Flex is our online behaviour change programme. It helps you break undesired habits and increase your behavioural flexibility. Flex is based on the Do Something Different approach, created by professors Ben (C) Fletcher and Karen Pine.

What it is.

Flex sends out personalised Do's, or micro-behaviours, designed to encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and try new behaviours. The programme aims to break the distal habits that may play a role in unhealthy behaviours. For example, in a programme about weight loss, it means a Do is not necessarily activity or food-related, but can also target the way you commute, shop, relax or socialise. Flex is Onmi's new implementation of the Do Something Different approach in that it uses behavioural data to personalise Do's. This enables us to localise Do's and make them as appropriate and timely as possible.

Do’s stimulate you to engage in novel activities that expand your behavioural repertoire.

Habits are often made up of a chain of actions and thoughts. This is important because one behaviour (or thought) automatically cues the next one in the chain. The bad habit will probably have started earlier than you think because the habit chain may be quite long. For example, you might always drive the same way home after work, and you might pass the shop that triggers a thought about eating biscuits, you buy biscuits meaning to be good about when you eat them. Then you go home and turn on the tv and get a coffee. The eating of the biscuits that is likely then will have started with a habit chain going back many apparently independent decisions, such as which route to drive to get home. Do's break the habit chains earlier than you might otherwise do.

The Do’s work because they interrupt the sequence of conditioning; they change the small lifestyle behaviours that trigger the unhealthy habit chain and try to instigate a new chain of events.[1] Through experimenting with new behaviours, you might be better equipped to weaken your existing habits and also encounter new experiences that could challenge current thinking.[2]

Do Something Different model of behaviour change. New actions lead to new cognitions. There is no cognitive route from old habit to new action. [3]

Our inspiration

Nearly forty years of research at the University of Hertfordshire has resulted in new thinking in the area of behaviour change, led by Professor Ben (C) Fletcher, founder of FIT Science, and Professor Karen Pine, Professor of Developmental Psychology.[4] Professor Fletcher and Pine created the Do Something Different behaviour change approach on which Flex is based. Professor Fletcher now collaborates with Onmi in the development of our behaviour change programme.

Bringing about changes in modifiable behavioural risk factors is very difficult.

From a behavioural science perspective, one reason why health messages are not making an impact is the habitual nature of human behaviour. A significant barrier to changing behaviour is people's pre-existing personal and lifestyle habits that render them resistant to change. 

Although a minority of people will heed health advice and change their behaviour because it is good for them, others will have the intention to change, and understand the need to change but will nonetheless persist with their pre-existing behaviours. 

This is not due to a lack of knowledge; most of us know what is healthy and what isn’t. And if we are not certain, there is an abundance of information available at the click of a button. So why do we find it difficult to make these changes even though we understand their importance?

Habit machines

Think about what you have done so far today. How often were you actually thinking about what you were doing? Were you mainly doing what you’ve done before? How much was a habit? We aren’t in control of ourselves as much as we’d like to be. Most of the time, we are not in control at all.[3]

We all have many habits. Some are useful and good for us, like washing our hands, brushing our teeth and putting on seat belts. Others aren’t as good, like repeatedly checking our phones, or eating unhealthy snacks while we watch tv. So how does our brain create these habits?

Habits are generally formed by repeating a behaviour until it has become more or less automatic.[5] By repeating the behaviour in a consistent context, we forge a direct link in memory between the context and response.[6] Therefore, we learn to associate the behaviour triggered by that setting; this process is termed ‘context-dependent repetition’. This reinforces a mental context–behaviour association, such that alternative options become less accessible in memory.[7] Eventually, the mere perception of the context automatically triggers the corresponding behaviour.[8],[9]

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