Do Something Different

Led by Prof. Ben  Fletcher, Dr. Shivani Sharma, Dr Neil Howlett and Emerita Prof. Karen Pine, our research into Do Something Different (DSD), has had major impact on international programmes for behaviour change in health and well-being at the community and organisational level.

Our research has identified:

  • The psychological differences between individuals in how they perceive their environment is much greater than the variations between environments (e.g. jobs, stressful situations). This implies that practical interventions which focus on the environmental factors will have less efficacy that those which tackle the individual’s habits and behavioural patterns.
  • Within-subject variation in personality trait measures predicts a range of positive and negative psychological outcomes. This demonstrated the benefits of intra-individual personality variability, and its applicability to a range of situations requiring behaviour change and personal growth.
  • Increasing a person’s behavioural flexibility through small new behaviours (called Dos in Do Something Different theory) can be powerful habit breakers and mind changers. Using regular and timely behavioural prompts which are tailored to the individual and the target new behaviours can serve to change behaviour in beneficial ways for the individual, for their health and well-being, and for their organisation.
  • Willpower appears to be relatively ineffective in behaviour change and is overwhelmed by inertia and habits of thinking and behaviour. This has been the subject of research studies in the department showing that there is little relationship between self-report and actual behaviour and that ‘behavioural rebound’ can occur if people try to suppress their will.
  • PhD studies in the University have shown Do Something Different interventions can be effective in weight management and completing personal projects (Hanson 2008) improving family functioning (Sharma, 2010), for addressing pro-environmental behaviour (Page, 2015) and for addressing end-of-life nurses’ coping mechanisms (Goode, 2016). Collaborations with mental health and psychiatric teams showed that flexible, dynamic behavioural assessments of brain injury patients were reliable predictors of learning ability and that the DSD methodology rendered people with mild cognitive impairment more receptive to a complex activity intervention designed to delay the onset of dementia.
  • A paper by Pine and Fletcher argued for new approaches to changing health behaviours and drew the attention of public health directors to the team’s findings. Consequently, several public health authorities adopted the DSD methodology to tackle a range of health behaviours including smoking, weight loss, emotional wellbeing and adult and adolescent mental health.


DSD theory has resulted in the development of a wide range of programmes for many different areas of application. Do Something Different Ltd. has used the latest digital technology to deliver behaviour change that is low cost, accessible to all and scalable, and to date over one million people have been helped by Do Something Different, many through collaboration with commercial and public organisations and charities such as Action for Happiness, 80% of whose users – from 43 countries -  said they would recommend DSD.

In 2014 DSD was part of a consortium awarded a €5.6m EU Horizon 2020/Taiwan Government grant to develop a health ecosystem for integrated disease management for hypertensive and cardiac patients. DSD was central in this Do Change project which ran from 2015-18. The project dynamically integrated DSD with healthcare professionals’ inputs and a range of new innovative health tools that gathered real-time nutritional, physiological and symptomatic patient data. DSD took these systems beyond simply monitoring and provided the behaviour change element necessary to impact upon lives. The Do Change project was successfully completed and trialled in 3 countries (Spain, Netherlands, Taiwan) and showed that the DSD approach was effective in treating patients with cardiovascular disease.

Professor Fletcher successfully included the DSD behaviour change approach as a key part of the major PREVENTOMICS Horizon 2020 bid (€7m EU funded, total budget €8m, 2018-2021, 7 countries  - UK, Poland, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Greece, and Denmark - 19 partners including the Aldi supermarket organisation). This takes DSD behavioural methodology – also branded as Flex and Do-omics - into new areas of application by integrating DSD with genetic, nutritional and state of the art metabolomics technologies and computational modelling of the metabolome, to provide personalised dietetic and lifestyle behaviours for the user, levering on several existing ICT technologies.