Using Personalized Anchors to Establish Routine Meditation Practice with a Mobile App: Randomized Controlled Trial

Chad Stecher, Mariah Sullivan, Jennifer Huberty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: Physical and mental health benefits can be attained from persistent, long-term performance of mindfulness meditation with a mobile meditation app, but in general, few mobile health app users persistently engage at a level necessary to attain the corresponding health benefits. Anchoring or pairing meditation with a mobile app to an existing daily routine can establish an unconsciously initiated meditation routine that may improve meditation persistence. Objective: The purpose of this study was to test the use of either personalized anchors or fixed anchors for establishing a persistent meditation app routine with the mobile app, Calm. Methods: We conducted a randomized controlled trial and randomly assigned participants to one of 3 study groups: (1) a personalized anchor (PA) group, (2) fixed anchor (FA) group, or (3) control group that did not use the anchoring strategy. All participants received app-delivered reminder messages to meditate for at least 10 minutes a day using the Calm app for an 8-week intervention period, and app usage data continued to be collected for an additional 8-week follow-up period to measure meditation persistence. Baseline, week 8, and week 16 surveys were administered to assess demographics, socioeconomic status, and changes in self-reported habit strength. Results: A total of 101 participants across the 3 study groups were included in the final analysis: (1) PA (n=56), (2) FA (n=49), and (3) control group (n=62). Participants were predominantly White (83/101, 82.2%), female (77/101, 76.2%), and college educated (ie, bachelor's or graduate degree; 82/101, 81.2%). The FA group had a significantly higher average odds of daily meditation during the intervention (1.14 odds ratio [OR]; 95% CI 1.02-1.33; P=.04), and all participants experienced a linear decline in their odds of daily meditation during the 8-week intervention (0.96 OR; 95% CI 0.95-0.96; P<.001). Importantly, the FA group showed a significantly smaller decline in the linear trend of their odds of daily meditation during the 8-week follow-up (their daily trend increased by 1.04 OR from their trend during the intervention; 95% CI 1.01-1.06; P=.03). Additionally, those who more frequently adhered to their anchoring strategy during the intervention typically used anchors that occurred in the morning and showed a significantly smaller decline in their odds of daily meditation during the 8-week follow-up period (1.13 OR; 95% CI 1.02-1.35; P=.007). Conclusions: The FA group had more persistent meditation with the app, but participants in the FA or PA groups who more frequently adhered to their anchoring strategy during the intervention had the most persistent meditation routines, and almost all of these high anchorers used morning anchors. These findings suggest that the anchoring strategy can create persistent meditation routines with a mobile app. However, future studies should combine anchoring with additional intervention tools (eg, incentives) to help more participants successfully establish an anchored meditation routine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere32794
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Volume9
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Keywords

  • App engagement
  • Behavioral persistence
  • Habit formation
  • Meditation
  • Mental health
  • Mindfulness
  • Mobile meditation app
  • Physical health
  • Randomized controlled trial
  • Routine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics

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