The Action Cures Experiment has happened. What did we learn?

12th April 2019

On Friday 25th January 2019, the Action Cures Experiment launched.

It was designed to be a 30-day Mental Fitness Tracker, created to help users crowd out negative or anxious thoughts with actions (It was an experiment in the truest sense, we had no idea if it would work!).

What was it all about?

Action Cures is a mantra I use to remind me that the best way to help manage my depression and anxiety is with action.

Whether it be a run, a side project or spending time with my family, they can all be Action Cures.

In late 2018, I worked with my friends Alex and Paul to develop the Action Cures Experiment.

Alex, a data analyst by trade, had a hunch that you could quantify the impact actions have on your mood and, additionally, a reminder that the best thing you can do when you’re feeling low or anxious… is get up and do something… anything!

If we could learn what worked, we’d be able to help people identify which actions actually made them happier.

Enter Paul — a man capable of building the idea into a digital platform.

How did it work?

Once registered, participants were asked (via a web app) to record their mood each morning on a sliding scale of 1 to 100.

They were then prompted to decide what actions they would take that day.

At the end of each day they would again enter their mood. Participants did this every day for 30 days.

As people progressed, they were presented with a calendar visualising their start and end moods (in shades of green) for each day of the experiment.

At the end of the period we created an individual report showing the changes in their mood alongside their Action Cures. This was to help them draw conclusions and hopefully learn a bit about themselves.

As we launched, we had no idea if people would sign up, embrace the experiment, or indeed if it would actually help in any way!

What happened?

Within a few days of launching 50 people had signed up to take part. Of those, 15 participated for the full 30 days. Between them, they recorded 637 actions.

So, although the number of people involved was low (and therefore the charts shared here are from a limited dataset) we hoped this would give us a good read on how the platform worked, and whether there was anything useful in the idea of a Mental Fitness Tracker.

What did we learn?

Lots! Some of it obvious, some of it less so.

We learned that the most popular Action Cures were:

  1. Walking
  2. Time with the family
  3. Reading

However, the actions that appeared to make the biggest difference to the moods of our participants were more ‘home’ focused, with admin, home time and relaxation all having a greater impact than being in the outdoors or exercising.

We also found that participants would be unlikely to change their mood if they did no actions in a day, whereas when they did do something, it was more likely to lift their mood.

As you can see from the chart below, the general mood trend over the 30-day period declined?

Both the Start Mood (the one they entered in the morning) and the End Mood (recorded at the end of the day) are on a downward trend. We wondered why. So we looked at the difference in the start and end moods.

The chart below shows the difference between the start and end moods each day. It also shows the number of actions participants took over all.

Why did this group record more actions at the beginning of the period than the end? Revised intentions? Boredom? The weather?

Overall, it probably raises more questions than it answers!

At the beginning and the end of the experiment we asked participants a simple question that we believed would be a good gauge of the impact on participants lives:

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how satisfied do you feel with your life?”

It’s fair to say our findings here were inconclusive!

At the beginning of the experiment, the score people gave was on average 7.7. At the end it had increased very slightly to 7.8.

So, it seems like it didn’t make much of a difference.

However, when we look deeper, half the participants experienced a higher mood after they’d completed the experiment than when they started and nearly half recorded the same mood than when they started.

The experiment gets really interesting when we look at individuals answers to the survey completed at the end of the 30 days.

Over half of participants felt that the prompts Action Cures gave them encouraged them to do something.

Similarly, over half said they would carry on using Action Cures beyond the 30 days.

One participant made this observation:

“I can see this being very useful when you need to make changes to improve your mood … If my mood were to drop I think it would be useful to use.”

And another reported that:

“I found that doing the experiment made me much more conscious of the actions I was taking each day and it definitely made me try to do more.”

Although we were really pleased that 30% of the total registered participants completed the experiment, 60% of our participants found it a bit much.

Perhaps it is too simplistic to relate actions to overall mood, without factoring in external influences as this participant observed:

“Some days the action cures definitely staved off negativity creeping in, but on other days the number/type/ completion of action cures didn’t always reflect my state of mind”

And another said:

“I found it hard to know exactly how I felt first thing in the morning”

So what do we conclude?

The data has given us an indication that there is a role for a Mental Fitness Tracker which can help those of us tussling with our anxiety or depression.

However, I think it’s fair to conclude we haven’t quite cracked it with this first iteration of the platform. Only 18% of the sign ups completed, so it’s important we don’t draw too many statistical conclusions from the experiment.

I’m am heartened and reassured that we are doing the right thing though by the extra feedback we received from participants:

“It’s a great thing you’re doing. Keep at it”

“Really good idea. Keep going!”

“I think there’s something here that’s rather powerful.”

As I reflect on the experiment, and I think about how we take it forwards, it feels like we’re at a time when talking about and caring for our own personal mental fitness is more relevant than ever before.

I believe that Action Cures is a powerful mantra, and I hope more people can apply it in their lives.

And finally, heartfelt thanks must go to…

  • The participants of the Action Cures Experiment for taking the time to do so. I hope you got something out of it!
  • The highly skilled team at Filter Digital for bringing the experiment pro bono.
  • All the people who shared their mental health stories with us as we developed the platform.

If you have any questions or observations of the Action Cures Experiment please do get in touch with me at mark@actioncures.org

Keep up the actions people and happy thoughts to everyone.

Mark

#actioncures