Educator and author of “On Purpose: Lessons in Life and Health from the Frog, Dung Beetle, and Julia” and “Life on Purpose,” Victor J. Strecher, Ph.D., MPH, is an award-winning pioneer in the field of behavioral science and currently a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and director for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship at the university. In 1998, Vic created Health Media, pioneering web-based “digital health coaching.” That company set a new benchmark for scalable lifestyle and condition management program delivery. It was acquired by Johnson & Johnson in 2008.
Merging Philosophy & Science
For more than 20 years, Victor J Strecher has been developing solutions that operate at the intersection of the science of behavior change and physical tools of advanced technology.
One of his most widely-used innovation is the free app based on his graphic novel, “On Purpose: Lessons in Life and Health from the Frog, Dung Beetle, and Julia.” The app helps users craft a personally meaningful purpose statement and keeps track of daily activities in relation to that purpose. The core of the app’s philosophical arc is S.P.A.C.E: five goals to track each day including Sleep, Presence, Activity, Creativity, and Eating.
On an impulse, Strecher brought his idea to Enlighten Creative Director, David Rossiter who helped marry Vic’s original story with the art of Kody Chamberlain, an American comic book writer and artist, into what are now seven available formats for the book.
“When I read Vic’s first draft,” Rossiter said, “what I liked was how he synthesized a lot of philosophical thought and brought it together with very current science, particularly around health and behavior, and found all the inter-connections, making [them] real for people to put them to use in their own way.”
“On Purpose” was Strecher’s attempt to make sense out of the shock of losing his 19-year-old daughter, Julia, to a rare, and totally unexpected heart disease that was generated by a bout of chicken pox she had as an infant. This heartbreaking loss challenged a lot of his professional thinking about behavior, particularly how one fully reengages with life following trauma. His answer, after much research into both philosophy and science, was to embrace the transformative power of purpose.
The charm of his graphic novel is a six-legged superhero who crystalizes Strecher’s philosophical thesis of purpose.
His second book, “Life on Purpose,” offers up a specific six-step program for improving energy, willpower, health, and long-term happiness.
Your purpose is your DNA, your fingerprint, the one thing that is unique to you, he said. It can also become your inner motivator to focus on what matters most to you. For example, Step 1 is to consider what matters most to you from a list of core values, and select three to focus upon; Step 2 is to think of those you want to emulate; Step 3 is to imagine what your epitaph would be; Step 4 is to determine what goals in your life matter most, and Step 5 is to assemble your goals into an overall life purpose. Finally, Step 6 is to post your purpose where you can see it every day and be continuously inspired by it.
If people don’t know their personal values, Strecher said, or aren’t able to become self-determining, they will falter, become stressed, depressed, and not “fully formed human beings.” And, it isn’t career goals or lifestyles that create a meaningful life, he adds, but consciously choosing and designing their lives based on their core values, not those of their community, family, company or society. “You are what you choose to be, so be very careful what you choose to be,” he added.
“You are what you choose to be, so be very careful what you choose to be.”
Strecher has been concerned that those who seek to change behavior, whether it’s addiction or choosing the right partner or job, often fail to ask for help. It is critical to successful outcomes to ask oneself, for example: “Why am I working out and eating better?” By asking this, and other questions, we answer the “why” for ourselves. As an example, the answer to this question might be, “It’s so I can have the energy and self-control to do bigger things in my life.” The answers you make lead the “how” that shows us the ways we can do the things that will change our behavior and change our lives.
We need to discover our “deeper why,” Strecher said, to think about purpose and direction. To be aligned takes energy and self-will, to care about living well, connected to people and things bigger than ourselves. When we are clear about our purpose, and connect our core values with that purpose, it is more important than all the skills training you can take. The why is not asked enough but the reason why you want to achieve something is essential to your success.
In 2014, he founded JOOL Health Inc., a digital health solution company integrating the science of purpose, advanced mobile technology, and big data analytics to help employers, particularly those providing health systems and health plans, improve their clients’ engagement with their health and well-being through sustainable behavior change. Named for his daughter Julia, JOOL helps users progress over time towards a healthier more fulfilled life. It’s a daily reminder of what matters most to you, he said.
With JOOL, your body is the boat that becomes each user’s daily check-in on their own health, energy, willpower, and resilience: their well-being, he added. “It is possibility in a pocket to remind you daily what matters most to you, a constant companion on the path to healthy change.”
As for the future, Strecher believes that our goal should be a transcendent purpose, to be in touch with one’s inner self. That is how we can change our lives, and this exciting intersection of state-of-the-art technology and, he believes, the latest developments in behavior change science will help us all move forward toward our life purpose.
For more information on Strecher and his work, visit www. vicstrecher.com.