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Micro-steps For Change: Small Tweaks Have Big Rewards!

You’ve just turned forty and your loving wife has gifted you an executive health check-up—so that you can be fit enough for another forty years.

You’ve undergone a battery of tests with needles and probes in almost every orifice of your body – places you didn’t even know existed.

Now you’re anxiously sitting in the doctor’s clinic and after a lot of “umms” and “tsks” whilst flicking through your reports, the doctor writes out a prescription: “Turn your phone off 30 minutes before you sleep”.

“What”, you ask her, “is this supposed to mean?” Expecting instead the usual mix of pills and potions.

“It’s a micro-step,” she says. “Do it for 6 weeks and come back and see me”.

“Trust me,” she says, “I am a doctor”.

Well, “I” too, am a doctor and this is my vision for how your visit to a doctor should look like if we really focus on healthcare and not sick-care — as we currently do.

As a doctor, who now works in the world of media and technology, my impression is that storytelling allows us to digest information easily because it simplifies facts and conveys a simple message; layered with characters, drama and suspense.

With stooping backs and lowered heads, most of us spend anywhere between 3 to 4 hours per day on our phones, engaged in consuming content. And so an interesting problem for us to solve is: how can we use this deep-rooted desire for consuming content digitally to create change for the good? Helping people become the best version of themselves. Something we like to call, the Microstep. Originally rooted in behaviour change theory; Professor Fogg from the Design Lab at Stanford postulates that three elements converge at the same moment for a behaviour to occur: Motivation, Ability, and Trigger.

Important life decisions, like whether to eat chips or fruit for lunch, are complex, neurophysiological processes. Our behaviour determines our decisions and whilst initially considered rigid, it is now being proven that behaviours can be changed, leopards can change their spots.

With ability dictated by the physical world and motivation fueled by inspirational stories, the final component of this model, where we focus our attention, is how we can devise ways to link the consumption of content to triggers — for people to attach to habits they want to create – hence the ‘micro-step’.

Small, science-backed changes move people from knowing what to do to actually doing it.

Since we are leading increasingly digital lives, with the FAANGs, Alexa and Siri dominating our environment, the question we should all be asking ourselves is how can we use the convenience technology brings us to curate change.

So let’s get back to our forty-year-old hero, you remember, the anxiously violated man with a loving wife. His doctor prescribed a micro-step to switch off his phone 30 minutes before bedtime.

This might have sounded absurd but what the clever doctor was aiming to do was reduce his risk of long-term cardiovascular disease.

Switching off the phone will reduce his exposure to the blue light on his screen, allowing melatonin – ‘the sleepy hormone’ to be secreted normally and thus lead to a good night’s sleep.

Over time, better and longer sleep will reduce his daytime cortisol and delay the onset of metabolic diseases, like diabetes and hypertension. Isn’t that better than a prescription of Enalapril or Simvastatin?

This to me is the future of healthcare and the secret to a good life, not last-minute interventions or sick-care, and not leaps or bounds, but quite simply, micro-steps.