In 2010, four of us—all professors at a small Indiana college—started exploring our interest in human flourishing. Casual conversations over coffee eventually turned into research meetings. We had different perspectives on how people changed and how much change was possible. With diverse interests in philosophy, clinical psychology, addiction recovery and spirituality, we landed a grant to study modern day saints whose lives of virtue, resilience and meaning demonstrated the kind of human flourishing many of us desire.

We soon realized our need for an effective way to study everyday life. Surveys wouldn’t cut it. There were too many problems with recall bias, and they didn’t allow us to capture the rhythm of real life. Surveys offered a single “snapshot” of peoples’ lives, but we needed something more like a movie—something that would allow us to understand how people changed over time, and how they responded in different circumstances. We found the solution in what psychologists call ecological momentary assessment (EMA).

EMA is a group of data collection strategies that capture information about peoples’ attitudes, experiences and behavior as they live life. Initially, we considered using old EMA strategies, like daily journals, palm pilots or text messages. But a tech-savvy colleague suggested trying EMA with smartphones. There was just one problem: this technology didn’t exist in 2010.

In 2011, we launched the iHabit app, which allowed us to conduct several research projects and learn more about EMA. Gathering information from smartphones users helped us see that our system could do more than EMA. Rather than just gathering data, we recognized the possibility of Ecological Momentary Intervention (EMI). EMI facilitates change by delivering questions, reminders, inspiring messages, etc. to users in the context of everyday life.

The iHabit system opened our eyes to the need for a widely accessible EMA/EMI system. We had researchers, pastors, educators, business consultants, and even publishers asking to use the system. Their interest and creative applications of EMA/EMI inspired us to develop a new, more powerful system. We had no idea just how complex or challenging the task would be, and what we hoped would take several months ended up requiring two years.

What started out as a coffee shop conversation about helping people live well has turned into a robust software application aimed at harnessing the power of smartphones and web services to promote human flourishing. We’ve added business and technology partners from California and, together, created the most flexible, user-friendly, and cost-efficient EMA/EMI system available. While our company and its products continue to expand, we remain committed to helping people better understand and live the lives they imagine.

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