in East London, so I cannot swim so much. So I run up on my running routine. But there’s something interesting that I’ve done since I started running, because I would find it quite boring. And I can imagine why people don’t stick to it. And this is another technique. So add something nice whilst you’re doing something that you might not enjoy, especially at the moment. So I listen to my favourite podcasts. And this is the only time I listened to it. And this is Eckhart Tolle – he wrote the power of now. And it’s so funny because it’s a book, but there’s also his teaching. And that’s the only time I allow myself to listen to it for those 40 minutes I run. So I’m looking forward to two things, how I will feel after physical activity to running around in the (indistinguishable) but most importantly, to my fix of Eckhart Tolle, and The Power of Now.

Prof Anna Cox 

So rather than using a physical activity app as your… as a way to motivate you for your running, you’re using digital technology in a different way:  as a way to deliver a reward, right, a positive reward to go with the running because you’re going to get to listen to the thing that you really enjoy listening to.

Dr Paulina Bondaronek 

Exactly. And that’s more of tapping into the system one, the emotions, you know, yes, yes.

Prof Anna Cox 

Okay. But that’s been so interesting. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you. So thank you very much for your time today.

Dr Paulina Bondaronek 

Thank you, Anna.  This is great. I had no idea what’s gonna happen, but I could talk to you forever.

Prof Anna Cox

Thanks so much to Dr Paulina Bondaronek. You can find her @PaulinaBond1 on Twitter. That’s Paulina bond and the digit one. You can find a link to her website and access the Show Notes for this episode on our website, eWorkLife.co.uk, where you can also find more evidence based tips on using technology to support work and well being.

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 GetAMoveOn Network+.  Music by ScottHolmesMusic.com.