Changing your behavior can be extremely difficult. Ask anyone who has tried to buck a bad habit or kick-start a new one. But Kyra Bobinet, MD, founder and CEO of engagedIN, believes we can improve our chances of making positive, and permanent, changes in our behavior.

The key, she says, is to couple behavioral science with “design thinking” to build products and processes that reflect the way the brain works.

engagedIN is the culmination of Bobinet’s studies at Harvard and Stamford and work as a scientist, physician, health care executive, professor, and entrepreneur. She founded the design firm in 2013 to help companies solve engagement and behavioral change issues, primarily in the health and wellness space.

Her clients range from digital health companies and corporate behemoths, and they turn to her to tackle such challenges as increasing patient medical adherence and reducing energy consumption.

A Fundamental Shift in How We Drive Change

Recently, engagedIN partnered with Walmart to build Fresh Tri, a neuroscience-based healthy-habit app designed to be a difference maker in the lives of the people who use it. App users support their nutrition goals by drawing inspiration from the healthy-eating habits that have worked for other app users. They practice new habits, count their progress, and tweak their approach as needed.

That last step is important. Bobinet says that research shows that goal setting alone doesn’t work for the majority of people. “When you tell someone they must hit a goal, such as losing a certain amount of weight by a certain date, you are setting them up to fail,” she explains.

Blame the habenula--the area of the brain that “registers perceived failure and kills your motivation to try again,” says Bobinet. She explains that the “habenula hits” that result from failing to achieve a goal hinder your ability to make lifestyle changes.

The app is just one example of how engagedIN is trying to shift the wellness and wellbeing industry away from the commonly used goal-setting approach to an iterative one, which prepares people to tweak their habits and try multiple tactics. The engagedIN software team is also building an artificial intelligence (A.I.) algorithm for matching people to habits that, based on data, have a high probability of working for them. Bobinet notes that iteration is common practice in Silicon Valley and her research shows it works just as well for everyday people trying to make lifestyle changes as it does for technology innovators.

Designing With Compassion

Just as engagedIN’s portfolio reflects a willingness to do things differently, so, too, does its company culture. The entire team works from home, relying on a sophisticated technology stack to facilitate ease of communication and collaboration. The team gets together every four to six weeks for training at engagedIN’s neuroscience design center--160 acres of land in the Santa Cruz mountains of California. Bobinet draws inspiration from the serene environment, and she invites “like-minded change makers” to visit the pristine setting any time.

Bobinet notes that running the business this way is advantageous for her team members, who get more time with their family by working at home. It also helps them run a lean business by saving on rent and other office expenses.

Clearly defined company principles guide every project engagedIN takes on. The team designs for the brain, but just as important, the team designs with compassion. engagedIN’s unique approach appears to be resonating with clients and prospects. In 2018, it earned the No. 730 spot on the Inc. 5000 with a three-year growth rate of 683 percent. Bobinet says the company’s success shows that “many people and businesses share our mission of helping others live healthier, better lives.”

By combining design thinking with behavioral science, cutting-edge technology with industry know-how, Bobinet is a true difference maker, helping people bridge the gap between how we want to act and how we actually act. In other words, she is making it easier to change.