Behind the Scenes @healthsterling

This blog showcases what we think are the greatest ideas in health from conferences to tech revolutions to bioanimation. Today I invite you to take a quick peek at our philosophy plus an inside glance at some of the projects currently underway with Sterling Health.

“I like your site..what is it that you do?”

Our #1 FAQ.  Sterling Health builds systems that accelerate our rate of progress in health and wellness.  These range from brainstom workshops to population health programs and branch out in many areas.

On a broad level, we spend a substantial portion of time rethinking health.  A day in my life as Creative Director might include a morning brainstorm on cognition with the team at TEDMED; by the afternoon, we’ve built the next 30 day challenge for the gamified population health pilot going on now in Huntsville, AL — just in time to jump into a call with #SciFund Challenge, a crowdfunding tool for scientific researchers.  This leaves little time for blogging, hence the 5:30 am Monday morning blog catch up.

I’ve been thinking recently about the question we don’t get asked so frequently:  Why do you do what you do?

I am driven by the idea that health is more than health.  It’s your life.

Marty Seligman‘s principle of positive psychology profoundly influences my work.  His approach can be summarized as follows.  Say your mood is placed on a -10 to +10 scale where 0 is neutral, -10 is extremely depressed and +10 is pure joy.  Classic psychology focuses on treating people with mental illnesses such as depression or schizophrenia who tend to fall closer to -10 than 0.   Before the positive side of psychology, psychoanalysts were primarily concerned with taking patients from say -8 to a -3.  Seligman proposed that we rethink this application and approach. What if, rather than only focusing on those who suffer from mental illnesses, scientists could apply the vast body of knowledge of psychology, behavior strategy and personal development to teach well people how to become more well, going from say a +2 to a +6?  This inquiry fundamentally shifted the field of psychology and led to programs ranging from Comprehensive Soldier Fitness to  new peer-reviewed journals.

Positive psychology innervates my philosophy at Sterling Health to the extent that we’re innovating on and beyond the preventative health model.  What I do is called Health Promotion.  It is a clinical, positive, goal-oriented, fun and social approach to enhancing health.  One which done effectively can reduce the incidence of disease.  Win.

Think of why you work out. Is it so that you won’t have a stroke or so that you will feel better, look better and have more energy?  It’s not an either-or question, right?   What motivates you to work out?  Would preventing a stroke or promoting the benefits of working out be a bigger stimulus?  If positive psychology is any indicator, promoting the benefits will be the bigger driver.  The answer is unknown; however, we invest in the inquiry and hope you will weigh in in the comments section.

Yet another facet of health promotion is apithology (literally the “absence of pathology [disease]”), a new branch of research concerned with understanding health as an emergent property of complex networks, like yourself.  I discuss these concepts with researchers like Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, network pioneer and creator of the above image.

Health is a goal-oriented activity (“I want to be healthy”) yet we never actually reach the end, the fabled “perfect health”.  It is therefore crucial to enjoy the journey. How can this enjoyment of process be facilitated by communities, fun engagement, social networks and crowd-sourced innovation?  Can your community help you habitualize a healthy lifestyle?  Can it accelerate your rate of progress?  I think it is possible.  We are just beginning to find out.

I spent the week of May 19 in San Francisco and Palo Alto, CA with Sebastian Seung’s MIT Neuroscience Lab developing a broad vision for WiredDifferently, a game that will crowd-source mapping the brain’s neural networks at the synaptic level.  Did you know that neuroscientists do not know how many different types of cells there are in the brain?  I didn’t until a week and a half ago.  It blew me away.  Think about it:  we’ve landed on the moon.  You can surf the web at 30,000 feet with in-flight wireless.  We’ve modified crops to resist pesticides and constructed drugs that can knock a patient out while a surgeon transplants a replacement trachea grown in a lab from his own cells.  But something a little closer to home, such as how many types of neurons there are in our own heads, is still unknown.  For now.  Researchers are working to develop systems that will exponentially increase the rate of progress of neuroscience. That is unfortunately all I can share at this time.

The future of health is happening now.  I am excited and exhilarated for the opportunity to work with the world’s brightest minds and share progress along the way.  I’ll leave you with one of many questions that has fueled our population health program:  How would you build a healthier city?

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