It’s been a year since we first launched our new smartphone app – Emotional Intelligence (EI) Zone. Designed as a digital tool to help in developing and sustaining EI, the app has so far enabled close to 1,000 people to take responsibility for their own positive behaviour change.
Our goal was to develop a smartphone app that would help people to embed emotionally intelligent behaviours through learning, reflection, and habitual practice. Following a thorough research phase, we constructed a four-stage behaviour change process (Learn, Practise, Track, Embed), which then acted as a foundation for the app design.
From this, five core features were built to support the four stages in the process:
- Learn about EI
- Questionnaires & Reports
- Feelings Tracker
- 21-Day Habit Change
- Community & News.
And it didn’t stop there. Throughout the year we have made several updates to add functionality and keep users engaged and enthused to develop their Emotional Intelligence (EI).
‘Accessible’, ‘interactive’, and ‘continually evolving’ are some of the many reasons stated for the increased popularity of smartphone-based interventions (Howells et al, 2016). It is therefore unsurprising that 96% of organisations want to get the most out of this technology for continuous learning (CIPD, 2017). Our research also highlights the importance of technology-led, self-driven learning for users, with 1 in 3 respondents to our ongoing feedback survey having rated ‘Learn about EI’ as one of their most valuable features in the app.
On the back of this feedback, it felt right to expand ‘Learn about EI’ as a first update following EI Zone’s release in March 2018. In this update, we focused on providing interactive, tailored personal learning, to take this beyond more general learning about what EI is and why it is important. In terms of EI and behavioural change, it is important to learn about the underlying attitudes and feelings that drive the behaviour(s) you want to change. This then enables individuals to pin-point a specific action to take (Maddocks, 2018, p.183-184). And so the new ‘Developing your EI’ learning module was added alongside the existing ‘Introduction to EI’ module as an accessible and interactive set of activities which can be used to develop each of the 16 areas of EI in the JCA Global framework (see Figure 1 for example screenshots).
In further response to user feedback, we have also recently added a ‘Key insights’ feature to the Feelings Tracker. This provides users with a short interpretation of how their emotions are distributed across the four feeling quadrants: Energise, Renew, Stress, and Burnout, and what the personal implications of this might be (see Figure 2 for example screenshot).
This promises to be a valuable addition to the Feelings Tracker, which is underpinned by rigorous evidence. For instance, practising emotional granularity, i.e. differentiating between the specific types of feelings we experience, has been shown to have a positive impact on our wellbeing (Kashdan et al, 2014). Furthermore, there are compelling arguments that smartphone technology helps to offer a more objective measurement of feelings ‘in the moment’ (Howells et al, 2016), so it makes sense to have a feature like the ‘Feelings Tracker’ available through EI Zone.
And it seems to be doing the job! According to our ongoing data collection, 90% of users who provided feedback said the Feelings Tracker has helped to improve their emotional awareness. However, there is more to be done to encourage users to monitor trends such as context in their emotion experiences, which is important for regulating emotion in the future (Kashdan et al, 2014). We anticipate that the recent addition of ‘Key Insights’, as well as future planned updates, will increase motivation towards reflective learning around emotion experience, while also rewarding users for their commitment.
Talking of commitments… the ‘21-Day Habit Change’ feature has also received very positive user feedback, with 100% of respondents reporting that the feature has helped them improve in the specific behaviour they committed to change. Not only this, but 92% of users who responded to the in-app evaluation questions on their 21-Day Habit Change also reported improvement in the area of EI their new behaviour relates to.
These results are particularly positive given that the current most popular area of EI chosen for a 21-Day Habit Change is Self Regard. This area of personal intelligence looks at our attitudes towards ourselves; the extent we accept and value who we are. It is also the cornerstone to developing EI (Maddocks, 2018).
Building positive new habits requires conscious effort early on, but over time becomes more instinctive (Sung, Chang & Liu, 2016). The key is repeated daily practice (Lally et al, 2010). To encourage this, EI Zone sends regular reminders to users about practising their new behaviour, and then tracks and rewards progress towards achieving that change. Push notifications like this are argued to increase engagement with technology (Morrison, 2017) and it appears over 60% of respondents to our feedback survey agree that it motivates them to use EI Zone.
But there is more work to do to really get users committed to daily practice. Approximately 1 in 6 of our feedback survey respondents use EI Zone on a daily basis – with the majority using it a few times a week. While we hope that users still actively develop their EI every day regardless of interacting with the app, it does highlight the need to keep looking for new enhancements that build user engagement and ultimately their commitment to change.
Concerns have been raised in the media over what has been called the ‘decade of digital dependence’ (Ofcom, 2018). However, as psychologists, we are keen to understand and facilitate successful adoption of smartphone technology to aid positive behavioural outcomes, such as improved wellbeing (Howells et al, 2016). And that’s why we are already on the case with researching and developing more EI Zone updates, and believe me, it’s going to be a busy year!
With our own growing evidence that mobile-led learning initiatives are having a positive impact – it has become critical for us as field experts to keep pace with the fluidity of technology and develop rigorous products that are underpinned by science, ongoing feedback, and an agile design mindset.
Here’s to another year of enhancing and innovating our app to achieve real, positive, and sustained behaviour change.
Poppy Boothroyd, R&D Consultant
CIPD (2017). The future of technology and learning. Research Report.
Howells, A., Ivtzan, I., & Eiroa-Orosa, F. J. (2016). Putting the ‘app’ in happiness: a randomised controlled trial of a smartphone-based mindfulness intervention to enhance wellbeing. Journal of Happiness Studies, 17(1), 163-185.
Kashdan, T. B., Barrett, L. F., & McKnight, P. E. (2015). Unpacking emotion differentiation: Transforming unpleasant experience by perceiving distinctions in negativity. Current Directions in Lally, P., Van Jaarsveld, C. H., Potts, H. W., & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European journal of social psychology, 40(6), 998-1009.
Maddocks, J. (2018). Emotional Intelligence At Work. How To Make Change Stick. Cheltenham: Spa House Publishing.
Morrison, L. G., Hargood, C., Pejovic, V., Geraghty, A. W., Lloyd, S., Goodman, N., … & Yardley, L. (2017). The effect of timing and frequency of push notifications on usage of a smartphone-based stress management intervention: An exploratory trial. PloS one, 12(1), e0169162.
Ofcom, C. (2018). Communications Market Report. UK Mobile Phone Usage Statistics, London, UK.
Sung, Y. T., Chang, K. E., & Liu, T. C. (2016). The effects of integrating mobile devices with teaching and learning on students’ learning performance: A meta-analysis and research synthesis. Computers & Education, 94, 252-275./span>